The visiting Pope apologises? Previous Pope apologised over 100 times for events elsewhere
Posted on December 24th, 2014

Susantha Goonatilake

In 2013, the Royal Asiatic Society RASSL (of which I am the current president) awarded its gold medal” to Father Dr. Vito Perniola. Although he was proficient in several fields, our main consideration was his 19 volume documentation on the history of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.

To indicate a Buddhist appreciation of his scholarly work, I had a leading Buddhist monk by my side as the medal was draped on the very pleased Father Perniola, who at 100 years was admiring the medal in almost childlike wonder. In my remarks, I mentioned that Father Perniola had dispassionately collected together much of the information on the Catholic presence in Sri Lanka, especially the very unpleasant events and crimes in its early years. I also made to point out that the recent Pope John Paul II (Pope from 1978 to 2005) had apologised around the world over 100 times for similar crimes elsewhere in the world but not to us in Sri Lanka. As the pope arrives we must recall some basic facts.

Just before the 500 year anniversary of the coming of the Portuguese, the RASSL under my urging convened a group amounting to around 100 persons throughout Sri Lanka to study the Portuguese presence from our point of view. Previous studies had been done under the tutelage of the Catholic Church or of the Gulbenkian Foundation, an extremely pro-Portuguese entity. Ariyawansa Weerakkody, the art director of the only film made on the Portuguese presence in Sri Lanka Sandesaya” was on our team of researchers and he said that he was instructed not to depict Portuguese atrocities in Sri Lanka in the film.

The destruction of almost the totality of Sri Lanka’s civilisation was so thorough that we had to import Buddhist learning and practice from Siam and Burma (the Siam, Ramanya and Amarapura Nikayas), countries to where we had peacefully transferred Buddhism in earlier centuries. The near total destruction has been documented by Portuguese historians themselves, many Catholic priests, for example Queyroz, Trindade and Manuel Farceis de Sousa. Some of them give gruesome details of our sites destroyed as well as how they did it. But the best testimony is found in the mute remains of once flourishing temple communities many of which were visited and photographed by the RASSL teams.

The contrast with Portugal before our destruction is seen in Portuguese comments. Even around 1500, compared with richer European countries, Portuguese were remarking on the simplicity, small size and rough construction in Portugal”. But when in 1552 a Christian father de Morais entered a Sinhalese vihara he said that it was more amazing than many buildings I have visited for I found it to be much richer and more royal than the chapel of the archdeacon [in Portugal]”. He added Some of the viharas in Sri Lanka are richer than the richest church in Lisbon” and that the viharas are all covered in gold of many carats”. These then they destroyed and looted.

The temples destroyed and burned read like a catalogue of the cultural history of this country. They include the Royal Palace at Kotte, the Dalada Maligawa and key temples at Kelaniya, Totagamuwa, Sunethra Devi Pirivena, Devundara, Attanagalla, Weligama, Keragala, Veedagama and a large number of lesser sites. Queroz and others give some lists of sites destroyed as well as the churches that were built on them. The existing sites for example of Kelaniya,

Devundara, Veedagama and Sunethra Devi Pirivena occupy only a small fraction of their original area. Forced conversions were a major part of the Catholic Church program for Sri Lanka. And their sources themselves give insights into their cruelty.

The priest historian Queroz yelled To arms, to arms, to arms and let not Catholic hearts bear to see Heresy [Buddhism] reigning in Ceylon.” Manuel Farceis de Sousa noted, In the height of his success in Ceylon, he [Portuguese commander] forced mothers to cast their children between mill-stones, and having seen them pound to mash, they were afterwards beheaded”. De Sousa goes on to mention how Portuguese soldiers put children on the points” of their swords till they crowed like cocks. And how Sinhalese men were thrown to the crocodiles, so often at the bridge of Malvana, that crocodiles would gather at the sound of a whistle from a soldier.

Father de Salanova noted the difficulties of conversion in Sri Lanka mentioning that to convert people in Sri Lanka, it is not enough to just invite them but it is “necessary to compel them” because if there is no compelling”, they will not convert how much the Catholics tried . Father de Trindade, put the policy of combining brute force and papal power in Sri Lanka succinctly:  The two swords of the civil and the ecclesiastical power were always so close together in the conquest of the East that we seldom find one being used without the other: for the weapons only conquered through the right that the preaching of the Gospel gave them, and the preaching was only of some use when it was accompanied and protected by the weapons”.

And if these brutal methods were not enough, the King of Portugal in pursuit of his religious aims ordered the granting of special favours to converts. He also wanted all non-Christian statues reduced to fragments” and proclaimed rigourous penalties” to those who would sculpt them. And Trindade describes how temples were converted into churches by sprinkling Holy Water and reciting prayers”.

Our Kotte King, Bhuvenekabahu participated in a debate between Christianity and Buddhism but was not moved by it. The King however had no objection to the Catholics preaching their doctrine to his subjects saying you and your friars may preach your religion to my people.  If they accept it, it will be most gratifying to me, and I will never put any obstacle to their conversion”. The Portuguese commentator noted that the king made this statement because he was sure that his subjects would not convert to Christianity. Queyroz mentioned that when Sinhalese saw Portuguese youths praying in the Christian manner, it was a cause of laughter” to the Sinhalese.  This same latter sentiment was noted by de Caminha who in 1547 said that the King of Kandy laughed heartily at the friars and Christianity”.

The best example of Buddhist tolerance even to faiths that they did not believe in was when the Portuguese Catholics chased away the Muslims.  The King gave the Muslims new lands and settled them in the interior away from the reach of the Portuguese.  When the Dutch Protestants arrived to replace the Portuguese, they in turn exhibited true brotherly Christian love to Catholics.  They banned Catholicism and its practice, the Sinhalese King in turn now gave these Catholics protection and allowed their priests, most famously Joseph Vaz to be canonised by the Pope, to operate from areas controlled by the King.

Now the cruel behaviour of the Portuguese in conversion was not the invention of their local commanders, but they were carrying out specific instructions (Papal Bulls) given by different Popes to Spain and Portugal as the latter set sail around the world. In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas interceded by the Pope divided the world into two halves, one controlled by the Spanish and the other by the Portuguese. In 1454, a Papal Bull ordered the Portuguese king to capture and subjugate … unbelievers and enemies of Christ whomsoever and wherever settled; …to invade and conquer their kingdoms…. countries, principalities…. land, places, villages, camps and possessions… to whatever king or prince … they may belong. To reduce to slavery their inhabitants; to appropriate for yourself and your successors, the kings of Portugal”. This heavenly order through the intermediary of the Pope was explicit in its cruel intentions. The destruction and massacres that followed around the world including in Sri Lanka were direct outcomes.

In the early 1970s, a new government of young army personnel threw out the old order in Portugal. In Lisbon a museum on the Inquisition depicting centuries old tortures and murders done in the name of Christ was erected. And by the 1990s even in the home lands of the Portuguese and the Spanish, Catholicism was losing its hold.

And the Catholic Church now tried to make amends for its past crimes.  This included over 100 apologies by Pope John Paul II (Pope from 1978 to 2005) for past Catholic crimes. He apologised for crimes done in the name of the Church in the conquest of Central America; for the involvement of the Church in the African slave trade, for burning dissenters at the stake, for denigration of women, for complicity in the Jewish Holocaust, for sins against other cultures and religions.

These apologies covered among others, the bitter dispute of Roman Catholicism with the Eastern Christians at Byzantine, the Crusades against the Muslims, the condemnation of Martin Luther and Protestantism, the involvement of Catholic priests in the Rwandan genocide and an indirect apology for the Inquisition. John Paul II apologised for the shameful injustices done to indigenous peoples” in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific by the Church. On the first papal visit to Greece since the great schism with the Orthodox Christian Church in 1054 and his first visit to a Muslim mosque, the Pope apologised for offences against both Muslims and orthodox Christians including for the Crusades.

Pope Benedict XVI (the Pope from 2005-13) had noted that Europe was increasingly becoming a secular state. He cited his former country’s German city of Magdeburg where only 8% claimed to be Christian. He noted that in a few decades time, the bulk of Catholics would be in the former colonies, which we must note were first converted by force by the Portuguese and the Catholics. A BBC documentary showed French churches with African priests preaching to elderly whites, French youth being notably absent. A British poll showed that in Britain, Christianity would disappear within a century. To stop the rot, Pope Benedict had an agenda of re-Christianising Europe to boost fallen church attendance and as part of this campaign visited the former Catholic bastions of Portugal and Spain. Here too, he was met by opposition, especially on the massive expenditure on his visit.

But Sri Lanka is not Western Europe and the changes that have occurred over the last 30 years in the mode of thinking among West European Catholics including in Portugal has not yet reached Sri Lanka. Flores, the only recent Portuguese to author a full-length book on Sri Lanka mentions of the surprise that [today’s Sinhalese] Catholics feel that not all ‘real’ Portuguese go to church as they imagine or would wish”.

The church has been facing a series of allegations in the West on the physical and sexual abuse of little children by Catholic priests. The Irish Prime Minister apologised for around 30,000 women incarcerated in homes run by the church. Australia apologised for a similar situation of children of aborigines forced into church schools. And the church had been successfully sued on these abuses in the West. But the news of these apologies for sexual abuse was deliberately downplayed in Sri Lanka by the then Bishop Malcolm Ranjit. The Asian propaganda organ of the Vatican, asianews.it, has under it the banner Asia our common task for the third millennium by John Paul 11”. This repeated John Paul 11’s message to convert all of Asia to Catholicism. Yet almost all of Asia was once influenced by Buddhism. And what did this late John Paul 11 think of Buddhism. In his important book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, that Pope singled out Buddhism for a major attack because it did not believe in a creator pointing out also that in the West Buddhism was gaining ground.

But Malcolm Ranjit writing in the same propaganda organ asked his local Sri Lanka flock not to believe in the international reporting on widespread sexual abuse calling it an organised and malicious attack by international media”. In the same article, Malcolm called for Sri Lanka Catholics to pray for Benedict XVI and his intentions”, Benedict being the then retiring Pope who wanted to re-Christianise Europe. Malcolm expressed solidarity and support” for the retiring Pope over the paedophilia scandal and requested his Sri Lankan Catholics to express communion with the Pope and the Church”. Malcolm Ranjit had also wanted to excise from Sri Lanka textbooks the massive cruelty done by the church and the Portuguese. Writing in a Catholic organ, Bishop Malcolm Ranjit had once said that the church could bring around reconciliation between the LTTE and Sri Lanka, because there were Catholics among Tamils as well as Sinhalese. He was ignoring the glaring fact of the church and specially Tamil Catholic priests giving support to the LTTE. Unfortunately for him the state finally won the war by defeating militarily, the LTTE.

No Pope unlike to other territories has apologised to Sri Lanka for crimes done to us and asked for our forgiveness. The question is will the new Pope do it in this visit. Malcolm Ranjit, a denier of present and past atrocities, now a cardinal is the key intermediary between the Sri Lanka government and the Vatican. And with him at the helm, even if the Pope wanted it, it is doubtful that Malcolm Ranjit would allow it.

5 Responses to “The visiting Pope apologises? Previous Pope apologised over 100 times for events elsewhere”

  1. LANKAPUTHRA Says:

    Susantha Goonatilaka, why are you starting at where Portuguese came to Sri Lanka? Why not before that. When your HINDU Relatives destroyed the Buddhist temples killed defenseless monks and built Hindu kovilas. We ruled most of Tamil Nadu at the time of King Prakrama Bahu. The two generals, Lanka Deepa and Lanka Puthra were the governors of the Tamil Nadu. If you do not agree say it why. I will give you an example: Devundara Dewalaya and Ambakke Dewalay. These were Buddhist Temples that were converted to Hindu Kovilas. This is my analysis; what you are attempting to do is to destruct the common bond that Honorable MR created between the holy see and the Republic of Sri Lanka. Now you are attacking Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit, whose contribution to the Republic of Sri Lanka is immense. He got Vatican to repair Churches, destroyed by your people and saved tons of tax payers money and accusation by Catholics stating the Honorable MR only helps Buddhists. Don’t even think about disrupting the Papal Visit!

    1. Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) Sri Lanka, president, I have a couple of questions to you. Where did you get the funding in 2013 for Aryavanse Weerakkody, art director of the movie, to draw paintings? Total destruction to the Buddhists were done by HINDUS and it was before the Portuguese time. Then king (I cannot remember his name) brought the Siam Nikaya to Sri Lanka.

    2. Now one can see where these painted pictures that were published by Shanali Wadughe came from. She is another Crony of yours who sits on the side lines and throws thrash at the MR family, but not directly to avoid been classified as a person against the Republic of Sri Lanka.

    To conclude if you imagine you could deceive an average Sinhala by using anti Catholic Vermin, your mistaken. Keep your self to Royal Asiatic Society, Kensington Palace to your self. You did the same thing as Tammitta did some time ago. I am waiting for your reply. It is because we have to extend the Sri Lanka Republic to claim the part we ruled which is now called Tamil Nadu. Sri Lanka Archeology department must search for the tombs of Lanka Deepa and Lanka Puthra.

  2. Ratanapala Says:

    Parangi Puthra, Don’t attempt to pollute name of Lanka with your assumed name. It is far better to use the name I am giving you for it is far closer to who you are. It is true since Pope Paul VI many Christians are now using Buddhist names to hide their true nature and intentions.

    Catholic Church who worked vehemently against the election of Mahinda Rajapakse got behind him eventually entering Araliya Gaha through the bedroom window. MR doesn’t when he will be stabbed in the back by the Catholic Church a second time. He survived the first time and I am not sure he will the second time.

    We Buddhists can easily get along Hinduism and Hindu Gods for we have a place in our pantheon of gods. However we don’t have a place for the devil Yahveh whose love the smell of burnt flesh ( Leviticus 25- Unholy Bible) is now setting fire to the Middle East and soon to Europe and beyond.

    It is true that Sri Lanka carried out a few punitive raids outside Sri Lanka, but they were never for holding and to rule over other people. High Vijaya is not part of the Sinhala Heritage!

    Now that the Pope has been invited by our misguided President it is time for the victims of pedophile Christian priests to take up issue with the Chief Pedophile protector and ask for compensation for the destroying their childhood and lives. The Catholic Church is dirty rich.

    Moreover as Susantha has pointed out Sri Lanka and mainly the Buddhist hierarchy should called apology as well as compensation for all the genocide, destruction and damage done to the Buddhist population and Buddhist Temples.

  3. samurai Says:

    I fully agree with you Ratanapala that “We Buddhists can easily get along with Hinduism and Hindu Gods” although some Buddhists may not worship them.

    I am yet to come across a well-recognized historical source or hear from a leading historian that it was not the Portuguese but Hindus who totally destroyed Buddhism or suppressed Buddhism. If that was the case there would have been virtually no Buddhism in Sri Lanka when the Portuguese arrived in the island.

    Hindus regard the Buddha as one of God Vishnu’s several avatars (incarnations) and many a Buddhist temple has Hindu deities. In Hindu-Tamil owned restaurants we often see the Buddha’s picture along side those of Hindu deities. But I am yet to see SIMILAR regard for Hinduism and Buddhism in Catholic or any other Christian churches.

    Regarding the Pope’s visit next month let me quote from the Buddhist Times Editorial of October-November 2014:

    “Before canonizing Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church should get the Pope to express his gratitude to the Sinhala kings who gave shelter to the Catholics who fled the Dutch-occupied Maritime Provinces, despite the fact that the Catholic Church became the Portuguese Trojan Horse in suppressing Buddhism and Buddhists in a way far worse than happened under the Dutch.”

  4. Senevirath Says:

    බොරු නම් දාගන්න ලන්කාපුක්කා ට රතනපාල දුන්නා මදි. සුසන්ත කියන්නේ අපට වැඩිම හානියක් කර එක කණ්ඩායමක් ගැ ණය ඒ පාප් තුමා ගෙන්වන නිසය් අපි අපේ තුරන් කැන්දාගෙන එන නිසය් මෙය දේශපාලන ගැටයක් ද විය හැකිය එත් ඇත්ත උන් අපේහ තුරන් බවය් මල්චොම් රටේම හතුරෙක්

  5. samurai Says:

    I am yet to come across a well-recognized historical source or hear from a leading historian that it was not the Portuguese but the Hindus who virtually destroyed Buddhism in Sri Lanka. All history books on this period I have read focus on Portuguese atrocities and machinations.

    As Ratanapala says we Buddhists can easily get along with Hindus because there are many similarities between the two religions although we may not accept everything they believe. Many Buddhist temples have Hindu shrines and Hindus regard the Buddha as one of God Vishu’s several avatars (incarnations).

    There is no such relationship between Christianity and Hinduism or Buddhism. In fact the last four Kandyan Kings, Sri Vijaya Rajasinghe, Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe, Rajadhi Rajasinghe and Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, though Hindus of South Indian origin upheld Buddhist traditions and helped the Buddhist Sangha. In fact it was during the reign of Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe who revived Sri Lanka’s Bhikku sasana by getting monks from Myanmar and Thailand to re-introduce higher ordination (Upasampada).

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