CATHOLIC BISHOPS' CONFERENCE OF SRI LANKS
Statement by the Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka on
14th January 2004
We express our grave concern over the recent increase
in religious tension in our country. At this time we wish to reiterate
our resolve in a united Sri Lanka in which people of all faiths and
beliefs would live together in harmony with dignity and mutual respect.
We are aware that the present climate is due to the concern that unethical
conversions from one religion to another are taking place. We too express
our unequivocal disapproval on the use of material enticements to gain
converts. It is indeed important to find effective ways to deal with
this issue if we are to create an atmosphere of religious amity devoid
of suspicion. We need to come up with a method that is fair and dignified
and one that will actually diffuse tensions and promote religious harmony.
We have given our most anxious and careful consideration to the suggestion
that legislation be enacted to deal with the issue of unethical
conversions. We are of the opinion that criminalizing the practise of
unethical conversions will not bring such a situation to
an end. In fact, legislation would only exacerbate the situation further.
For instance, if a prosecution is initiated against supposed unethical
conversion, the adversarial court proceedings will polarize our society
and lead to a serious erosion in inter-religious relations. Even if
at the end of the court proceedings, a person is found guilty,
he would be considered a victim of oppressive draconian legislation
and become a martyr among his followers. The dent the whole process
makes in the relations between communities may become worse than the
We are all aware that there are a multitude of reasons for people to
change religions. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the
reasons in every single instance of conversion from one religion to
another would be unique and personal to the individual concerned. Therefore
it is nigh impossible to list all the probable causes for conversion
and consequently it would never be possible to have a consensus on criminalising
what might be termed unacceptable reasons for conversion
or acceptable reasons for conversion.
All religions offer some kind of solace to its adherents, the inspiration
that a religion provides to an individual, is personal to that individual
concerned, and others cannot stand in judgement as to the rationale
of such motivation. It must eventually be left to the individual concerned
to reconcile his or her motivations.
We are also aware that prohibitive legislation can sometimes become
an instrument of abuse, harassment and intimidation against minority
religions in the country. That is the reason when the Tamil Nadu Legislature
adopted an Ordinance to restrict conversions, the Buddhists in Tamil
Nadu joined the Christians to protest and defy the law. More recently
in Gujarat, thousands converted to Buddhism in a public act of defiance
after similar legislation was enacted.
We a nation that ought to have learnt lessons from short-sighted majoritarian
laws on language, can ill-afford a religious divide on account of similar
We are encouraged by the progressive measures adopted in abolishing
the criminal defamation legislation. Here the basic right to freedom
of expression was upheld, while a standard-ensuring mechanism
in the form of a Press Complaints Commission was established.
In line with such progressive measures relating to individual freedom
in our country, we suggest that an inter-religious body modelled on
similar lines be established to inquire into and investigate any allegations
of supposed unethical practices. The condemnation of any
such practices by a representative body, which has the confidence of
the major religions of our country, will certainly be a better alternative.
This mechanism can also undertake the broader tasks of proactively taking
steps to build trust and mutual respect among the religious communities.
We for our part are always willing to participate in such an endeavour.
We are of the opinion that this is a better way to arrest the declining
situation rather than prohibitive legislation which will aggravate religious
tensions and in the long-term lead to more difficulties than solutions.
We also wish to state that the Catholic Church is committed to serving
the people of this country irrespective of their religious affiliations
and that we like all other religions, also make our tenets known to
all the people. We do not coerce anybody to convert and join our Church,
but would stand by an individuals right to either retain or adopt
a religion of his or her choice. After all every religion in the world
has had converts to its ranks; without which it could not have grown.
Every major religion practiced in our country today originated elsewhere
but was adopted as their own by the people of our country. Even today
eastern religions like Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are embraced by
many in the west as a result of the efforts taken to propagate them
in those countries.
The Catholic Bishops Conference is confident that our people
have the resilience needed to overcome the present religious strife
and call upon the leaders of the other religions to set up an inter-religious
body that can take meaningful steps to address the present concerns
rather than enact any counter-productive legislation that will only
cause further divisions in our already fragmented society.
We must work towards a process of reconciliation which will integrate
our society as people of one country, appreciating the diversity and
most importantly respecting the multi-ethnic, muti-religious and multi-lingual,
character of our nation and our people.
Archbishop Oswald Gomis
Catholic Bishops Conference
in Sri Lanka
Bishop Marius Peiris
Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka
14th January 2004