Is Pope visiting Sri Lanka to apologise for Crimes of the Portuguese and Catholic Church?

Pope Francis

An Apology to Sri Lanka for crimes against humanity committed by the Portuguese Conquistadors who were exclusively Roman Catholics, during their presence in this country from 1505 – 1658, should be the overriding reason for any future visit by a Pope. It is an apology long overdue to Sri Lanka as well as to several other countries in Asia for similar mass murders and other wrongs committed by the Portuguese. It is a shameful chapter that no amount of dodgy interpretation can erase.

Pope John Paul II has gone down in history for making a string of apologies. He apologized to the Jews, Galileo, women, Europeans unfairly convicted and / or brutally executed by the Inquisition, Muslims killed by the Crusades and ALMOST everyone who had suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. The key word ‘ALMOST’ is important for these apologies included an apology to China for the role of missionaries during the colonial period. Nevertheless, key continents have been left out. While the Pope did apologize for the slave trade in Africa, the Pope has not included in the apology the lists of other crimes the Church had been involved in. The apology to China has not extended to the rest of Asia where the crimes of the Church are many e.g. Goa Inquisition.  Therefore, as Sri Lankan Catholic clergy make preparations for the Pope to arrive in Sri Lanka, they would well do to convey to the Pope that the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Muslims are awaiting an apology from the Vatican for the Portuguese Inquisition conducted in Sri Lanka, and genocidal crimes committed including the total destruction of the places of worship of non – Christians and absolute prohibition imposed on them from practicing their faiths, by the Portuguese.

Vatican – a Sovereign State

The Pope is in addition to being the head of the largest religion organization in the world i.e. Roman Catholic Church, also the head of a sovereign government i.e. Vatican, and represents a religion that bases its existence on world domination and had called its clergy to harvest souls in Asia as its mission for the 3rd millennium.

The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka, a victim of both the Portuguese and the Catholic Church. The Pope’s visit to Sri Lanka cannot override his duty to atone for the injustices and crimes against humanity committed in Sri Lanka by the Portuguese Conquistadors with the Catholic Church as accomplices and beneficiaries both directly and indirectly from such crimes.

It is not only the Sinhala Buddhists, but Tamil Hindus and Muslims too suffered at the hands of the Portuguese who did not lose any opportunity to destroy all non – Christian places of worship situated in areas under Portuguese control and wherever possible built Catholic Churches on top or adjacent to such destroyed sites. These accounts in our local historical chronicles are corroborated by the writings of the Portuguese historians themselves e.g. Fernao de Queiros, Friar Paulo da Trinidade among others.

King Senerath saved the Muslims

Had King Senerath (ruler of the Kandyan Kingdom) not come to the rescue of the local Muslims in 1626 by offering them a sanctuary in the Eastern Province, what may have happened to the local Muslims due to the intense persecution by the Portuguese under Captain – General Constantino De Sa de Noronha, is anyone’s guess.  It was in 1626 that on the orders of King Philip of Portugal that Constantino De Sa expelled the Moors, who were seen as the inveterate enemies of the Portuguese; a large number of Muslims were settled by the Kandyan Court in the neighbourhood of Batticaloa, where their descendants are still to be found.

List of Apologies made by Christians

  • The conquest of Mesoamerica by Spain in the name of the Church
  • 1965 : Declaration “Nostra Aetate” – Second Vatican Council reverses traditional condemnation of Jews as murderers of Jesus.
  • 1986 – August 17: United Church of Canada officially apologizes to Canada’s native people for past wrongs inflicted by the Church. (What these wrongs were are never stated)
  • 1992 – Oct 31 : The Catholic Church begs pardon for placing Galileo Galilei under house arrest for life in 1633. Apology coming 359 years!
  • 1993 – August 9 : Pope John Paul II apologizes for Catholic involvement in African slave trade.
  • 1994 – April – 800 German Christians apologize to the Dutch for Nazi invasion of Netherlands in World War 2.
  • 1995 – March : Jesuit general congregation apologizes for abetting ‘male domination’ and pledged ‘solidarity with women’. It must be said that in Asian and Native America the women were afforded a superior place and this was reversed by the Church and European Colonial governments which today preach gender equality.
  • 1995 – May : Pope John Paul II begs forgiveness from Czech Republic for Church’s role in stake burnings and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation.
  • 1995 – July 10:  Pope John Paul II addresses a letter to ‘every woman’ apologizing to them for the Church’s stance against women’s rights and for the historical denigration of women.
  • 1997 – September 30 : French Roman Catholic Church apologizes for role during Holocaust and silence during 1940 Vichy regime.
  • 1998 – February 20: Anglican Church of Australia apologizes for participation in policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their mothers.
  • 1998 – March 16: Vatican apologizes for silence and inaction during Holocaust.
  • 1998 – November: Catholic Priests Conference of India demands apology from the Catholic Church for its association with colonial forces in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 16 years on, that apology is yet to be realized. Pope Francis needs to prioritize this request and fulfill the obligation of the Church to apologize.
  • 1999 – September 2: Pope John Paul II asks forgiveness for past errors of the Catholic Church. He does not specify what these ‘errors’ are.
  • 1999 – September 15: Roman Catholic Church officials in Quebec announce they WILL NOT APOLOGIZE to aging ‘Duplessis Orphans’ who suffered years of abuse while under the case of the Church from 1930s through 1950s. If the Church can apologize to the white nations why are they reluctant to apologize to the black and brown nations of the world?
  • 1999 – December 18 : Pope John Paul II apologizes for the execution of religious reformer Jan Hus in 1415. The apology coming 584years later!
  • 2000 – January 26: Pagan community send letter to Pope John Paul II calling Vatican to apologize to Pagans during millennial apology for the Inquisition.
  • 2000 – March 12: Pope John Paul II asks forgiveness for the sins of the Catholics throughout the ages during a public Mass of Pardon. “Christians… have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions’. Our contention is how much of these policies and attitudes have actually changed within the Church hierarchy and those that steer policy today?
  • 2000 – April 18 : official Vatican newspaper rejects a call by gay-rights activists for an apology from the Catholic Church. Homosexuals were not included in the Pope’s March 12 request for forgiveness for past wrongs committed by Catholics.
  • 2000 – September 5: Canada’s Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United churches apologize to Eskimos and Indians for decades of abuse by white church officials. Again what these specific abuses were are never mentioned.
  • 2001 – May 28 : Roman Catholic Church of Poland apologizes for complicity in killing of 1.6m Jews during World War 2
  • 2001 – November 22 : Pope John Paul II apologies for sex abuse by priests.
  • 2002 – April 24: Pope John Paul II apologizes to victims of sexual abuse by priests
  • 2002 – October 14: Rev. Jerry Falwell apologizes for calling the Prophet Muhammad a ‘terrorist’ during a television interview.

While the Pope has apologized for the Inquisition and the crimes committed by the Church upon the West, why has the Church not apologized to India in particular for the crimes committed during the period of the Goa Inquisition? It is time that this is done. If the Church can apologize to the Europeans for the Inquisition why does the Church not extend an apology to Indians and Sri Lankans for the Portuguese Inquisitions in both Goa and Sri Lanka? A Catharsis and Public Repentance by the Catholics is a sine quo non to move forward towards any reconciliation. The Catholic Church cannot continue to remain in a state of permanent denial on such horrific crimes which is no longer a secret.

It must be borne in mind that the existential fears of Buddhists remain a very strong topic that the Abrahamic religions competing for global domination cannot ignore. With the Pope paying a visit to South Korea in August 2014 with the knowledge that South Korea is a success story in Christianity’s bid for harvesting souls where 90% Buddhist population in Korea has come down to just 23% in 65 years and Pope Francis being urged to come to Sri Lanka makes us to wonder if the next success story for the Church is looking to be Sri Lanka?

Our fears are all the more serious knowing the links of the Church to Western governments, their secret intelligence agencies and second phase of colonial rule via neo-colonialism in which the Church plays and integral part continuing as the repository of all the pilferage that took place throughout colonial rule and building the Western nations/continents using the wealth/resources stolen from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the indigenous peoples of Native America/Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Our anxieties and fears of the Church and its ulterior motives are based on an ugly historical past. This past commenced with the Portuguese arrival in Colombo in 1505.

How prepared is Pope Francis to apologize and compensate for the crimes committed by the Catholic Church that included the Ecclesiastical Order:

  • Converting Buddhists/Hindus and Muslims to Christianity but prohibiting Christians converting to Buddhism/Hinduism & Islam
  • Demolishing all heathen places of worship in Portuguese controlled areas
  • Expelling all non-Christian clergy, teachers,
  • All non-Christian sacred texts seized and destroyed
  • All Buddhists & Hindus prohibited from visiting their respective temples
  • Prohibiting transit passage of Asian pilgrims
  • Prohibiting celebration of non-Christian weddings and religious processions
  • Forcing non-Christian orphans to be handed over to Christian guardians or foster parents and baptizing them
  • Forbidding Christians from living or lodging with non-Christians

How prepared is Pope Francis to look at the work of Portuguese historian Father De Queyroz who has given a list of all Buddhist temples razed to the ground and on top of which Catholic Churches are erected. This list is a perfect start of acknowledgement and apology as well as compensation by the Church for the crimes committed upon the Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in Sri Lanka.

Catholic Church collaborating with the LTTE

In addition how prepared is Pope Francis to look at the links of the Church fathers in Sri Lanka to LTTE terror and launch an immediate investigation on their conduct to decide whether they deserved to be ex-communicated.

How prepared is Pope Francis to address directly the strong allegation that the Catholic Church spearheaded calls for a war crimes inquiry against Sri Lanka and the letters sent by the Catholic Church and clergy to the UNHRC is evidence.

If such was the case the only conclusion we can draw is that Sri Lanka’s leaders are yet to know who its friends and enemies are.

With the Church unwilling so far to acknowledge, apologize and even compensate for its crimes the Church or its representatives have no moral right to speak on behalf of Tamils for reconciliation. Reconciliation for the Church must start with acknowledging its criminal past and vowing to not repeat such.

Rise of the RSS in India

Finally with the election of Narendra Modhi as India’s new Prime Minister and the rise of both the BJP and RSS in India, it hardly needs stressing that Sri Lanka needs to be very careful in forging strong ties with western religious institutions that have had a very close association with European colonialism in the dark past and neo – colonialism in the modern era.

While Asia unfolds the red carpet for European Christian leaders there is hardly any reciprocity on the part of the Christian West in giving any form of official recognition to Asia’s Dharmic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Buddhism is officially recognized in only two European countries i.e. Russia and Austria. Is inter – faith dialogue possible if there is no official recognition of someone else’s faith?

Tendering an unequivocal apology for Catholic crimes of the past must be made the key basis of the forthcoming visit of the Pope to Sri Lanka. A failure to do so will undermine the credibility of the sponsors including the State among a vast majority of the local populace.

– by Shenali D Waduge