The Archdiocese of Colombo, Sri Lanka, has condemned recent claims by the country’s former Sports Minister, Harin Fernando, that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith weaponised the 2019 Easter church bombings to help the rival party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) win the subsequent general election.
Speaking at an election rally in support of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) alliance, Fernando claimed that the SLPP “targeted the Catholic vote through the Easter attacks” in order to win the 2019 general election. “I’ve never said this before because I have a Catholic background,” he said.
Fernando then argued that Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, helped the SLPP by “playing politics” with the church bombings. He specifically condemned Cardinal Ranjith’s public reference to the claims that Fernando had been forewarned about the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks by his father.
The Easter attacks were carried out on April 21, 2019, by nine Islamist suicide bombers who targeted three churches and three hotels, killing 279 people and injuring over 500 others.
Monday’s joint statement by the Archdiocese of Colombo’s auxiliary bishops and priests condemned Fernando’s “appalling” speech and said that the attacks on Cardinal Ranjith were “totally unfounded and uncalled for and have been made for cheap political gain.”
“We are shocked by this attack and expressly condemn such a misconstrued criticism of His Eminence, especially when Harin Fernando himself had openly confessed that his father had warned him of the impending disaster,” they said.
“Lest one forget, it was His Eminence who gave leadership to a country wrecked in political turmoil and it was solely due to his efforts that clashes between the different communities were prevented in the aftermath of the tragic Easter Sunday bomb blasts.”
Fernando responded in a statement that his comments had been taken out of context. “A 45 minute speech made by me at a rally in Pollonnaruwa was edited into a one minute clip and released by certain media institutions with vested interests,” he said.
Fernando said that his ailing father’s forewarning was not taken seriously at the time because his father was “heavily sedated under a lot of medication”.
Fernando said he was as “shocked” as everyone else that the authorities had not acted on information that seemed to be in the public domain: “How was it that, if a citizen like my father heard this rumour, the President and responsible officers didn’t?”
Then, reiterating his criticism of Cardinal Ranjith’s public claim that “the father saved the Minister’s son,” Fernando said: “I do not think it was in keeping with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Eminence to publicly malign me, without even first verifying the facts from me.”
However, the leader of the SJB, Sajith Premadasa, apologised to Cardinal Ranjith for the comments made by Fernando, who is one of his national list candidates.
“I tender an apology to Cardinal Ranjith if the remarks made by Mr. Fernando hurt him in any way,” Premadasa said in a statement.
“I will not hesitate to tender an apology whenever anyone in our party does some wrong,” he added.