Group seeking to use church for political aims: Govt

SINGAPORE - Civil society group Function 8 has been taken to task by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for being 'disrespectful' to the head of the Catholic Church in Singapore, Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

The Straits Times reported today that MHA accused Function 8 of publicly involving the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.

The ministry also stressed in a statement that the Government values its longstanding relationship with the Catholic Church and community in Singapore.

Blogger Alex Au had written on his site that Archbishop Nicholas Chia had sent a letter to Function 8 in support of a June rally against the Internal Security Act.

He then claimed that the Archbishop retracted the letter after meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean.

However, Archbishop Chia issued a statement on Wednesday saying he had withdrawn the letter because its contents did not accurately reflect his views on the matter and may harm the social harmony in Singapore if used in a manner which he did not intend.

In its statement, MHA noted the Archbishop's reasons for withdrawing the letter and said his decision to do so showed his appreciation of the complexity of Singapore's society and the need to keep religion and politics separate.

It also said the group was publicising this matter through Mr Au and that this was "disrespectful" of the Archbishop.

MHA also said that it was a longstanding practice for government ministers to meet regularly with religious leaders to build trust and understanding and maintain religious harmony.

Function 8 is associated with 22 people who were arrested under the ISA in 1987 for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Government. The Government said then that the detentions were against a few individuals who used their church positions to pursue a political agenda and not directed against the church.

The leader of the Catholic Church in Singapore Archbishop Gregory Yong then said he was satisfied that the Government had nothing against the church after meeting with then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Au, in a new post yesterday in response to the Archbishop's statement, said he hoped to generate debate about where citizens would like to draw the line between religious organisations and politics, and how that line should be maintained.

Function 8 also issued a statement yesterday directed against the Archbishop. It accused him of making unsubstantiated remarks and called on the Archbishop to publish his two letters to the group and explain what happened between the first letter and its retraction.

paullim@sph.com.sg

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