Archbishop refuses to release letter

Archdiocese Communications Office reiterates church leader's earlier position that letter did not accurately reflect his views
September 22, 2012
By Teo Xuanwei
04:45 AM

THE  saga over a letter written by
Archbishop Nicholas Chia continued yesterday, Sept 21, with the leader of Singapore's Catholics steadfastly refusing to release it, while the group at the centre of the episode accused the Government of setting it on a collision course with the church.

The Archbishop will not and "had never intended" to release a letter he had sent purportedly expressing support for an anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally because it was "intended as a private communication", a statement from the Archdiocese communications office said yesterday.

This comes a day after the rally's organiser, Function 8, pressed Archbishop Chia to make public his purportedly "unsolicited" letter that was supposedly "warmly-worded" toward the event, in the face of accusations that it had
acted irresponsibly by leaking the episode to blogger Alex Au.

In a blog posting on Tuesday, Mr Au charged, based on "second-hand" sources, that the Archbishop had retracted a letter that was supportive of the anti-ISA rally on June 2 after he was "summoned to lunch by Deputy Prime
Minister Teo Chee Hean", who is also Home Affairs Minister.

The Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) then chided the group and Mr Au on Thursday of being "disrespectful" of the Archbishop and Function 8's objective of involving the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.

In response to what it termed as "MHA's unwarranted allegations" - which Function 8 branded as an attempt to "set (it) against the church" - the group yesterday said in a statement that it was "forced" to publicise a letter it had sent to the Archbishop a day after he had withdrawn his letter "in order to clear the allegations against (them)".

Parts of the letter were blacked out, explained by the group as an attempt to "protect the direct contents" of the Archbishop's letter, as well as the identity of a third party who was copied in his letter of withdrawal.

In the letter, Function 8 had said it was "deeply disappointed and puzzled" by the withdrawal, adding that it did not regard the rally it was organising as "political activities".

"We are somewhat amazed and dismayed that you seem to suspect - without giving any reason (and indeed there is none) - that there is any ulterior motive to use your letter outside of the event, in any way at all," Function 8's letter read. "How did you come to this conclusion? We had not even solicited the letter from you in the first place."

The group's and Mr Au's assertions that the Archbishop's letter was unsolicited and supportive of the anti-ISA rally on June 2 have not been established so far.

The Archdiocese Communications Office yesterday reiterated the Archbishop's earlier position that the withdrawal of the letter came about because he felt, on hindsight, that the letter "did not accurately reflect (his) views
on the subject" and could harm social harmony here if used in a manner he had not intended.

The office added: "If the group (Function 8) was going to publicise it at a political event, something which he did not intend, then they should and could easily have asked for permission first. They did not do so."

In its statement yesterday, Function 8 also contested MHA's suggestion that it was responsible for leaking the episode to Mr Au, saying it was in the midst of trying to arrange a private dialogue with MHA shortly before the
flap broke out.

"There is no conceivable reason why we would choose to trip ourselves up by having the matter aired in public.

Why has MHA made publicity of this matter the focus of conversation when the more pertinent question is one of transparency in executive action in engaging civil society?" Function 8 said.

The group added that it "continues to request a meaningful dialogue with MHA and other affected parties on this matter away from the noise of what has turned into an ugly public dispute".