What the archbishop did not intend

Sometimes, people respond to a hole by digging a deeper one. Archbishop Nicholas Chia of the Catholic Church issued a press statement at around 10:30 pm last night in response to my post Lunch menu a 4-point letter. I only heard about it from reporters, and at the time of writing this, have not seen a copy of the press statement he issued.

According to the Straits Times:

The head of the Catholic Church in Singapore has confirmed that he wrote to an activist group backing its call to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) – but withdrew the letter later fearing it could affect the country’s social harmony.

Archbishop Nicholas Chia, 73, yesterday said he had retracted the letter to Function 8 after he reflected on it and became concerned it could be used “in a manner that I did not intend”.

[snip]

Last night, Archbishop Chia sent The Straits Times a one-page response, saying the fact that the incident had come to light confirmed his fears. “Au’s article confirmed my fear that the group would use my letter in a manner that I did not agree with, and make use of the Office of the Archbishop and the Catholic Church for their own ends,” he said.

He noted that Mr Au’s account could only have come from Function8, with which he had communicated in private.

He said he had decided to withdraw his letter after reflecting on it, “because if the letter were to be used in a manner that I did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore”.

Function8 acknowledged his decision and returned the Archbishop his letter, he added.

He said: “The article by Mr Au, which has appeared now, months later, confirms the correctness of my earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group.”

–  Straits Times, 20 September 2012, Archbishop clarifies retraction of letter to group, by Tessa Wong

Today newspaper reported likewise:

The head of the Catholic Church here has criticised a blogger and the organisers of a rally against the Internal Security Act (ISA) over a blog post which suggested that he was pressured by the Government into retracting a letter he had sent expressing support for the event.

The flap arose from Mr Alex Au’s lengthy critique on his blog – posted on Tuesday – of what he described as the Government’s “arm-twisting” of Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

[snip]

Archbishop Chia said yesterday that he had decided to withdraw his letter because “on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject, and if used in a manner that I did not intend, may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore”.

– Today, 20 September 2012, Archbishop slams Alex Au, anti-ISA rally organisers

He described as “irresponsible” my publication of the chronology of events and his assumption that it was Function 8 which told me about it.

“These irresponsible actions can easily cause serious misunderstanding between the Catholic Church and the Government, and damage the long-standing trust and cooperation between the two. It is most regrettable that Au and the group have acted in this manner,” he said in his press statement.

On the contrary, I think it is the responsible thing to do to expose these hidden events to public scrutiny. They show Singaporeans the inner workings of how our country is governed, and transparency is essential to a healthier democracy. The very fact that powerful forces would want these goings-on to be kept from the public eye is itself suspicious.

In addition, I had hoped through telling this story, to generate, inter alia, a debate about where citizens would like to draw the line between religious organisations and politics, and how that line is to be maintained. Going by the comments to the earlier article that have been received so far, I think a very civil discussion has indeed started.

So, when he says the exposure of those events “confirms the correctness of my earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group”, it sounds a bit strange. After all, the point of my article was to raise the very same issue of whether or not a religious organisation should be lending voice to a political position. Do note that not only was the original letter supportive of the rally against detention without trial, his second letter said the organisers were free to tell the rally participants that the archbishop had sent a letter of support. What can he possibly mean when he now says that he was afraid of his first letter being used “in a manner that I did not intend”?

The chronology of events that I published indicated that it was the Internal Security Department that first planted the argument that the Church could be “used” by a group. This amazing possibility arose even when the group had not solicited the archbishop’s support in the first place.

I understand from reporters that nothing in his press statement contradicted my account of events.

Chia wrote about his fears of harming social harmony in Singapore. Is that not misplaced? Did he use offensive language against other religions, ethnic or social groups in his original (now withdrawn) letter? Not that I know of. The only “harmony” that might feel threatened by his now-retracted letter is the silence the government might want over its (mis)use of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial.

Alternatively, one could say the only “harmony” that might be put at risk is the take-for-granted support among Roman Catholics for the ruling party. After they hear of the shabby way the government treated the local head of the faith, maybe the flock won’t be so “harmonious” towards the ruling party anymore? Is that the “social disquiet” one fears?  If so, who is it exactly who has reason to be anxious?  The Church or the government?

* * * * *

Now, let me share with you a second chronology of events:

At about 7 pm last evening, several reporters called me when I was standing amidst 200 out-of-work  foreign workers, all of them needing help and advice about their situation. Amidst the cacophony of twenty people trying to speak at the same time, two of the reporters asked me whether I could forward to them the email the archbishop had sent me, and what my comments to that email were.

What email? I asked.  When I last checked my mailbox, around 6 pm, there was none from Nicholas Chia, and now I had no internet access. However, I promised them that I’d check and respond as soon as I got to a computer, though that might be after 10 pm.

In the end, it was 11 pm before I could get online (I tried to check my email on my ipad while on the train going home but our 3G service sucks). And still there was no email from Chia. So I told the reporters that I had received nothing. One reporter then said: Oh, the archdiocese has sent out a press statement instead, just half an hour earlier.

This chronology itself is highly suggestive of “interference”. The press was alerted in advance of a response by the archbishop. If indeed the archbishop intended to write me a private email, it would be most unusual for him to be publicising its future existence to the press beforehand. We can only wonder what he really intended as of the afternoon.

Or we can speculate that the earlier intention to send an email was overruled and recast as a press statement, a process that took several more hours to hammer out (and be agreed to by others?) before eventual release at 10:30 pm.

Maybe the reporters misheard?  Maybe it wasn’t an email that the archbishop was drafting, but a press statement all along? It’s possible, but here’s the funny thing: Is the archbishop’s office so well organised for media publicity that it would be asking reporters at several newsrooms in different languages to stand by for a statement to be released later? Government departments do that routinely, but the archbishopric? Guess what? The archdiocese’s website doesn’t even have a section for containing its press statements (nor can the statement be found on its Facebook page – as at 9:45 am on Thursday 20 September 2012), and you expect me to believe they’re so well organised for media relations to be giving advance notice?

Given this sequence of events, and the earlier sequence of events as told in my previous article, it is very hard to know who makes up the archbishop’s mind for him. And that again, I think, is a matter of public interest and worthy of concerned discussion.

 

67 Responses to “What the archbishop did not intend”


  1. 1 Anon w3X6 20 September 2012 at 10:08

    Thank you for writing these articles. I think it is absolutely essential to the continued functioning of a democratic nation that these secret inner goings-on be held up to the spotlight

    • 2 Mike Zeng 20 September 2012 at 14:01

      What democratic nation? Singapore? No PAP Minister nor MP has ever called Singapore a democracy….it’s always a meritocracy. It’s like the word democracy is taboo here and never to be used!
      Ever heard our lord LKY used this word to describe Singapore esp after the 70s? None at all! So why meritocracy? In their context, meritocracy means simply the meritocratic elites particularly the anointed State scholars here have the legal right to rule over the nation indefinitely!

    • 4 J 20 September 2012 at 16:17

      Catholics have been persecuted since Roman times and true to tradition Peter, Paul, and many others had been nailed to the cross, thrown in boiling oil, been imprisioned for the sake of Christ. In short, we are on the side of truth and should not be afraid of Pilate or Caesar. Our values are totally different. They get their reward on earth, we get ours in Heaven.
      This current episode bring me back to 1987 and many felt that the church did the wrong thing then. Are we repeating it again?

      For the Truth to be known, I urge the Archbishop to publish the contents of the original letter and let reader decide. We need to do what we preach.

      • 5 Xu 21 September 2012 at 05:22

        “Catholics have been persecuted since Roman times”

        Oh come on now, the Catholic church has been the author and enabler of at least as much persecution as it has been the victim of. Countless innocent women were burned at the stake for “witchcraft”. Adolf Hitler remained an official member of the Roman Catholic church, and was never excommunicated for any of the atrocities he committed. The list goes on.

        I am strongly in favour of a clear separation between church and state. However what worries me here is the underhanded means employed by the government to ensure this separation.

  2. 6 Nick Lim 20 September 2012 at 10:12

    Thanks Alex for bringing this episode to light. Wonderful effort of yours.
    Surely this matter would not have seen daylight during the pre-internet days.

  3. 7 The 20 September 2012 at 10:49

    /// Archbishop Chia said yesterday that he had decided to withdraw his letter because “on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject… ///

    This is highly unusual. The letter is presumably written by Chia, yet it does not reflect the author’s views??? Was he coerced into writing the letter? Was it ghost-written by someone else? Or someone did the reflection for him?

  4. 8 SS 20 September 2012 at 10:52

    Well, at least now everyone knows what the archbishop really thinks about the ISA.

    Archbishop: mission accomplished ;)

    • 9 octopi 20 September 2012 at 23:47

      Exactly. What did people expect the archbishop to say? The archbishop had his balls squeezed by the govt, he had to disavow the latter. That (ie the disavowal) is wayang, as most people can understand. Then when Yawning Bread reveals the story behind the letter, the archbishop knows that he has to complete the wayang by protesting against Yawning Bread’s account. That is the only course of action that has no downside. Those who know that archbishop didn’t mean to withdraw the letter have no reason to change their mind. The government can never say that the archbishop’s withdrawal is insincere. Everybody understands the situation anyway.

  5. 10 jn 20 September 2012 at 11:21

    The Archbishop says “on reflection” the original letter did not reflect his views.

    Is he saying he did not properly and carefully consider the matter before penning his original letter?

    When and how did his subsequent “reflection” take place? Did it had anything to do with the lim-kopi session with ISD or lunch with DPM?

    What in the original letter failed to accurately reflect his thinking?

    What is his current thinking on the subject?

  6. 11 ricardo 20 September 2012 at 11:32

    We should not criticize Archbishop Chia. Only those who have had lunch with the head of the Min. of Love can understand his motives. And those who have had free extended holidays awarded to them by the Min. of Love.

    We can only applaud his earlier championing of an attempt to publicize injustice & crimes committed by the Rich & Powerful.

    Now the Min. of Truth is giving him a hand to ‘correct’ History.

    In 1987, the Min. of Truth set out the Truth and with the help of a little torture, the priests confessed the Truth and were set free by the Min. of Love.

    Of course the ex-priests later retracted their confessions so were awarded another free holiday so they could be cleansed again. Their lawyers joined them this time.

    We shall see if Archbishop Chia needs this extra help.

  7. 12 Chanel 20 September 2012 at 11:34

    Isn’t it obvious that the public statement by the Archbishop was crafted by govt officials. The style of the statement is so like PAP’s. Why the hurry to issue the statement at 10.30pm?

    The Archbishop’s statement said “…if the letter were to be used in a manner that I did not intend…” My question is: what did he intend the original (now retracted) letter to be used for???

  8. 13 yuen 20 September 2012 at 11:40

    as I commented on your previous article, the essential issue is whether the Catholic Church supported the stand taken in Archbishop Chia’s first letter; if not, then he had to withdraw it, once the matter got raised in public/at higher level

    there is some value in having the mattered aired; the final impact is however difficult to forecast; the archbishop obviously preferred otherwise

    though it might seem to be self promotion, I suggest that your readers take a look at these articles

    http://theonlinecitizen.com/?s=yuen+chung

  9. 14 AJW 20 September 2012 at 12:05

    There is no such thing as full transparency and there never will be as long as you have segments of society that will act willfully and think illogically. One of the reasons why there is no country in the world that practices an open democracy system. More to the point we are a republic and not a democracy….most of you will argue semantics, but there are some key differences. Cheers.

    • 15 yawningbread 20 September 2012 at 15:13

      “We are a republic and not a democracy” – so it’s OK then? No one should bother to critique the present situation?

    • 16 Chanel 20 September 2012 at 16:52

      AJW,

      Then, why bother with general elections? What waste money and time on elections every 5 years or so. Might as well just anoint a Supreme Leader for SIngapore

    • 17 The 21 September 2012 at 08:17

      Yah right, the paragon of which is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It has both democracy and republic – so no need for hair splitting semantics.

  10. 18 Gerry Goh 20 September 2012 at 12:19

    “Harm the social harmony of Spore”….

    Aiyah please lah Spore is not that vulnerable and the Abp’s letter is just a letter. Dont have to be so drama..We need to grow up and accept different points of view without getting all worked up unnecessarily…

  11. 19 walkie talkie 20 September 2012 at 13:03

    Perhaps, sometimes, a person’s intention could not be expressed explicitly in the public and one’s intended message can only be successfully communicated to those who can read between the lines and connect the dots. As the archbishop’s holy book’s had Jesus saying: “Let those who have ears hear” in the context of Jesus hiding his message within some explicit stories. Only by carefully hearing/listening and by careful seeing, then can one see or hear the things beneath, or the invisible lines in between. ;)

  12. 20 Tenzin Quek 20 September 2012 at 13:14

    As a teenager when I first saw Vincent Cheng on tv with his downcast eyes behind his thick spectacles admitting to his wrongdoings and the entire media machinery pouring over his sins in sync (or harmony if you like), it just turned my blood cold. I just couldn’t believe that a nerdy looking guy like him could have a ‘Marxist conspiracy’ against the interest of Singapore. Yet I could find no other source of alternative view and the Catholic school I was studying in then was deafeningly silent on this issue. Fear gripped me no end when I realize it could be the Catholic group then and the Buddhists group or me next and nobody was available then to defend me.

    Thanks to the Internet and brave souls like Alex justice may have finally found a voice.

    Thank you Alex for opening up the old wound, let’s uncover the truth and let the healing begin.

  13. 21 John Yeo. 20 September 2012 at 13:43

    Thank you Alex for bring this to light. Archbishop Chia is not a frivolous person as far as I know. So a few months ago he wrote a letter of support to the organizers of a rally against the ISA. Now he is trying hard to distant himself from his own letter and the organizers. He is even said to be slamming Alex for bringing this to light? What is happening behind the scene? Somebody do tell please. Can we discuss this at the National Conversation?

  14. 22 K Das 20 September 2012 at 13:50

    I don’t think Alex Au has done anything improper to be chastised or taken to task. Why should he be? He has put up for public scrutiny all the shadow play behind the scene about this saga and what is intrinsically so wrong about this?

    The government has set the OB markers that religious leaders and their followers should abide by and not breach. It is firm and unequivocal on this. I can disagree with and criticize this stand or the OB marker latitude given but I cannot default the government for doing what it feels right whether openly or tactically from behind, to restore the hitherto existing non-politicised Church-State relationship

    The man responsible for this controversy is Archbishop Nicholas Chia himself. He appears to have knowingly committed two cardinal sins. (i) Knowing that the entire (?} bunch of people behind Function 8 and its event are ex-political detainees with a long axe to grind against the government, why should he identify himself with them and issue a (unsolicited?) letter of support and (ii) having done so, why did he retract his letter and issue a second one in such a manner, tone and content of message that cast aspersion on his credibility?

    The Function8 group, by the way, is entitled to seek redress to what they may perceive as gross injustice meted out to them in any open manner they wish to and I fully respect that. But by getting the Archbishop involved they have compounded the matter and undermined their cause to some extent. Whether they did this deliberately or unwittingly is something only they know and can tell.

  15. 24 mio 20 September 2012 at 14:00

    A bishop working for the king. No personal sense of justice. Not fit to lead but be led. Why not just step down? Disgraceful.

    • 25 Populist 20 September 2012 at 15:30

      I am a catholic. Who are you to tell us that our bishop is not fit to lead. I think the whole catholic community take offense against your comments. Please apologize or I would complain it against Yawning bread and your Good selves.
      .

      • 26 Liyan 20 September 2012 at 19:12

        If you are so easily offended, maybe you should go stay in a cave. Nobody in the world is above criticism, whether by insiders or outsiders.

        Have you never held any critical thoughts about the government of another country?

    • 27 Mike Zeng 20 September 2012 at 16:34

      Deft a Thomas Becket he’s not! When he received the visitors from ISD he must have recalled what had happened to Archbishop Beckett of Canterbury after King Henry 11 exclaimed ” who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Happy with and still treasuring his position and good life, he knew what he had to do to undo his unthinking act of bravado in June.
      It should be ok as the precedence had already been set by his predecessor Greg Yong in 1987. So much for Archbishops….

  16. 28 Stephii 20 September 2012 at 14:17

    Thanks Alex, for your boldness and persistence in telling us what goes on behind-the-scenes.

    I’m glad the Archbishop wrote the letter in the first instance – as SS above has commented, we now know what he thinks about the ISA.

    As for how the state has acted so far – that is a totally different story. How utterly shameful and disgusting.

    And since we are in the midst of a National Conversation, how about we talk about some of the issues raised through your articles? Such as the relevance and use of the ISA, or what is a progressive and socially relevant view of politics and religion? Are religious leaders and institutions NEVER to comment on policies, even if they are socially unjust and contradict spiritual values related to righteousness, peace and showing solidarity for the oppressed?

  17. 29 Maria 20 September 2012 at 15:57

    Dear Mr Au,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now. I think what you are doing for the LGBT and foreign worker community is admirable. But I am disappointed with your views on His Grace, Archbishop Chia. What you have done with a few brushes of your pen is to taint a very kind person who I know personally, and whom I look up to. In one fell swoop, you have made him out to be a weakling.

    I know that you have your own high moral principles for wanting to “expose” what you think are shenanigans in your eyes. But I implore you to consider whether sometimes your means in achieving your ends, result in you not being very different from the true demons that you are trying to slay? Are you also not like the government which you are ultimately trying to attack by bullying and heckling at His Grace? Are you not trying to puppeteer the Archbishop by making all these insinuations that he is weak?

    It is a hurtful tactic you are using to achieve your aims. His Grace has been a good man, a kind man and a decent man in God’s service. He has refrained from attacking anybody’s integrity with unfounded allegations. He has acted with grace throughout his life and touched many people’s lives, including mine and the foreign workers whom you are so concerned over.

    I hope you will take a step back and quietly reflect on your actions. In the path of righteousness, how many have to be trod upon? How many lives have to be tainted by your blazing pen?

    • 30 ape@kinjioleaf 20 September 2012 at 18:45

      I don’t see how Alex has been ‘heckling and bullying his Grace’. In my opinion he has on the contrary defended Archbishop’s action by trying to explain what could’ve forced the Archbishop to retract his statement.

    • 31 Tom Jones 21 September 2012 at 12:34

      The Archbishop may be a good, kind and decent man in God’s service (and all that) to you but his actions do not show him to be a good leader or even a moral person.

      As a leader and holder of high office in your religion, if you cannot abide by the current paradigm of religion and politics being kept separate and you write an (unsolicited?) letter supporting something that is out of the realm of religion, you will receive a reaction.

      After you receive the reaction, you either (a) have the balls to hold on to your beliefs or (b) retract and apologise. But don’t put the blame on others who will ‘harm social harmony in Singapore’ or ‘make use of the Office of the Archbishop and the Catholic Church for their own ends’ or using words like ‘use in a manner I did not intend’ or ‘on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject’.

  18. 32 ape@kinjioleaf 20 September 2012 at 16:08

    When I first read Lunch Menu A Four Point Letter yesterday, especially the references made to Aware and Function 8 and the government responses, my impression was that the PAP government do not want religion to mix with social or political activism… publicly. Personally I think that is a right approach as religion is all about faith whilst civic administration is about reasoning based on facts. The last thing we want is a flock of faithful pressing for agenda with no regard to members of other faith or people with no religion.

    Archbishop Chia (and the government) might be fearful that his letter may be (mis)used as a tool to propagate a misunderstood message that “the catholic church supports removal of ISA” or worse “the church condemns government use of ISA”. Did either of your (Alex) articles state that? As you’ve explained in this post, the gist I gathered reading the Lunch Menu And A Four Point Letter is that should ISD work in absolute secrecy and should religion mix with civil activism? I don’t recall you stating that the catholic church supports Function 8. The Archbishop might have, allegedly in his personal capacity based on his original letter but did that letter carry the full authority of the catholic church with support from all Singaporean catholics? I don’t know and don’t think so.

    With the revelation of what came out today, I think some people have over-reacted and mixed with more secrecy, is a perfect recipe for conspiracy theorists.

    Last but not least, our MSM has once again, draw more attention… with ill conceived information and further fuels the recipe.

  19. 33 oute 20 September 2012 at 16:10

    Is there going to have another “Operation…”, or how come they know about the letter, if it is a private letter.

    Maybe he should sign as a private citizen…

  20. 34 say say only 20 September 2012 at 16:25

    so is ISA practised here against christian teaching or not?
    is it against buddhist precepts or muslim or hindhus or any other relgious teachings.

    if so,how cna have social harmony in ISA?

  21. 35 yawningbread 20 September 2012 at 17:46

    I see that the mainstream media is on a hunt for the sources. I see this as part of the state agenda to deflect attention from the questionable actions of the government and an attempt to make my sources look like conspirators.

    If you read carefully what I wrote, you’ll see that in my view, the archbishop was, except maybe for the first, now-withdrawn letter, more an intermediary in events than a protagonist.

    The real protagonist is the government, the ISD, deputy PM, etc. What are they doing? Why such opaque tactics? Why so determined to silence all opposition to detention without trial. Keep the focus on them, the ones who really have questions to answer.

    Focussing on the archbishop, the staffers from his office or Function 8 members is to miss the real point of the story. It’s chasing the whistleblower, not the culprit. It serves the government’s interest, not the public interest.

    • 36 JG 20 September 2012 at 20:31

      I totally agree. In fact, I think the Archibishop is rather smart, in the way he handled the issue. He wrote a letter in support of the group. From my understanding, he did it on his own accord, in other words, believing its the right thing to do. The Govt got to hear about it and called him in for a “lunch”. The Archibishop acted responsibly in withdrawing that letter. But I like the way he explained his withdrawal publicly (“on reflection”).

      Anyone can put “two” and “two” together and see that he was forced to do so. With this, he sliced the cake exactly the right way, given his situation.

      Singaporeans got the message loud and clear – he does support the group but the Govt pulled him back. To me, that’s good enough. In fact, its probably an even stronger message that got sent than if the Archibishop’s support was allowed to be. I’m not sure that many will pay attention to it. Those that do, will probably think that this support is understandable given the history and don’t think much further about it.

      In other words, the current turn of event has shine a stronger light on the issuse, not just on ISA per se, but also the heavy handedness of the Govt, particularly TCH.

      • 37 Tan Tai Wei 21 September 2012 at 00:40

        The Archbishop is “rather smart”? It’s fine the way it has worked out? Better than had that first letter been read and published? You mean to say that Alex’s disclosure of the affair has been part of the ploy? For without it, all would be silenced and “Singaporeans” would not have “got the message loud and clear”!

    • 38 Lee Liew 20 September 2012 at 22:29

      If you have the first letter, Alex, can you put in your blog? That letter will go a long way to clear some of the fog.

    • 39 The Pariah 23 September 2012 at 14:04

      In my opinion, the archbishop crossed the line between Religion and Politics with his first UNsolicited ltr to Function 8.

      Once taken to task for it in their private dialogue and luncheon — instead of retracting his ltr by admitting his initial mis-step — His Grace succumbed to being a hatchet for The Establishment to target Function 8, Maruah and Blogger Alex Au.

      His Grace’s references to “social harmony”, “not accurately reflect views on the subject”, “irresponsibility”, etc, are mere smoke-screens as the Establishment capitalized upon an opportunity to discredit these 3 parties and cast doubt on their motivations in the public eye. [As for the current hot hunt for sources, contrast this with The Squirrel who fed half-truths to PAP about WP Exec Com process pre-Hougang By-Election.]

      When anything ISD-related is hit, it would be naivete NOT to expect the full weight of the govt machinery to go into overdrive – whatever the PAP proclaims about party transformation and govt transparency.

      Am glad that Blogger Alex Au shared these blog postings so that Singaporeans can read and think for themselves.

  22. 40 Major 20 September 2012 at 18:05

    The sad truth is, there is just too few “Alex Au” out there to fight the arrogance of ruling elites. They have grown too big and rich and too well connected. Their web of control is too extensive.

    Now have to wait for a major “earthquake” to shake up the whole place.

  23. 41 Veronica 20 September 2012 at 18:50

    Just FYI, the Catholic Church here does have a dedicated Communications team that deals with the media.

  24. 42 sgwitness 20 September 2012 at 19:23

    What is wrong with the State rapping the knuckles of the Church for overstepping its boundaries? Do we really want religious leaders to espouse political causes? Isn’t the separation of Church from State a good thing?

    • 43 TAP 21 September 2012 at 02:18

      There is nothing political about wanting to abolish ISA. But if the Church starts telling people who to vote, then it is overstepping its boundaries.

  25. 44 Observer 20 September 2012 at 21:02

    Alex Au, thanks for speaking out. Singapore needs more brave souls like you. The path to heaven is littered with broken spirits wilted by falsehood and half truths. Speak the truth and it will set you free.

  26. 45 Passerby 20 September 2012 at 22:12

    I’m usually in agreement with Alex on most of his viewpoints, but on this, I have to say that the government’s behind-the-scenes actions ( assuming they did in fact take place ) to dissuade the Archbishop from lending his support to Function 8 is the right one.

    I am for the strict separation between the state and religion. Consider; if we accept the Catholic Church’s blessings on this issue, we leave the door open for them to lend weight to movements that Alex will definitely oppose, like the Church’s unbending stand on contraceptives and abortion.

    • 46 yawningbread 20 September 2012 at 22:28

      It is one thing to argue for a strict separation of church and state, it is another thing to say that the way to police that boundary should be through opaque actions involving ISD officers, and what appears to be a case of drafting letters for the archbishop to sign.

      • 47 The Pariah 23 September 2012 at 14:09

        It takes two hands to clap. The Archbishop could choose NOT to sign anything that he did not draft himself. His Grace could also choose NOT to draft any letters along the lines of what was dictated to him, if at all so dictated.

  27. 48 reddotsg 20 September 2012 at 22:22

    Abp may be under duress to write second letter.

  28. 49 Alan 20 September 2012 at 22:32

    Firstly why is the Archbishop so worried about the whole affair being made public by insisting in the first place that his communication with Function 8 was a private matter ?

    How can it be simply private if his original intention was to inform Singaporeans that the Church supports the abolition of the death penalty ? Looks like the Archbishop is cowed into silence again.

    And what is exactly wrong with that the Govt is so WORRIED about ? Does it mean to say our Govt can’t even allow any Church or religious body to have their own freedom of expression to voice their support for the abolition of any cruel or unjust law in Singapore ?

    Support also cannot, as if the Church wants to overturn our PAP Govt, what are they thinking in their minds ?

  29. 50 Ryan 20 September 2012 at 23:18

    I will not add anything erudite, but thank you, Alex. You really, truly are my hero.

  30. 51 kow 21 September 2012 at 00:33

    Do we have more important things to do ? No wind no wave. Separate religion from politics, please.

  31. 53 TAP 21 September 2012 at 02:20

    Thanks Alex for writing this account so that we know how things work behind the scene.

    The Archbishop should answer to God alone, follow his conscience and show a good example to all Catholics.

  32. 54 sgwitness 21 September 2012 at 02:30

    The archbishop made an error of judgment in penning the first letter. The “opaque actions” of the government in response are an attempt to right this error but at the same time, preserve the dignity of the man. Alex — your expose has not so much embarrassed the government as to highlight the lapse of judgement on the part of Nicholas Chia. This of course confirms that he is as prone to making mistakes as the next man — slightly surprising for we would expect an archbishop to be much more skillful in such matters.

  33. 55 Kelvind Kao 21 September 2012 at 04:12

    I am a Catholic and Veronica is right in saying that the Catholic Church here does have a Communications team that deals with the media. However, I am always sceptical of the staffers of that team whose views on certain issues, in my opinion, were too “feminist” at times and which I had strongly disagreed with. I guess that it is just probable that the Archbishop may have liaised with the Communications team before writing his first letter.

    He must have changed his mind about the ISA after the Deputy Prime Minister has reminded him of its importance and necessity for maintaining social security and harmony. The DPM may probably also have sounded his Grace to be cautious in not being used in the wider agenda of the feminism movement.

    I, for one, am for the retention of the ISA for Singapore’s security and I do trust our government that it will not abuse it for its own ends but will apply it responsibly for the welfare and security of our society.

    • 56 Johnny AIy 23 September 2012 at 13:17

      u trust the ruling party to not misuse the ISA. Well in our opinion we have seen the ISA being used against political opponents who posed no threat to our national security. Those arrested during operation spectrum had no plans to blow anything up nor did they have any arms…

  34. 57 Anon 2h80 21 September 2012 at 08:56

    Three hundred taels of silver IS NOT buried here.

    Once upon a time in a China village lived a rich farmer. One day he wanted to go downtown but was worried about his three hundred taels of silver left at home became the target of the burglar. Suddenly he got a BRIGHT IDEA. He dug a big hole under a tree in his farmland and buried his treasures. He was delighted of his cleverness and ready to go downtown. He then got even a BRIGHTER IDEA. He painted a signboard and placed it above the covered hole which read: “Three hundred taels of silver IS NOT buried here”. By the time he came back home, the three hundred taels of silver were all gone.

    This was the story my teacher had told me when I was eight years old.
    The moral of the story: 此地无银三百两。

    Three hundred taels of silver IS NOT buried here – Part 2.

    Actually the three hundred taels of silver were stolen by the farmer’s neighbour named Zhang San (张三), whom is also the BUDDY of the rich farmer. Zhang San saw the signboard under the tree which read: “Three hundred taels of silver IS NOT buried here”. He immediately dug out the three hundred taels of silver and brought them home. Zhang San also had a GREAT IDEA. He painted another signboard and put it in the big hole which he had just dug out which read: “Your neighbour Zhang San didn’t steal it”.

    Hence the expression: “No three hundred taels of silver hidden here; neighbour Zhang San didn’t steal it (此地无银三百两,隔壁张三没有偷。)” is used to describing “A guilty person gives himself away by consciously protesting his innocence.”

    This expression is also used to describe a person who tries to conceal or cover up something, but gives himself away by the act.

  35. 59 Fallacy 21 September 2012 at 09:36

    The need for separation of the state and religion is a fallacy created by political despots to ensure that their misdeeds can be justified in the name of order. One might argue that it is okay to kill a family to save a village but tell me which politician volunteers his own family. On the contrary they ensure that their sons inherit their position and remain as rulers.

    In the cases of detention without trial was justice served? Will you take the word of a political despot it was your brother and sister. Does it not say in all religion that as human being we must stand up against injustice no matter committed by whom. State instituted injustice is still injustice and it is the duty of all religion to question it.

    • 60 artemov 21 September 2012 at 13:32

      No offense but I see the need for the separation of state and religion. But that does not mean that they can’t comment on political and social issues, as they have done on gay issues and the casino issue.

      • 61 Tom Jones 21 September 2012 at 15:23

        Seems to be some contradiction here… If you comment on gay issues and casino issues, aren’t you commenting on political and social issues? Then how do you separate state and religion?

        If the Church were to say that foreign workers are exploited or single mothers face discrimination in housing, aren’t they commenting on social issues? Where do you draw the line? ISD? Government policies?

        Religion being such a sensitive issue now (you cannot criticise or make fun of certain religions or their proponents on pain of death) means that it has become a dangerous thing that can be used for the good or bad in today’s world.

        Far better that everyone thinks scientifically and logically than to depend on some medieval beliefs in an invisible, unheard, unseen supernatural being.

      • 62 John Yeo. 21 September 2012 at 18:15

        I can agree that politics should be separated from religion. For example, it would be inappropriate for a religious leader to influence how people should vote in a General Election.

        However, it is not possible to separate religion from social justice. Social justice is universally upheld by all major religions. In fact, the value is also enshrined in our National Pledge without regard to which political party is in power.

        If religious leaders were not allowed to peacefully commend on matters of social justice, the State would effectively be putting a restrain on people’s religious believes and value system. (Advocating violence is another matter altogether)

        If there is a group of people alleging that they have been wrongfully accused, tortured and detained without a proper trial, the abuse of power must be investigated. All persons concerned about protecting the weak from hooligans must speak up. This naturally includes religious leaders as part of their teachings for peace and justice for mankind.

  36. 63 sgwitness 22 September 2012 at 19:04

    It is perfectly fine for Nicholas Chia, the private citizen, to write to Function 8 showing his support for the abolition of the ISA, or any other cause. But it is not ok for Nicholas Chia the Archbishop to do so because rightly or wrongly, it is imputing that his stand is the one that is backed by his God. Can Nicholas Chia the private citizen be separated from Nicholas Chia the Archbishop? Yes, provided he takes care to emphasise this fact when penning whatever letters he wishes to pen. In this incident, did he take pains to tell Function 8 that he is writing to them as a private citizen and not as the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in Singapore?

  37. 64 Rushifa A Rushifa A 23 September 2012 at 08:41

    Since when did detaining a citizen without trial became political? When he wrote a letter, did he asked for it to be publicized? Function 8 did not even solicit anything from chia! You made that incredible leap of logic, that chia’s view is backed by god. Chia drew flake not because he wrote the letter, but because a kopi session by a power greater than god
    was enough to “set him straight”. Subsequent events only exposed him further. And MHA jumping in is the standard procedure to confirm what exactly transpired

  38. 65 sgwitness 23 September 2012 at 18:49

    The ISA is not a hot-button political issue??? Yes, it is a human rights issue, but isn’t it also a political one? Allow a religious leader to champion a political issue means opening the floodgates towards allowing other religious leaders to champion their own favourite political causes. Do we really want that?

    There was no need for any leap of logic because when a religious leader in his capacity as a religious leader supports any cause, his flock would assume that that cause would be sanctioned by their god. It’s part of what it means to be a religious leader — supposedly an expert in the interpretation of scriptures.

  39. 66 Rushifa A Rushifa A 24 September 2012 at 05:46

    You lumped in the ISA. The letter chia wrote only conveyed his condolences for the spectrum victims. Think car crash or any terrible disaster. Not a word on ISA. If he was that afraid of stepping on the govt’s toes, he simply could clarify that this does not reflect his stance on ISA, a standard diplomatic practice when any politician wants to convey his sympathies on a hot topic without offending anyone

    And John Yeo is correct when he says religious leaders should not be gagged when they speak up on social injustice. Some might argue they even have an obligation, as a moral authority, to do so. For evil to win, good people are only required to do nothing.

    You assume that his flock is as impressionable as you are. So he says charge and his flock just follow? That is quite insulting and offensive.Isn’t that blind faith? And the letter was never publicized at all, nor were there any attempts to use the “god is behind us” angle, as you implied, till MHA , as usual, elbows it’s way in with the grace and charm of a rhino.

  40. 67 sgwitness 25 September 2012 at 04:01

    Rushifa…

    The letter the Archbishop wrote has not been published so I will not speculate on its contents. I was not the one who brought in the ISA — you did that when you mentioned detention without trial — isn’t that what the ISA is all about?

    Personally, I too am for the abolition of the ISA. But the issue is not so much about the ISA but mixing religion with politics. Whether or not the flock will follow a religious leader is beside the point. More important is that the leader is, whether he realises it or not, by his action, sending a message that could get the flock all worked up for mostly nothing. If you doubt the mindlessness of blind faith, just consider the pointless rage in Pakistan and elsewhere regarding a stupid film or some cartoons or goodness knows what other triviality that can give some religious leaders an excuse to engulf the world in violence.


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For an update of the case against me, please see AGC versus me, the 2013 round.

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