SINGAPORE: The exchange of words continues between Singapore’s Archbishop Nicholas Chia and activist group Function 8.
In a statement to the media through the Archdiocese Communications Office on Friday, the Archbishop indicated that he does not intend to release any of the letters he had sent to the group.
Separately, Function 8 has defended its actions, saying it’s "untrue" that it’s disrespecful to the Archbishop.
Both parties are embroiled in an exchange over the Archbishop’s withdrawal of support for a rally against the Internal Security Act (ISA).
The whole incident came about when blogger Alex Au wrote about how the Archbishop had retracted his letter of support to Function 8.
On Thursday, Function 8 called on the Archbishop to publish his first letter to the group, allegedly in support of its call to abolish the Internal Security Act, as well as to publish his second letter to the group, retracting his first one.
On Friday, the Archbishop said his letter to the group was intended as a private communication.
He added if the the group was going to publicise it at a political event — something which he did not intend — then they should have asked for permission first.
The Archbishop said they did not do so.
As the group has already returned his letter, Archbishop Chia said the question of releasing it does not arise as he had never intended for it to be released in the first place.
The Archbishop reiterated his stand that he withdrew his letter to Function 8, because the contents did not accurately reflect his views, and if used in a manner that he did not intend, may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Home Affairs weighed in on the issue, criticising Function 8 for being "disrespectful" to the Archbishop by publicising his retraction of a letter through blogger Alex Au.
Function 8 responded on Friday, releasing a copy of its letter to the Archbishop, dated 1 June, in response to his letter of withdrawal.
The group said the ministry’s "unwarranted allegations" have now forced it to show details of its letter to the Archbishop in order to clear the allegations.
Parts of the letter have been blacked out.
The group said it’s to protect the direct contents of the Archbishop’s original letter and the identity of the person who was copied in his letter of withdrawal.
In the letter, Function 8 said it did not regard its anti—ISA rally as a political activity but an effort to achieve restorative justice.
It also indicated that the Archbishop’s first letter to the group was unsolicited.
The group also said that it’s "untrue" that it’s disrespectful to the Archbishop because it never publicised the contents of his letter.
What it’s seeking is for the authorities to engage civil society groups for "frank exchange of views especially on sensitive subjects".
As a rule, Singapore makes clear the distinction between religion and politics, to maintain social harmony and stability in the country.
The connection between the Catholic Church in Singapore and Function 8 dates back to 1987, when some group members were arrested for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government.
Among the detainees were four full—time church workers, including an associate of the group, Mr Vincent Cheng, as well as church volunteers such as lawyer Teo Soh Lung, who’s one of the founders of Function 8.
The Singapore government said when it carried out detentions under the Internal Security Act in 1987, it took great care to assure the Singapore Archdiocese and the Vatican that the security action was not directed against the church, but against a few individuals, including non—Catholics, who had exploited their position in church organisations to pursue a political agenda that mixed religion with politics.
In 1987, the Catholic Church leadership in Singapore had stated that "we are satisfied that the government of Singapore has nothing against the Catholic Church when it detained 10 of our Church workers amongst the 16 who were arrested for possible involvement in a clandestine communist network".
The Vatican reiterated this position in 1989 when it stated that "the Apostolic Nunciature and the Archdiocese of Singapore did not feel themselves as an object of attacks on the part of the government authorities of Singapore, and their relations have been and are good".
The government’s reasons for the detentions were accepted, and the cooperative and consultative relationship between the government and Catholic Church in Singapore has continued through that period till this day.
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