04/24/2024, 19.56
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Catholic Church tells politicians, not to put Christian sectarianism in the constitution

While the country is getting ready to welcome Pope Francis in September, amendments have been proposed to assert the country’s Christian identity. For the Catholic Bishops' Conference, this is a “dangerous” step that “obscures and even erases our unique Melanesian identity [. . .] rather than acknowledge, celebrate and perfect it through the Gospel”. The backers of the constitutional changes are the same groups that got the King James Bible inside parliament in 2015, promising “blessings and riches”.

Port Moresby (AsiaNews) – For the Catholic Church, it is “anachronistic and disruptive" to recognise the country's Christian identity through constitutional amendments that would turn Papua New Guinea (PNG) into a confessional state.

Amid preparations to welcome Pope Francis in September, the country’s Catholic Bishops' Conference recently sent an official letter to the Constitutional Law & Reform Commission on a matter that informs the place of religion in society.

Signed by Card John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby (president of the local Council of Churches), Bishop Otto Separy of Bereina (president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of PNG and Solomon Islands), and lawyer Paul Harricknen (president of the Catholic Professional Society), the letter expresses in a timely fashion the objections of the Catholic Church to recent proposals to modify some articles of the constitution.

Changes to the preamble contain errors about the Trinity, which, in a proposed amendment, becomes the source of political authority. The country would be called the "Independent and Christian State of Papua New Guinea" and people would be under “social obligations" to “respect, observe and protect Christian Principles.”

Papua New Guinea’s population is largely Christian, but with a variety of confessions and a complex relationship with the Melanesian traditions and cultures.

Pushing for this strong assertion of the Christian identity are the same US-based Evangelical groups that promote the so-called prosperity theology and successfully lobbied the PNG parliament in 2015 to place a copy of the King James Bible in a place of honour in the building even though this Protestant version of the Christian Holy Book, which dates back to the early 17th century, is not used by most Christian groups in the country.

Now the same groups are trying to get PNG political leaders to change the 1975 constitution, without even formally involving other and local Churches, including the Catholic Church, which represents 27 per cent of the population.

In the letter, the Bishops' Conference writes that the new articles “are tantamount to an alteration of the nature of the state by making Papua New Guinea a confessional one, which means that a version of Christianity will be the official religion recognized by the state and will take precedence over all other religions, beliefs and practices including our traditional cultural values and ways of life.”

The inclusion of the expression "Christian principles" in Goal 5 (on Papua New Guinea’s identity) is seen as “dangerous and concerning” for “It obscures and even erases our unique Melanesian identity (values) rather than acknowledge, celebrate and perfect it (them) through the Gospel of Christ.”

“The proposed changes appear to deny our primordial self-identity.  We are proud to be ethnically and culturally Melanesians who have freely embraced the Gospel of Christ and made it our own.”

Papua New Guinea “is a nation already united in its diversity. This is our strength, our blessing and the heart of our national identity. We are a nation of a thousand tribes, cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs with a variety of Christian denominations. Section 45 of the Constitution provides the protection for such diversity. Anything else will be unconstitutional, unchristian and undemocratic.”

The letter notes that “matters of faith and morals cannot be legislated and coerced or forced on people to accept by law. Faith and morals can only be shown by people’s lives and not by law.”

What is more, “While PNG already has the KJV Bible in the House since 2015 and boasts about being over 90% Christian, we see no reduction in corruption, violence, lawlessness, and offensive conduct of parliamentary debate.”

“The proposed bill and the whole reform” have “been pushed by a group of unrepresentative pastors and professionals without wider consultation and transparency among Churches.”

It is basically “a minority theological view offering a false promise and empty hope of blessings and riches in having the KJV Bible in the Parliament, aligning with Israel by opening the Embassy in Jerusalem and now proposing to declare PNG a Christian state. This is not the way to lift people out of poverty, unemployment, provide better health and education, and strengthen law and order.”

In rejecting the proposed constitutional amendments, the Catholic Church recognises the need to reflect on “social cohesion and national identity in a time of dramatic changes and uncertainty over the future.” At the same time, it believes that “the solution does not lie in the rejection of our traditions, the transformation into a confessional state, the promotion of religious fundamentalism, Christian nationalism, or an ideology of that sort.”

Instead, what is needed is “a laborious process of education and discernment, in national harmony and unity, of what is best from the cultures of our ancestors, the Christian values introduced by the missionaries and the positivity that the modern world can offer”.

If this is done, it will be possible “to build the robust social, cultural and spiritual profile of the Papua New Guinean of the third millennium; a person who acts out of freedom and personal responsibility, not within the dictates of a predetermined ideological frame.”

“Any other way is deceptive and cultist, eventually futile.”

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