NOOSA - The Catholic Bishops Conference has expressed dissatisfaction at the Marape government’s lack of consultation with churches in initiating an inquiry about whether Papua New Guinea should be declared ‘a Christian country’.
“All considered, we do not deem it necessary to introduce amendments to the current PNG Constitution,” the bishops said in a statement.
Leading the conference were Anton Bal, Archbishop of Madang, Sir John Cardinal Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby, Otto Separy, Bishop of Bereina, and Paul Harricknen, President of the Catholic Professional Society.
The Catholic Bishops Conference said it disapproved of the inquiry in its totality and deemed it as unnecessary, especially in its aim to amend the Constitution.
Archbishop Bal said a Constitutional amendment to declare PNG a Christian country seemed to make a mockery of the nation’s existing laws and urged the government not to use the Constitution as a means of promoting political ideologies.
“We believe that the democratic system of government established by the founding fathers of the nation is not to be renounced now in favour of a theocratic one embodied in a confessional state,” he said.
Bal suggested that instead the government could opt for a public declaration of renewed Christian commitment to promote cooperation between the churches and parliament.
“This would aim at upholding the true spirit of the Constitutional preamble and reminding everyone of the constant efforts at humility, conversion and inclusiveness that comes with it,” he said.
Cardinal Ribat highlighted the important pastoral duties that churches have in upholding Christian values and expressed his disappointment at the government’s lack of consideration to at least consult with the churches.
“There was no opportunity for a proper referendum for us to discern and make a submission underlining our position on the issue,” Ribat stated.
“If there had been, then a better understanding and compromise could have been achieved.”
He said the issue must not be politicised and that the Constitution should be protected with utmost care to prevent any alteration.
“If we lose our connection to our founding fathers then we lose sight of the core values and principals they stood and fought to include in first drafting the Constitution,” Ribat said.
Bishop Separy described the inquiry as a “misleading statement” that should not be used as a means to push through political agenda.
“It is now a moral and religious issue threatening to harm the very fabric upon which all of Papua New Guinea’s diverse societies were founded,” he said.
Paul Harricknen cautioned that changes to the Constitution will violate sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which protect freedom of conscience, thought and religion, and freedom of expression.
“Do we really need to legislate this declaration in order for PNG to become a Christian country?” he asked. “Will this declaration make the country any less corrupt, evil, and to ultimately become the richest black Christian country?”
He said achieving Christianity could not be achieved by law but by practicing faith in our deeds and the way in which we live.
Mr Harricknen called on the Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to immediately advise the National Executive Council and the government to bring to a halt their intention for a change to the Constitution.