Subject: Lusa: Ramos Horta blasts Catholic opposition to school curriculum change

East Timor: Ramos Horta blasts Catholic opposition to school curriculum change

Dili, March 24 (Lusa) - Foreign Minister José Ramos Horta strongly criticized the Vatican's representative in East Timor Thursday for what he said was "unwanted interference" in Dili's plans to demote religion classes to an optional subject in the country's public schools.

Ramos Horta said the papal nuncio, Monsignor Malcolm Raamjiph, had made "bellicose" statements, apparently aimed at "heightening tensions rather than helping build consensus", during his visit to Dili last weekend.

According to local media reports, Monsignor Raamjiph urged the predominantly Catholic East Timorese in a sermon Sunday to resist those who attempt to "destroy the Church", an apparent reference to the government's pilot plan to eliminate religion as a required subject in public schools.

Ramos Horta's comments were the first official reaction to mounting criticism of the planned curriculum change from the Timorese church's hierarchy.

While the local church had played an important role in resistance to Indonesia's quarter-century occupation, the foreign minister said it was best "not to talk about the past" as far as the Vatican's stance was concerned.


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Thursday 24 March 2005


The Senior Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, reacted today to comments reportedly made by the Jakarta-based Apostolic Nuncio Mr. Malcolm Raamjiph, during his recent visit to Timor-Leste, to celebrate Palm Sunday mass in Dili.

“The reported comments by the Vatican Apostolic Nuncio constitute unwarranted interference in Timor-Leste’s internal affairs by stepping himself into a national debate on the issue of the teaching of religion in the public education institutions. On the other hand we find it quite inappropriate that the gentleman from the Vatican office in Jakarta should question Timor-Leste’s sovereign relations with other countries. Is the gentleman from the Vatican trying to question why we have relations with countries like Mozambique, China and Cuba? We also have relations with Iran. Is this a sin? He does not seem to question our relations with the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, etc.”

Speaking in Dili and referring to the on-going debate on the issue of the teaching of religion in public schools, the Apostolic Nuncio Mr. Raamjiph was reported by various media outlets to have “encouraged” the people to “confront those who are intent on destroying the Church”.

“The Apostolic Nuncio seems interested in fanning the tensions instead of bridging the differences. He does not seem to know that the authorities of Timor-Leste are paying several million dollars a year in salaries of the teachers of Church schools and have let the Church to continue to occupy numerous State properties around the country”

“We have the best possible relationship with the hierarchy of the various faiths in the country, in particular the Catholic hierarchy. We might have some differences on occasion but overall we share same values and goals for the country. Hence we cannot understand this bellicose sermon by the nuncio from Sri Lanka”

“We would think that someone from a Third World country plagued by a vicious ethnic war and particularly being a religious leader would show some sensitivity”.

“Regarding the role of the Vatican in the history of Timor-Leste’s struggle for independence better we don’t talk about the past. The bishops and priests of Timor-Leste know only too well the Vatican’s role and in particular of the various Apostolic Nuncios who served in Jakarta from 1975”.

The Vatican Apostolic Nuncio, a national of Sri Lanka based in Jakarta, is also accredited to Timor-Leste and visited Timor-Leste for the Palm Sunday.

NOTE: According to Timor-Leste official Government data, there are about 1,000 school-teachers on the government payroll who are teaching at Church-run schools. This incurs in about US$1,800.000.00 per/year in salaries alone. The Government has allocated on average an estimated US$2,500,000.00 for salaries, text books and other requirements of Church-run schools.


Daily Media Review Tuesday, 15 March 2005

Islamic leaders supportive of Church stance

Leaders of Timor-Leste's Islamic community has given its full support to the pastoral note issued by the country's Catholic Church in protest against government policy not to include religion as a compulsory subject in the primary school curriculum.

The President of CENCITIL (Centre for the Islamic Community of Timor-Leste), Arif Abdullah Sagran, said that the pastoral note was relevant to the Islamic community because if Catholicism were to be taught in schools, then automatically minority religions would also be taught. He said that such a policy would benefit Muslims here on a more detailed level as it would mean that the government would need to provide funds and teachers in schools to teach Islam. Sagran emphasized that in general, whatever is beneficial for the community in Timor-Leste would also benefit Muslims, and that it was important for school children to be given a religious and moral education, otherwise their future would be cloudy and void of meaning. (STL)


Daily Media Review Monday, 7 March 2005

Fretilin legitimacy doubted

The ongoing battle between the government and the Church over the inclusion of compulsory religious teaching in the national curriculum could endanger Fretilin's legitimacy, according to political and military observer Julio Tomas Pinto. Speaking to STL, he said that the majority of those who make up Fretilin's support base are Catholic, so the difference in opinion between the Church and State on this matter inevitably becomes a political matter. He said that the Church, which has a strong community base, will inform the community on this difference of opinion, and in turn, this will bring about a decline in support for Fretilin. According to Julio the strong role that the Church played in Timor-Leste's independence means that the issue of religion is linked intimately to the private lives of the people. (STL)

Daily Media Review Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Church not the enemy of the state

The Social Democrat Party (PSD) has appealed to the government not to view the Catholic Church as an opponent or enemy. According to PSD, considering that the majority of East Timorese are Catholic as well as the large contribution that the Church has made to development in this new nation, the government should recognize and treat the Church as a partner. In their political statement read out during Parliament's plenary session on Monday, PSD said that they reaffirm their commitment to support the Church in its position that religion should be a obligatory and not an elective subject in the national school curriculum. (STL)

Daily Media Review Monday, 28 February 2005

Political parties support church in curriculum battle

The Social Democrat Party (PSD) and the Social Democratic Association of Timor (ASDT) have thrown their support behind the Catholic Church concerning recent debate on the inclusion of religion into the national primary school curriculum. The Church, PSD and ASDT all disagree with the government policy to include religious teachings in the curriculum as an optional subject. Lucia Lobato, Secretary General of PSD, told STL that the PSD National Council has requested the government to include religion in the national curriculum as a mandatory subject, to reflect the reality that there is a majority Catholic population in Timor-Leste. Last week, Timor-Leste's Catholic Church sent a pastoral note to the government protesting the majority-Fretilin government's decision to limit religious teachings in government primary schools to elective subjects only. (STL, Timor Post)

Daily Media Review Friday, 14 January 2005

Bishop Nascimento: Those Making Laws Against The Church Are Anti-Christian

In response to the decision of the Government not to include Catholic religion as a mandatory subject in schools, Bishop of Baucau Diocese Basilio do Nascimento said that whoever made the laws against the Church are considered to be anti-Christian. “Every time when we reach the end of the year, we always hear the anti-Christian reading. Those who introduce such things are the ones who no longer believe in God,” said Bishop Nascimento.

Bishop Nascimento added that the Timorese tend to blame foreigners for bringing modern customs to Timor-Leste as anti-Christian behaviour. However, he said that the Timorese are not quite conscious of the fact that they themselves are the ones who are anti-Christ. (STL)



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