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Church to boycott state events over sister’s arrest

COLOMBO (SE): The archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, said at a press conference on December 3 that the Catholic Church will boycott all functions sponsored by the government over the Christmas period, as a protest against the November 25 arrest of Missionary of Charity, Sister Mary Eliza.

Sister Eliza was charged by the National Child Protection Authority with trafficking in children at the Prem Nivesa Hostel for abandoned single, pregnant women and abandoned babies. She was held in Welikada Prison, until released on bail on November 29 (Sunday Examiner, December 11).

In early December, complaints were aired that the official Church had not made any statement on the arrest of the Missionary of Charity sister over the charge that she “had been selling the future of the country to foreigners for a few thousand rupees.”

She was due to face court on December 15.

Sister Eliza and the other sisters at the hostel have vigorously denied any involvement in trafficking, saying that all adoptions from the hostel had been carried out according to Sri Lankan law.

Cardinal Ranjith strongly condemned the arrest of the Indian sister. “Our reaction to this is to stay away from any state functions or state-organised events this Christmas, until the matter is sorted out,” UCA News quoted the cardinal archbishop of Colombo as saying.

He accused the police and the National Child Protection Agency of acting without any proof or foundation to the charges. The police claim that they had received a tip-off by telephone that the sisters were selling children to foreigners.

“The sisters serving in these homes are from different countries and do a magnificent service,” Cardinal Ranjith said. “The child protection agency has acted purely on an anonymous telephone call.”

He continued, saying, “The child protection agency gave interviews to the media without investigating the anonymous call they received.  What happened here is that the agency and the police did not know the true facts about the orphanage and gave the media incorrect information, which was used maliciously against the nuns (sisters).”

UCA News reported that the cardinal said, “When pregnant women go to this orphanage seeking shelter, these nuns do not ask their caste or creed. Some girls have been raped and are suicidal, because someone has destroyed their life and dignity.”

The Colombo Page reported on December 6 that the Catholic Church plans to take legal action against the protection agency. The news agency reported that the minister for Christian affairs has been informed that action is being planned against the chairperson of the agency, Anoma Dissanayaka, and the agency itself, for raiding the hostel without first making a proper investigation.

However, a spokesperson for the police, Ajith Rohana, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that at least two underage women were found in the hostel and that it is illegal not to disclose that information to the authorities.

The sisters admitted that their records were not up to date and that the two women were present, but maintain that hardly adds up to trafficking children and selling the future of Sri Lanka to foreigners.

The Missionary of Charity sisters are open about the fact that they place the children born to many of the women in their hostel up for adoption, but insist that they do so according to the law of the land.

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