Thursday, 1 October 2015

1987 Marxist Conspiracy: Forgiveness and Dialogue is the Only Way Foward

On 18 Sep, Archbishop William Goh spoke at the memorial mass for Fr Guillaume Arotcarena who served in Singapore for 17 years starting from 1982. Fr Arotcarena's stay in Singapore was interrupted mostly because of his alleged involvement in the Marxist Conspiracy.

 In his book, Priest in Geylang, Fr Arotcarena felt that when the arrests happened, then Archbishop Gregory Yong left them out to dry, sort of:
On pg 105, Fr Guillaume Arotcarena wrote,"We also knew that the Archbishop of Singapore (Gregory Yong) would not even try to protect us. We had gone to see him a few months earlier in order to tell him our worries: We had been dismissed. He did not want to get involved."
Again on pg 32, "...the Archbishop (was) always reticent when faced with any kind of change, and above all, anxious to avoid rough weather. Some of his advisors reckoned that we were going to create trouble for the diocese; I must admit, today, that they were right but I regret nothing."  

Archbishop Gregory Yong


But the current Archbishop was wise not get involved in what were possibilities and intentions back in 1987. In his mass, Archbishop Goh said, “there are many sides to the same story. People have different accounts of the same event. Different people have different explanations.”

He continued, and even if the facts can be established, “can you establish the motives of everyone who is involved?” “In truth, the motives of those people who serve, the motives of the authorities who reacted to the situation perhaps will never be truly known.”

What is the Archbishop trying to say here? That the motives of those arrested were closer to what the state charged them with? Or is he saying that the motive of the state were to clamp down on socio-political activities of the church? Or is Archbishop Goh really saying I don't really know and it doesn't matter and let's move on...

Archbishop William Goh


For those familiar with the Marxist Conspiracy, it was often said in the defence of those arrested that they were doing social good, helping the down-trodden and under-privilege without any political or Marxist agenda. 

But Archbishop William Goh had this to say during his memorial mass:
The first lesson is that the Church’s social mission is principally a spiritual one.

“The social mission of the Church is an expression of the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said. “The Church must never ever be reduced to a humanitarian organisation. We are not another NGO.”

Archbishop Goh also quoted from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in which he said that “it is not the task of the Church to preserve social order and justice in the country. The pursuit of a just social order is the work of the state. … The task of the Church is to be a moral spokesman.”


Reading this, it seems that the Archbishop Goh is somewhat disagreeing with the social justice/human rights activist approach (using religious organisation as a platform) used  by those involved in 1987.  It suggests that the Catholic Church can comment and even criticise but it should not be too active in the politics of social order and it should not overtake the state as the main preserver or reformer of social order. 

But not all will agree,  I am sure. 

Regardless, the Archbishop's tone of forgiveness and dialogue can only bring us forward and not back. Because dwelling on who's right and wrong, or if they should be an inquiry or an apology, might not mean we are better off as a society. As Archbishop Goh said, "truth and love must go together" - he couldn't have said it better. 


Read the full article on Catholic News below:  

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During a memorial Mass for the late French priest Fr Guillaume Arotcarena, Archbishop William Goh praised him for championing the rights of migrant workers and his compassion towards the poor and marginalised.

“The Church is proud of all of those people who have contributed their time, their resources and their energy in the work of serving the poor,” Archbishop Goh told the 400-strong crowd at the Church of the Holy Family on Sept 18. “By so doing they have done justice to the spreading of the Gospel.”

Paris Foreign Missions priest Fr Arotcarena passed away in France on Sept 3 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 71.

He arrived in Singapore in 1972 and served here for 17 years. In 1980, he founded the Geylang Catholic Centre to provide support and social services to foreign domestic workers, prisoners and drug addicts.

The centre closed in 1987 in the wake of the so-called “Marxist conspiracy”, which saw 22 people, including many with connections to the Catholic Church, accused of plotting to overthrow the government under the cover of the Church. They were arrested under the Internal Security Act.

In addition, Fr Arotcarena and three other priests were implicated in the so-called “conspiracy”.

Speaking of the pain the Church experienced during this time, Archbishop Goh acknowledged that those who had served the marginalised, including those who worked with Fr Arotcarena, have “felt misunderstood … hurt, wounded and disappointed”.

“We can imagine the pain, the disappointment and even anger, especially against authorities, whether of the state and even of the Church, for apparently not standing up for them,” said Archbishop Goh.

He noted that the immediate reaction of anyone who is misjudged is to seek justice, “to uncover the facts” and “to be vindicated”.

However, “there are many sides to the same story,” he said. “People have different accounts of the same event. Different people have different explanations.”

And even if the facts can be established, “can you establish the motives of everyone who is involved?” he asked. “In truth, the motives of those people who serve, the motives of the authorities who reacted to the situation perhaps will never be truly known.”

Noting that the trauma resulting from the so-called “Marxist conspiracy” will “resurface from time to time”, he stressed that there is “no other way forward” for the Church except “the way of forgiveness”.

“Only God can judge the motives of each individual,” he said.

Archbishop Goh said he believes the painful experience “is not something negative in the Church. I see it as something positive because this event helps the Church to be purified.” There are lessons that the Church can draw from this incident “so that history will not repeat itself”, he said.

The first lesson is that the Church’s social mission is principally a spiritual one.

“The social mission of the Church is an expression of the proclamation of the Gospel,” he said. “The Church must never ever be reduced to a humanitarian organisation. We are not another NGO.”

The Church does not work “simply to save the body,” he stressed. “We want to bring the love of God” to people.

The second lesson is that “truth and love must go together”.

“All those of us who are serving God … we need to search our motives, we need to purify our motives,” he said.

Archbishop Goh also quoted from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in which he said that “it is not the task of the Church to preserve social order and justice in the country. The pursuit of a just social order is the work of the state. … The task of the Church is to be a moral spokesman.”

The last lesson Archbishop shared is that the way forward “is always through dialogue”.

“When there is disagreement, the Church has always encouraged us that the path of faith is dialogue,” he said. “Demonstration, pressurising people will not work.”

During the Mass, Fr Patrick Goh, Mr Lawrence Khoo and Mr Vincent Cheng who had known and worked with Fr Arotcarena, shared their memories of him.

Holy Family Church parishioner Theresa Chan also remembered how people fondly referred to the French priest as “Fr Tom Jones” as he looked like the American pop singer.

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