.- The Vatican news agency Fides is reporting the concern of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka for a new effort by nine Buddhist monks who are members of the national Parliament and are seeking to pass an “anti-conversion” law that would punish those who leave Buddhism to embrace other faiths such as Christianity.
Fides reported that “the fears expressed in the past by the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka have been confirmed: the Buddhist clergy—which formed a political party during general elections in April—has presented a bill to the legislative Assembly that would impose severe punishment and imprisonment on those who commit the crime of ‘unethical conversions’.”
The text of the measure “has provoked surprise and worry in Catholic circles, because in recent days the bishops, through personal contacts and meetings, have tried to explain the reasons for the opposition of the Church to such a measure.”
According to Fides, the nine Buddhist monks “are an expression of the most extreme groups that are motivated by a fundamentalist nationalism which seeks to preserve the Buddhist identity of the country.”
Fides warned that the draft of the bill “openly declares the will to defend Buddhism as the dominant religion in Sri Lanka and to resist conversions obtained by fraudulent means (persuasion with money, social assistance, benefits of all type).”
A Catholic source quoted by Fides, denounced that “the Buddhist monks have reacted against the proselytizing actions carried out by some Protestant sects, but the Catholic community as well would suffer the consequences if this law were approved. Many charitable or missionary works could be in serious danger.”
The law foresees penalties of up to seven years of imprisonment for those who promote conversions.
According to the bishops of Sri Lanka, “this law will do nothing more than polarize society in a religious sense” and “will increase hatred among different religious groups.”
The bishops have called for the establishing of a joint commission, with representatives from the government and different religions, to address the problem of sects case by case.
The Sri Lanka constitution currently grants Buddhism—which represents 65% of the population—a preeminent position among the religions of the country, but guarantees the members of other confessions the right to freely practice their faith. Hindus represent 15% of the population, while Christians and Muslims represent about 9%.