Colombo cardinal says Sri Lankan officials out to mislead pope over probe into 2019 attacks

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith outside his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Jan. 13, 2015, arrives to greet Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. | Catholic News Agency

The Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, warned that Sri Lanka’s top government officials are out to mislead Pope Francis regarding the result of the investigation into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings in the country’s capital.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris are reportedly set to meet with Vatican officials this week to brief them about the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 260 people and injured more than 500 others.

“A conspiracy is being carried forward in a tactful manner to save those who are behind the attack and an effort is being made to convert the situation to be favorable toward the government,” Cardinal Ranjith said in a statement during a media briefing on Wednesday, Sept. 8.

A report in Sri Lanka’s Daily News, however, said the prime minister has not sought a meeting with Pope Francis, and his delegation will not be visiting the Vatican during the visit to Italy this week for the G-20 Interfaith Forum.

The Sri Lankan prime minister is scheduled to deliver the keynote address during the meeting in the city of Bologna.

During the Wednesday media briefing, Cardinal Ranjith said he already informed the Holy See about the update on the Easter Sunday bombing investigation, adding that the Vatican is expected to refer the issue to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Media reports earlier this week quoted Sri Lanka’s Cabinet spokesman, Plantation Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana, saying that Rajapaksa and Peiris were scheduled to brief Pope Francis on the progress made in the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks.

“Yes, the government is of the view that we must make the Vatican aware of the full details of the massacre and the government’s action taken in the aftermath of the bomb blast,” Pathirana was quoted as saying by media reports.

Cardinal Ranjith, however, said that “if the government goes international, we will do it as well as we have no other option.” He described the move as “another government campaign to cover up the truth over the Easter Sunday investigations.”

The cardinal reiterated his call for a “transparent investigation, which ascertains instigators and responsibility for the Easter attacks.” He said “the Church and the entire nation, shocked by terrorism, have the right to know the truth, have the right to receive justice.”

Cardinal Ranjith said he fears that the government “does not want to find out the truth about the attack,” adding that “it wants to cover up everything and wash its hands.”

The cardinal earlier said he was not satisfied with the legal action currently being taken by the authorities against those suspected to be responsible for the attacks on April 21, 2019.

In a letter in July, the country’s Catholic leaders criticized the “lethargic pace” of a government inquiry into the terrorist attacks on churches, and questioned why recommendations brought by an official inquiry into the attacks have not yet been acted upon.

In an earlier statement, Cardinal Ranjith said the country is “still not secure and attacks like the one that took place on Easter Sunday are still possible at any time.”

“We can’t allow this culture of killing to continue. The country must learn a lesson from the sacrifices of the innocents killed on Easter Sunday,” he said, adding that “the real killers must be identified and the country must know the truth.”

Cardinal Ranjith has been pushing for Sri Lankan authorities to be held responsible for failing to prevent the bombings.

In October 2020, five of seven suspects arrested in connection with the attacks were released by the government because of lack of evidence.

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The cardinal, however, said security officials had confirmed to him that there was sufficient evidence against many of the suspects who had been arrested.

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