The Malaysian Insider understands that over the weekend, Catholic priests were forced to address the issue as it had caused an uproar among parishioners who questioned why the church had adhered to such “overzealous” requests, allegedly made by the prime minister’s aide.
But the leaders also agreed that despite their attempts at defusing the situation, the “damage has already been done”, resulting in a rekindling of the same tension that rose during last year’s “Allah” controversy.
Father Simon Labrooy, who spoke on the issue during two separate masses, predicted that the Christian community’s anger was not likely to dissipate until the premier publicly clarified his stand.
He agreed that the administration, now mulling snap polls, would encounter an “angry” Christian electorate if it failed to address the issue.
“Najib should say something about it... he should make a statement to clarify whether the instruction had indeed been given and whether he plans to take action against the person who stirred up this whole thing.
“If the instruction truly did not come from him, then he should take action because this whole thing has created disharmony and animosity among Christian followers,” he told The Malaysian Insider when contacted.Since the issue erupted last week, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has not issued a formal statement on the matter.
It was reported that an official from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) confirmed that the premier had been “completely unaware” of the directive issued by his aide.
The official was also quoted as saying that the PMO would not respond to the incident as it did not want to prolong the issue but gave its assurance that the aide, a non-Muslim, had been advised against repeating such a directive without going through senior officials.
The aide had reportedly listed out several conditions on Catholic Archbishop Murphy Pakiam to facilitate Najib’s attendance at the Christmas tea-party held at his home, including the removal of religious symbols like crucifixes from the venue.
Questions later arose over whether the archbishop had complied with the requests, resulting in rising anger among the Christian community towards both Najib and Pakiam himself.
Labrooy said he was forced to clear the air over the issue by explaining during his sermons that the archbishop had not “compromised God for man’s need” and had not complied with the requests.
A parishioner told The Malaysian Insider that the Catholic priest had repeated his words twice, first during New Year’s and again the following Sunday, that Pakiam had not submitted to the directive despite speculations suggesting otherwise.
“Father Simon said that he was aware of the many speculations and how people were upset that the archbishop had complied with the requests.
“He told us that the Catholic church had stood its ground and refused to comply. But it makes little difference. Najib should apologise and fire his aide,” said the church-goer.
Labrooy confirmed this with The Malaysian Insider, adding that he had wanted to silence conjecture on the issue.
“There seems to be suggestions that Pakiam had relented to the requests and this is putting him in a bad light. It is not right.
“However, it is true... the damage has already been done. Many people are very angry that the directive was issued in the first place and this does will not look good on the government,” he said.
Father Michael Chua agreed with Labrooy and stressed that Pakiam had not needed to comply with the directive as the function had been held at the carpark of his home where there were no Christian symbols.
“I was there and there had been no changes to the itinerary for the function. It is just that the prime minister came at the time when prayers had already been said.
“Also, it was at the carpark, so there was no removal of crosses or anything. The reports in the media suggested that we had to remove them but it is not true,” he said.
Chua is in charge of the Ministry of Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs of the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese, and is a part of the Christian Federation of Malaysia which organised the function on Christmas day last year.
He admitted that since the media exposed the issue last week, religious leaders have been finding it difficult to explain the matter to their followers.
“We have been having problems explaining to the congregation. The most important thing is the context of the matter — it was a carpark and there were no crosses there.
“We have been having it here for the past few years and this was just the first time that the prime minister attended. There was no deliberate removal [of Christian symbols] and we did not take seriously any of the requests,” he said.
Chua stressed that the function had gone on according to plan and it had also seen the attendance of political leaders from the opposition.
“But many people have been angered by this. First, they directed their anger to the government and then to the archbishop and this is not fair. We have been trying to explain it but many do not want to hear the explanation,” he said.
Chua would not say if he felt the prime minister should apologise on behalf of his aide but insisted that the matter not be taken out of context.
“Also, it was a CFM affair, hosted by the archbishop. CFM will meet soon and perhaps then we will discuss it. If we have an issue with it, we will take it up with the authorities,” he said.
The Malaysian Insider reported last week that the prime minister’s aide had issued a list of directives to Pakiam to facilitate Najib’s attendance at the Christmas tea-party on Christmas day.
Among the directives given were: to remove any overt Christian symbol, such as crucifixes, from the party premises and that carollers not belt out hymns and not to quote from Scriptures or say any Christian prayers during the visit.
At the time of publication, Pakiam could not be reached for comment.
Pakiam reportedly said this week that the directive was probably issued by an “overzealous officer”. He also refused to wade deeper into the matter by saying, “Let us not waste time on things like these.”