MUMBAI, India – Members of the clergy of Archdiocese of Colombo has condemned a Sri Lankan politician’s attack on their archbishop, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

Harin Fernando, a member of the opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) party accused Ranjith “playing politics” during last year’s Sri Lanka presidential election.

Fernando claimed the cardinal favored the winning party, due to his complaints about how the government of Maithripala Sirisena handled the 2019 Easter church bombings.

The November poll gave victory to Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of former president and current prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ran on a strong security platform.

Mahinda Rajapaksa ruled Sri Lanka from 2005-2015 and was credited with ending the decades-long Tamil Tiger insurgency, although he was accused of human rights abuses during the anti-terrorist campaign.

Fernando – himself a Catholic – claims that if the Christian vote had gone against Rajapaksa, he would have lost the vote.

Sri Lanka is 70 percent Buddhist, the predominant religion of the majority Sinhalese population. Hindus – the predominant religion of the ethnic Tamil population – make up 13 percent of he population. Christians account for only 7.4 percent of Sri Lanka’s population, but members cross the country’s often tense ethnic divide.

Fernando – a former government minister – said Sri Lankan Christians historically supported the opposition party but turned out in force for Rajapaksa in the 2019 election due to Ranjith’s remarks.

In a letter, the auxiliary bishops and priests of the Archdiocese of Colombo said Fernando’s “derogatory comments … were totally unfounded and uncalled for and have been made for cheap political gain.”

The letter noted that the Church is “impartial” on political matters, and “committed to all efforts of upholding the Law of the Country, unity amongst all religions and the freedom of every person in our nation.”

The letter said the former government minister’s claims were “totally a fabrication of his own imagination.”

We are shocked by this attack and expressly condemn such a misconstrued criticism of His Eminence, especially when Harin Fernando himself had openly confessed that his father had warned him of the impending disaster, prior to the incident and prevented him from going to Church,” the letter said.

The clergy were referring to Fernando’s claim that the security forces had prior knowledge of the April 21, 2019, attacks, which killed 269 people. After the bombing, he said both he and his father had been warned not to attend church.

“It is very appalling that Fernando attacks the leadership of the Catholic Church in such a disparaging manner and we urge those concerned to take steps to correct this situation with immediate effect and restore the image of the esteemed high office of the Catholic hierarchy,” the Colombo clergy wrote.

The opposition coalition has issued a statement distancing itself from Fernando’s remarks.