When Archbishop Joseph Harris addressed the gathering at the Grand Stand of the Queen’s Park Savannah during last Thursday’s Corpus Christi sermon, he bluntly addressed a matter of current concern.
“Whether the e-mails are true or not,” he warned his flock, “whether they were fabricated or not, whatever the origin of these e-mails, it means that crimes were being committed for the sake of power.”
That’s as clear an indictment of the situation regarding the e-mail controversy of the last two weeks as anyone has offered. It’s also very much in alignment with the public mind, though political allegiances have tended to polarise otherwise rational consideration of the situation. That has led to the archbishop being put in the unusual position of having to defend these admirably neutral statements and to remind those willing to criticise him that the church, as an institution, was never meant to be locked away in a sacristy.
Since the announcement of his appointment as Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain by Pope Benedict XVI in July 2011, the Roman Catholic leader has made it clear that his idea of the church was not one that only thinks conceptually and reverently, but acts practically and enthusiastically.
Archbishop Harris had been known most widely just a year before as the most visible senior clerical supporter of the band The Word and Associates, an effort by lay members of the Catholic Church to bring nobler values to the Carnival celebrations. In June 2012, Archbishop Harris stepped out of his ecclesiastical crease again, announcing a March for Jesus for July 1 that year, an effort to draw more public attention to crime, which he described as unacceptable.
It is often important that there should be a separation of the church and state, but in matters of morality and sound public governance, is there any better resource to expect an opinion from those who deliberate constantly on the challenges of doing the right thing?
Archbishop Harris has not faltered in calling out politicians in instances of poor judgment. In January, he described the infamous “Calcutta ship” comment during the THA elections as a “sad day”, warning that such comments cause “division, trouble and can lead to consequences which we will not like”.
The Roman Catholic leader’s willingness to lead by example and to caution those who would seek to take their responsibilities lightly or to discharge them in self-interest speaks his concerns about the society and the role of the church within it. It’s an engagement that the country needs more of, not less. Those who would seek to muzzle the archbishop should consider the consequences of silencing voices of calm, clear wisdom offered in the service of the public good.
In his focus on local matters of moral concern, Archbishop Harris follows in the venerated footsteps of the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin, whose concern for his country set a valued standard for such interventions. We need more such politically non-partisan leaders actively speaking out and guiding communities.