PAPUA NEW GUINEA ARCHBISHOP BARNES DEFENDS ANTI-GOVERNMENT REMARKS

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By Alex Sefala

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 7, 1999 - Post-Courier): The Catholic Archbishop of Port Moresby, Brian Barnes, maintained yesterday that he was speaking for the people when he called for a change of Government in his Easter message.

Archbishop Barnes said the Government should not mistake his remarks as a front for the Opposition, because he does not support any political party.

He said the stand he took was in the best interests of the country and on behalf of the people. "The stand I took is much more broader than politics; it is for the future of the country," he added.

Archbishop Barnes was responding to the calls made on Monday by two Government ministers, Simon Kaumi (Justice) and Jacob Wama (Internal Revenue), for him to apologize and to substantiate his claims of corruption in Government.

Both ministers accused him of being used by the Opposition in an attempt to discredit the Government.

In a show of church solidarity, the head of the Lutheran Church, Bishop Wesley Kigasung, yesterday urged churches to take a united stand on issues affecting the country rather then making individual statements.

Dr. Kigasung said the church could be misinterpreted by the people and those in authority if "we do not unite in our approach."

He commended Archbishop Barnes for taking a brave step to speak out against the Government.

"I think it is a general feeling and sentiment of the people," he said, adding, "But I think Archbishop Barnes should not have taken it upon himself. We have established groups like the PNG Council of Churches and The Evangelical Alliance to speak out on such issues, because we can be misinterpreted," he said.

Dr. Kigasung said the church should not be seen to be taking sides in the politics of the country. However, he said the churches could deliver prophetic messages on good and bad things about the country. "And these type of prophetic messages can be hard sometimes for leaders to come to terms with, but we have to issue warnings in the best interest of the country," he added.

Public Affairs Minister Peter Peipul said the Government was moving on the right path to restore hopes of the people, although many of the radical decisions made by the Government were not of immediate benefit.

"The outburst of Archbishop Barnes is unethical, misleading and unfair," Mr. Peipul said.

"We can assure Archbishop Barnes and the people of PNG that the impact of the reform exercises will be positive, but will take time to produce results.

"I have this message for Archbishop Barnes, 'Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.’ The philosophy behind this saying is don't mix politics with religion."

Forest Minister Peter Arul said, "Archbishop Barnes is free to comment on issues affecting the community and the country, but for his personal opinion to be featured as it was in the media, with scant regard for balanced reporting, leaves a lot to be desired."

"I call on the Archbishop to open dialogue with the Office of the Prime Minister to address any issue that concerns him, and not resort to this isolationist approach," he said.

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