|Image: Asia Sentinel
The agreement provides that the annual financial contribution of Timor-Leste to the Catholic Church, for social and educational activities and for purposes of ecclesial governance, is determined by specific agreements between the Government and Timor-Leste’s Episcopalian Conference, and is dependent on the availability of State funds.
The East Timor Government's press release noted that '[i]t should be remembered that the terms of the financial contribution are set out in the agreement signed between Timor-Leste and the Holy See in August of last year.'
The Catholic Church's participation in the struggle for self determination throughout the Indonesian occupation from 1975 until 1999 is acknowledged in the country's Constitution. The Preamble states:
In its cultural and humane perspective, the Catholic Church in East Timor has always been able to take on the suffering of all the People with dignity, placing itself on their side in the defence of their most fundamental rights.
Article 12 of the Constitution (entitled Relationship between the State and religious denominations) states that:
1. There shall be no official religion of the State.
2. The State shall respect the different religious denominations, which are free in their organisation and in the exercise of their own activities, to take place in due observance of the Constitution and the law.
3. The State shall promote the cooperation with the different religious denominations that contribute to the well-being of the people of East Timor.
4. The religious denominations have the right to possess and to acquire assets for the achievement of their objectives.
It is arguable that the Constitution establishes a secular State with a clear separation of Church and State in East Timor. It is also clear that East Timor is one of the most impoverished nations on Earth, successive governments since the restoration of independence in 2002 have all indulged in the most scandalous corruption, abuses of power and anti-democratic actions.
Why, then, are the impoverished and long-suffering East Timorese people economically supporting the Catholic Church with funding through this bizarre agreement with the Vatican? The only explicit reference to the State being involved in religion is Article 12(3) but it speaks only of promoting cooperation with the different religious denominations that contribute to the well-being of the people.
On the contrary, it should be the Vatican that is providing support to the Government and people of East Timor. The church in East Timor owns vast estates of land. Yet, instead of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked on Sundays, it puts it hand out to the people to take money from the people. And now even public funds go to ecclesial governance.
Although there are degrees of separation between Church and State in various jurisdictions around the world, one of the precepts of this notion is that the State does not destroy but also does not support religion; particularly when it comes to tax payers money in an economy that is struggling to provide basic services to the community.
'The distance between the throne and the altar can never be too great.' Denis Diderot