KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Vincentian Catholics are not concerned that an aspiring politician said last month that some of their doctrines are similar to those of a religious group described as a “cult”, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves — a Catholic — said this week.
The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), in response to the statement by Shefflorn Ballantyne — a Community College lecturer — formulated a policy prohibiting its candidates and prospective candidates for the national assembly from making adverse statements about religion.
But Gonsalves said that in doing so, the party was “convulsed in trying to settle questions which have long been settled in Western civilisation and now only exists in Afghanistan between the Taliban and [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai and inside of the NDP”.
The policy came after Ballantyne — who wanted to run for the NDP in North Windward — said on radio that Gonsalves should have condemned the Catholic Church when he spoke about a religious group that some citizens have described as a “cult”.
Ballantyne, a member of the Thusia Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said the group and Catholics share similar doctrines.
Then opposition senator, Anesia Baptiste — also a Thusian — had her senatorial appointment revoked after she stated her intentions not to obey the NDP policy, proposed by party president, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.
She claimed that the policy was unconstitutional but both government and opposition politicians and legal experts have disagreed with her.
The 66-year-old Gonsalves, who was ill in Barbados during the development, commented during a media briefing Tuesday as he outlined several projects that his government hopes to undertake.
“I don’t know how much time the good Lord has remaining for me or how much longer after this term the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will give me to implement these things,” said Gonsalves, who is into the second year of a third consecutive five-year term in office.
“But while I am dealing with future, … while we are looking forward, other people have their heads firmly grounded in the past,” he said in reference to the opposition NDP.
Gonsalves said that while he has been a Catholic from birth, he didn’t “want to play that I am more Catholic than the Pope.
“What the young man, Mr. Ballantyne, said was wrong about the church,” he however, stated.
“But really, does anybody seriously think that the Catholics in this country were exercised about what a young man who teaches at the Community College from Sandy Bay says on Cross Country Radio?
“This is a church of 2,000 years old, which has survived communist regimes; people try to dismantle them and they survived and thrived,” Gonsalves further said.
“Nobody’s concerned about what young Ballantyne says on Cross Country Radio as to whether the Pope is divine or not divine or some other thing and you are making a celebrated issue to convulse the whole place …”
He further said that SVGTV reported on the development nightly “as if it is a significant issue — unless they (SVGTV) want to laugh at them (the NDP).
“I mean, I sit down and I watch these things. I am a participant but I also have to analyse. … Are these (the NDP) serious people? And I am talking as a Catholic.”
Gonsalves said that the Catholic Church does not teach that the Pope is divine.
“The Pope is a human being. … in relation to church policy and issues of doctrine, they speak of the infallibility of the Pope in that regard; but the Pope as being divine? I don’t know about that and I have been a Catholic all my life.
“And really, Shefflorn Ballantyne saying something on Cross Country Radio that would send a modern political party into convulsion and have 17 people have an inquisition for a whole day on this matter and at the end of the day you don’t even give the man a chance to be heard and you tell me you are a modern political party?”
He was referring to the meeting at which the NDP decided on the policy and echoing a criticism levelled by Baptiste — who attended the meeting — that the policy was agreed upon without the majority of the meeting having heard Ballantyne’s comments directly.
“Oh Heavenly Father!” Gonsalves said, adding, “I don’t really want to get into their business but since I am talking and I am also going away and they will cuss me in my absence but that’s nothing new.”
Gonsalves spoke one day before he left for Taiwan where he will attend the second-term inauguration of President Ma Ying-joeu on Sunday.