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Catholic Church in Cambodia

Stupefied and saddened

Returning from the province, it is with stupefaction and much sadness that I read

the article "God's paratrooper fires shots" (PPPost, March 23). I feel

humiliated and deeply wounded, because this article reflects absolutely neither my

thoughts, nor my words.

I ask to the high religious dignitaries who could have been offended by the remarks

attributed to me, and likewise to all the people "of good will" who believe

in the spiritual values for the construction of a better world and who could have

been hurt by this article, to really accept benevolently my most sincere and profound

apologies. I feel so fraternally in solidarity with the Buddhist clergy, of which

I share a certain number of views and practices, not to feel myself offended.

Here is my version of the facts:

Mr. Charles McDermid, through his Cambodian interpreter, asked me to grant him an

interview on the impact of Buddhism in the present Khmer society. Never it was mentioned

of a personal interview to be distributed as such, but of an article, like the Phnom

Penh Post is used to publish, and to which I sometimes contributed in the past. I

accepted, thinking of thus being able to help to better understand the Khmer society

at the sides of which I have walked for 41 years. We spoke in English, a language

that I know very little, and of which I ignore all the nuances. Often I did not understand

the questions, and undoubtedly the author of the article did not understand all my

answers. He wrote his article afterwards, asked himself his own questions to which

he answered by including bits of our conversation. This way of working is dishonest,

because it can only deform my thoughts, on such a delicate topic.

This mister should have observed the most elementary principle of the journalistic

deontology (at least in the French way), consisting in making read again an interview

by its author before publication, especially an interview of such an aggressive virulence

that I deplore. He did not do it, so my stupor and consternation, at the reading

of this article which I estimate defamatory and offensive for many of my Buddhist

friend monks.

With regard to Samdech Akéa Bandet Moha Sang Tep Vong, I spoke to him lengthily

of its regretted predecessors: Samdech Chuon Nath, Samdech Préah Samdech Sangkréach

Huot That, Préah Vannarat, Préah Khieu Choum, Préah Pankhat,

etc. who were then the intellectual guides of my youth. I explained to him that all

the religious dignitaries had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, and that it was a considerable

loss, because much time was needed to train monks. I also explained to him the reasons

which pushed the government of the RPK to place Samdech at the head of the Buddhist

clergy in 1979, in a precise political context, and reported the comments of a person

in charge in the cultural ministry that McDermid attributes to me wrongly. May Samdech

please excuse me.

It is the same for Samdech Bou Kry, who is a friend of long time. I have evoked old

memories at the time when he was in Créteil, and also at the time of one conversation

on the radio and in various pagodas of France.

It does not belong to me, a foreigner, and of another religious tradition, to judge

these venerable monks who live Buddhism from the inside. The difficulty of interreligious

dialogue is not due to the persons, but to the cultural and philosophical universes

so distant that are ours. The only dialogue which seems possible to me is that of

the Christian who let himself be influenced deeply by Buddhism, and of the Buddhist

who let himself be influenced by Christianity and who tries to dialogue inside of

himself. But that the author did not retain.

It is true that I voiced a somewhat discording tone in the concert of praises concerning

the venerable Samdech Préah Moha Gosananda, called Moha Yao, the Cambodian

Gandhi. I knew him in 1983 in his American residence of Hanover Street, Providence

(RI). I voiced some reservations on his attitude at the time of our audience with

Jean Paul II in Rome in 1985, but I leave the whole paternity to the author of the

article for the qualifications, several times repeated, by which he qualifies this

venerated monk, and of whom I respect the memory, like many Cambodians.

I do not see, on the other hand, why using my personal history of a conscript of

the French Republic, against my liking, to do a shock article, of which I ignore

the deep motivations. The hazards of my personal life of yesteryear, once again that

I did not choose, have no direct links with my spiritual commitment to the Khmer

people that I try to serve the best I can, even if I do it sometimes awkwardly.

In ending, I renew my most sincere and deepest apologies to the religious dignitaries

who could have felt offended by the odious words attributed to me, but that

I deny. I feel as much offended as themselves.

François Ponchaud

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