RABAUL Archbishop Francesco Panfilo has said the deportation of New Zealand missionary Douglas Tennent remains an issue whichever government is in power in Papua New Guinea.
“I want to inform all [sitting] candidates and aspiring candidates for national elections that neither the Archdiocese of Rabaul nor the Catholic Bishops’ Conference will take this matter lightly, as it seems to imply that to work for justice is outside of a ‘religious worker’ status.”
Archbishop Panfilo’s call comes after Mr Tennent, who had been working as an administrator for the Archdiocese of Rabaul since June 2014, was deported on 12 June 2017, over an alleged breach of visa conditions.
Authorities claim Mr Tennent was deported due to “blatant abuse” of his ‘special exemption/religious worker visa’ after engaging in “sensitive landowner issues in East New Britain Province”.
However, both Mr Tennent and Archbishop Panfilo hold firm to the belief that Mr Tennent was “just doing his job”.
Mr Tennent was deported after some landowners lodged a complaint regarding his involvement in “sensitive landowner issues”.
It is believed the complaint was related to Mr Tennent’s involvement in remedying a special agricultural business lease regarding Malaysian multinational Rimbunan Hijau’s Sigite Mukus oil palm project in West Pomio.
Archbishop Panfilo stated Mr Tennent is only involved in settling these disputes on his, the archbishop’s, behalf.
“Mr Tennent was providing legal advice to the archbishop, who was asked by the people of West Pomio to speak up for them,” he said.
The actions of immigration authorities – foreign affairs minister Rimbink Pato and acting chief migration officer Solomon Kantha – have also raised questions about the position of prime minister Peter O’Neill’s government in the matter.
“Any ordinary person knows that orders of this kind cannot be given unless there are powerful and wealthy institutions and personalities behind [them],” Archbishop Panfilo said.
“For the sake of the ordinary and innocent people of Papua New Guinea, we ask the government to come clear once and for all.
“Let us pray that the national elections may give us leaders who are committed to the achievement of a just and peaceful society,” he said.
Mr Tennent told NZ Catholic in its latest edition on Sunday that his deportation had pitted Papua New Guinea’s government against the Catholic Church.
“I think they didn’t realise when they did the deportation that it wasn’t about me. It was about the whole role of religious workers,” he said.
This was echoed by Archbishop Panfilo.
“To advocate for the vulnerable and powerless, which is the situation of the people of West Pomio, is a gospel mandate, just as it is to educate and care for sick people.
“It is the duty of any religious worker and of any Christian for that matter, to give effect to the teachings of Christ in word and action. One wonders why those who expose these evil practices should be deported and not the ones who commit them”, he said.
Mr Tennent remains in New Zealand, anxiously awaiting news from authorities in Papua New Guinea about whether he can return.
He is currently in the process of applying for a new visa and is planning court action against the government.