The facts of the matter are that Joseph was an alcoholic who regularly limed with the proverbial wrong crowd which in fact led him being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and led to him becoming a murder-witness.
The church through its St Vincent de Paul Society fulfilled its Christian duty to Joseph by helping him materially for 20 years and with guidance, but when his presence posed a risk to the lives of parishioners he was banned from the premises, but enjoyed protection at a State safe-house elsewhere.
Joseph made the choice to leave the safe-house, apparently in pursuit of alcohol, and met his demise, a fate which came as no surprise to those who knew the facts and expected the worst.
While Joseph exercised his free choice to leave the safe house, so too had Fr Rochard and the Assumption Church exercised choice and in fact duty to protect the lives of the congregation.
Fr Rochard’s decision led to controversy. One argument was that the Church by its spiritual authority should somehow be expected to have a higher level of resilience to the evils of this world than the mere layman, and secondly that the Church ought to be seen taking a stand against the rash of murders of State witnesses, which phenomenon is destroying our judicial system and society.
However the simple reality is that Fr Richard is not God. Although he is in the service of God, he is but a man striving like everybody else to do a job in a country that has become so lawless . For those who argue about the role of the State as “sanctuary” the Church does not operate in isolation from the crime plaguing our country but is part of the society and cannot be removed from it. Like everyone else it must adjust its schedules and ways of operating to take account of the harsh realities of life in modern Trinidad and Tobago. For example, fear of crime has already curtailed churches from holding the traditional midnight mass.
One of the tenets of Christian belief is that God has given each man a free will, to make his choices and to live with the consequences. This is indeed happening in Trinidad and Tobago where each day some individuals choose to make disastrous choices, the cumulative effect of which has led to the current crime epidemic. Fr Rochard would have been very well aware indeed of the realities of this society in which we live. Albeit with a heavy heart at not being able to also personally protect the one lost sheep who was Harold Joseph, Rochard would have had no choice but to put the interests of the majority first.
Make no mistake about it, Trinidad and Tobago is in an emergency situation, albeit being played out in slow motion with each day’s murder toll.
So, yes the Church has a spiritual message, but at the same time it and its clergy and congregations must exist in the real world. The point was well made by RC priest Fr Arthur Lai Fook in a letter to the editor in Newsday on January 5 where he challenged the notion of churches being sanctuaries of refuge. Lai Fook recalled the murder of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 while holding Holy Mass, three cultists setting fire to the Cathedral in St Lucia during mid-night mass on December 31, 2000 leading to the death of a priest and a nun, and massacres of worshippers inside locked churches in Kenya this January and in Rwanda in 1994.
We endorse the views of Fr Lai Fook, in supporting Rochard, who had said: “We are forced consequently to recognise that sacred places are no longer respected as places of Sanctuary”. The lesson in all of this is that the Church should not be expected to do the job of the Ministry of National Security in protecting State-witnesses.