In an interview with Newsday, Harris said Warner has been a personal friend “for many years” and remains so. The Archbishop said Warner was still in his prayers because the example followed by Jesus Christ is that of mercy.
“Mr Warner has been a friend of mine for many years,” Harris said. “I have never been a fair- weather friend, who is a friend only when things are going well. As a Catholic and a Christian you have to follow the example of Jesus Christ. That example teaches us that God is a merciful God. You have to treat people well whatever their circumstances. He is still in my prayers, why shouldn’t he be?”
Warner, a former FIFA vice president, has been accused of accepting and facilitating bribes in a 161-page indictment unsealed in a New York court last month which accuses him of co-mingling ill-gotten football gains with personal funds. The document states, “Beginning in the early 1990s, Warner... began to leverage his influence and exploit his official positions for personal gain. Among other things, Warner began to solicit and accept bribes in connection with his official duties, including the selection of the host nation for the World Cups held in 1998 and 2010, which he participated in as a member of the FIFA executive committee.”
The indictment further alleges Warner, “became involved in a number of other schemes, including the diversion of FIFA, Concacaf and Caribbean Football Union funds into accounts that he controlled and used for his personal benefit.”
On whether Warner may have donated money to the Church and whether the Church was concerned about receiving tainted funds, Harris said it was possible Warner had donated.
“Mr Warner may have donated money to individual parishes and I cannot keep tabs on all of that, individual parishes would but I don’t know personally,” Harris said. “I suppose he did.” Asked if he was concerned over the developments relating to Warner in light of a possible inflow of cash, Harris said, “I am not. I don’t know that he has and if he has he probably gave money as a private individual. I don’t know that it was tainted money that he gave to the church. We do not go behind every donation.”
Asked to state his views on a call by political leader of the Congress of the People Prakash Ramadhar for Warner to not resist extradition and to face the charges in the US as soon as possible, the Archbishop said, “You see those political issues, I am not getting involved in them. It does not concern me.”
Asked to state if he thought Warner should answer the charges against him, Harris said, “Mr Bagoo, I am not going down that line.”
Over the last few years, the Roman Catholic Church has actively sought donations for several things, most notably the restoration of its Cathedral at downtown Port-of-Spain. According to the Church, the cathedral’s renovation will cost approximately $70 million.
It is not the first time Harris has commented publicly on Warner.
In an interview published in Newsday in July 2013, the Archbishop had said the damning findings of a Concacaf ethics committee in relation to Warner were merely accusations.
“Well the issue is he has been accused, but I do not think anything has been proven,” Harris said back then, just hours after his friend Warner had been re-elected as the Chaguanas West MP in that year’s bye-election. Warner had resigned the seat after the committee, chaired by former Barbados chief justice Sir David Simmons, named Warner in matters of deception, fraud and theft in relation to football affairs.
Asked in 2013 if he thought voters paid any regard to the findings of the Sir David Simmons Concacaf report, Harris said, “Perhaps they are saying they don’t believe the report. All over the world there are allegations of corruption against high officials. For instance, that is the case in the United States.” On Warner’s claim in 2013 that his re-election reflected the dictum, the voice of the people is the voice of God, Harris said, “I do not believe that. I do not agree with people who say that the voice of the people is the voice of God because there are too many instances where the voice of the people was wrong.”
When Harris was made Archbishop in July 2011, Warner, then the United National Congress (UNC) chairman, penned a letter of congratulations to the new Archbishop on behalf of the UNC. Warner said he was “personally proud” to congratulate Harris as “a son of our own soil; one who has not lost the common touch in spite of dining with Kings and Presidents.”
“It is your understanding of who we are, that we know will bind us together,” Warner said.