Embattled Sri Lanka bishop steps down over financial scandal

An Anglican bishop in Sri Lanka has resigned from his position in connection with a financial scandal.

Sri Lanka bishop Shanta Francis has resigned over charges that he brought the ministry into disrepute.Diocese of Kurunegala

Rt Rev Shanta Francis stood down partly as a result of a long-running police investigation into claims made by his predecessor in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe.

In a police affidavit last year, Illangasinghe said that Francis had asked the diocese's property secretary to sign a document relating to the withdrawal of his mother-in-law's pension, though she had already died.

Francis is facing criminal charges and visited the Archbishop of Canterbury to consult with him over his future.

A statement from Lambeth Palace said: "The visit by Bishop Shanta to Canterbury last week was to consider with him the various options for dealing with his position as a bishop who had voluntarily stood down following numerous complaints that he brought his Church and ministry into disrepute. A particular cause of concern was his involvement in unresolved criminal proceedings relating to misappropriated pension funds. Members of his own Diocesan Standing Committee had requested that he should resign, and he agreed to do so."

However, as a Tamil Christian, Francis has also found himself the target of groups who desire a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka even after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, the rebel force that waged a relentless war against the Sri Lankan government.

In a press statement he appeared to link his departure with his pro-unity stance, saying that he had been threatened by them during his visit to London.

"I value and stand for the unitary state and sovereignty of the country," he said. "I came under pressure from the Diaspora groups due to my position in this regard despite being a Tamil priest. They asked me why I had taken up such a position instead of speaking for the rights of minorities.

"I have two options – to resign from my priesthood or to embrace their agenda. I will stick to my position. That is to appear for the unitary state and sovereignty of the country. This is what we have achieved after 30 years of war. I will quit my position as the bishop of the Kurunegala Diocese to serve the interests of the country."

Sri Lankans have headed to the polls today in a presidential election which is being closely fought. Francis is a supporter of incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose government has been accused of human rights abuses and discrimination against ethnic minorities. However, Lambeth Palace said that "Any suggestion that the Church of Ceylon or Archbishop of Canterbury is seeking to influence the outcome of the forthcoming presidential election is categorically untrue."