Page last updated at 06:52 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Malaysian Catholics angered by Muslim Communion act

A church and convent were attacked in Taiping
There have been arson attacks at churchs amid growing tensions

The Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia has criticised the authorities for not pressing charges against two Muslim journalists who took Holy Communion.

The two apparently put communion wafers in their mouths and then spat them out.

The Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Murphy Pakiam, said the two men had desecrated the church, and the lack of charges appeared to legitimise their behaviour.

It is the latest in a series of incidents raising religious tensions in the Muslim-majority country.

The journalists said they had attended the church service to check reports of the illegal conversion of Muslims, but found no evidence of it.

While non-Catholics can attend Mass, the Church does not allow those who are not baptised to receive the communion wafer.


The archbishop wants an apology from the journalists and from the magazine that published the story of their actions.

"The journalists have displayed utmost disrespect for the Catholic community when they admit receiving and spitting out the Holy Communion," he told a press conference.

He said the incident "does not augur well on inter-religious harmony and peace" in Malaysia.

The monthly Malay-language Al-Islam magazine indicated the men spat out the communion wafers because it took a photograph of them partially bitten.


Catholics believe the communion wafer is transformed into the body of Christ during the celebration of Mass.

The government's top lawyer, Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, said the pair had not understood the significance of the wafer.

"The actions of the two reporters may have hurt the feelings of the people but I was satisfied that they did not intend to offend anyone. It was an act of sheer ignorance," he said in a statement.

"Therefore in view of the circumstances at that particular time and in the interest of justice, peace and harmony, I decided not to press any charges against them."

The BBC's Jennifer Pak in Malaysia says that non-Muslims feel their right to practice religion freely has come under threat in a country dominated by Muslims.

Protests against a court ruling in December that non-Muslims could use the word "Allah" led the government to appeal against the judgement.

Arson attacks then followed, mainly targeting churches, and wild boar's heads were placed at mosques. Pigs are considered unclean by Muslims and their presence would be taken as an insult.

Malays, who are required to be Muslim in Malaysia, make up a majority of the country's population alongside substantial Chinese and Indian minorities.

The Malaysian constitution gives primacy to Islam but allows the free practice of other faiths.

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