Churches in Kerala are contaminated by thugs and fraudsters disguised as priests. Their sins could be a blight on the message of God
Christian Church in Kerala has been in the news for the last few months; all are for numerous bad reasons. Land scandal to sex scandal to rape….! The believers are at the horns of a dilemma. They cannot repudiate the Church or the priests or the nuns; at the same time, they do not have any trick in their bag to justify them. And, the priests and the nuns are cutting sorry figures before the believers. The first among the controversies in the recent past was the land scandal.
Priests belonging to the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church march to the Major Archbishop's House in Kochi
Media quoted the representatives of the priests saying that Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church and two senior priests and a real estate agent had sold several plots of land at undervalued prices, incurring a loss of about Rs. 70 crore. There are allegations that cardinal bypassed the canonical body supposed to oversee these sorts of financial activities.
Subsequently, Vatican bypassed the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church’s decision-making synod and obliterated the administrative jobs of three prelates of the archdiocese, of course, due to the financial controversies and infighting. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palakkad as the apostolic administrator for Ernakulam-Ankamaly Archdiocese with a mandate to stem financial controversies fanned by scandalous land deals.
All is not Well
A letter from the Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Oriental Congregation, refers to the grave situation of disputes between priests, auxiliary bishops, and Cardinal Alencherry. It said the administrator’s primary job is to heal the ‘fractures’ and eventually propose solutions that require the intervention of the Synod of Bishops, the supreme decision-body of Syro-Malabar Church based in Kerala.
Sex Scandal in Kerala’s Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church is another denomination of Christianity. This Church is in the eye of a storm too. Here the problem is the sex scandal which is capable of torpedoing the credibility of the whole Church not only for the time being but also for the days, weeks, months and years to come. It was none other than a parishner who created a heavy tremor in the society. He exposed the sexual abuse of his homemaker wife by a group of clergymen for a long time. The man took up the matter with the Church authorities hoping that they would solve the matter. But, the response gave him a shock; they supported the offenders and asked him to withdraw the complaint.
The man was not at all keen to take up the criminal offense against the five offenders as it would tarnish the Church’s credibility. The issue came up by mid-May this year when the man of Niranam Diocese complained to the diocesan head that at least four priests of the Church had been sexually exploiting his wife by using her secret ‘confession,’ she made before them on different occasions, to exploit her.
It is reported that the woman had revealed the names of four priests to her husband. He has produced a statement by his wife he elicited from her. When the issue invited the media attraction, the diocesan authorities put the four priests under suspension and stopped them from discharging their ecclesiastic duties.
Kerala Police initiated the case when the National Commission for Women took suo-moto cognisance of the case and directed the DG of Police to investigate the matter. Fr. Job Mathew and Fr. Johnson P. Mathew have been arrested; Fr. Abraham Varghese and Fr. Jaice K. George are yet to be arrested.
The letter further stated that the administrative power of auxiliary bishops Sebastian Edayanthath and Jose Puthenveettil had been suspended. It also suspended all archdiocesan offices and its council. It gave freedom to the new administrator to restructure them. It also asked him to go ahead with an audit of the archdiocese by an independent agency and send the report only to the Apostolic See confidentially. Alencherry “should not be involved” in any decision. The administrator was free to appoint a synodal committee to help him, but it should have only a ‘consultative role.’ Insiders acknowledge that this is the first time in the history of this Asian Church that the Vatican suspended the administrative powers of all the bishops in a diocese. They say it shows a grave situation of ethical violations and the inability of the synod to effectively settle the issue. The very same situation compelled the Vatican to bypass the synod, a self-governing body since 1992.
Court wondered if cardinal was beyond the law of the land. It was the natural response to the submission made by the cardinal’s counsel that only Pope enjoys the authority to take action against him if he had done any wrong in the Church land deal as per the Canon Law
The development of the unfolding stories speaks out what happens inside the Church. The leading lights forget what they are expected to do
The archdiocese was in the grip of a serious controversy during November last year when the presbyteral council, the canonical body of priests publicly alleged that Major Archbishop Cardinal Alencherry was a part of the ticklish land deals. This statement included the accusations against the cardinal, two senior priests and real estate broker who had sold various plots of land at undervalued prices hence incurred a loss of crores of rupees. The newly appointed apostolic administrator appointed new vicar-general, financial officer, chancellor and pro-vice-chancellor in the diocese and sent a circular message for reading out in all parishes on June 24 aiming at reconciliation. Cardinal Alencherry is not in a mood to comment on the latest developments.
Alleged Rape by the Bishop
A nun has complainted against the Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal. She complained to Kottayam Police that the Bishop had subjected her to sexual abuse. The nun alleged that the Church officials did not take any action when she complained to them in this regard. Earlier the Bishop had complained to the police that the nun’s relatives had threatened him; a case has been registered regard. Nun alleges that the Bishop sexually abused her in May 2014 when he came to participate in a function in Kuruvilangadu, Kottayam district and raped her 13 times during the next few years. She says since she complained she had been removed from her official position, and
financial irregularities were alleged against her; she believes that it is due to the complaint against the Bishop. The nun was working in an institution under the Jalandhar diocese where Mulakkal was in charge.
The nun says that she had sent a letter of complaint to Cardinal Alencherry in connection with the sexual abuse she underwent. Later on, a Malayalam TV channel did telecast the audio of a telephone conversation between her and Alencherry. During the conversation, Cardinal confirmed the receipt of the letter. But, he expressed inability to take a public stand in this regard.
The development of the unfolding stories speaks out what happens inside the Church. The leading lights forget what they are expected to do. They give the people opportunity to conclude that the Church and the priesthood carry all sorts of weaknesses a degenerated society does have. Lust for money, power and what not!
A six-member committee that carried out an inquiry into the land scandal said that the Vatican had given clear instructions to get to the bottom of the issue. Vatican’s demand for the confidential report denotes their inquisitiveness to hear the truth. The new administrator said they have been airing their protests in the internal forums since September 2017. But, there was no positive signal from the members of the synod.
Criticism from the Judiciary
Meanwhile, the Kerala High court sharply criticised Cardinal Mar George Alencherry in connection with the land scam. The Court wondered if cardinal was beyond the law of the land. It was the natural response to the submission made by the cardinal’s counsel that only Pope enjoys the authority to take action against him if he had done any wrong in the Church land deal as per the Canon Law. Court also made the observation that Pope had no jurisdiction in Bharat and that the rules and laws of Vatican could be applicable only to the internal affairs of the Church.
Cardinal Mar George Alancherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church
Earlier even though the petitioner from Alappuzha district had complained to the police, reports suggest that there was no action. In fact, Cardinal George Alencherry had stated in March 2018 the legal system of the country should not interfere in the Canon Laws. He was speaking after the Good Friday Mass in a Church in Alappzha. According to him, it was the ‘duty of the citizens to obey the rule of law existing in the country, but more importance should be given to the divine law.’ He added, “No one should think divine justice could be measured with the legal system of the country. It is wrong. Even in Church, such tendencies prevail. There are persons in the Church who think that they could control it through court verdicts.”
Interestingly these comments came after the Supreme Court of the country observed recently that the charges against the Cardinal were of serious nature. The remarks were made while declining to vacate the stay granted by the division bench of the Kerala High Court in going ahead with an FIR against Alencherry and two other priests in the wake of the land scam.
There were reports in January 2018 that “Indian Currents,” a 21-year-old publication by Catholic Church had to withdraw its cover story “Cardinal Sin” ‘obedience’ by its chief editor Dr. Suresh Mathew. The cover story stated that “with the latest land row, however, the Church has run itself the risk of losing the trust of its congregations.”