Church Land Scam Report : Cardinal Sin
Organiser - Weekly   02-Apr-2018

It is for the first time that a Cardinal is embroiled in the controversy of grave financial irregularities bringing the entire Church administration under the cloud

RL Farancis

Once again there is a demand to create a national agency to protect the Church properties. For long the Poor Christian Liberation Movement has been demanding this. After detection of financial irregularities in the sale of church land by Ernakulam Archbishop and Cardinal George Alencherry, this demand has gained strength.
But it has been strongly opposed by Chairman of the Catholic Bishop Council of India and Cardinal Grasium According to CBCI archdiocese is the owner of the church land.
Cardinal Grasium said in Kerala he would not favour the proposed land act because “we have an adequate legal structure to look into cases of corruption, and from time to time we carry out audits and there is enough transparency”.
Cardinal Grasium has openly come in favour  Cardinal George Alencherry who has been held in the dock for irregularities in land deals as criminal charges have been levelled against him. More than half of the priests of the archdiocese have demanded his resignation.
In India, it is for the first time that charges of corruption have been levelled against a cardinal. Many people are unaware of it since the matter has not been highlighted in the media.
An inquiry committee of the church has charged Cardinal George Alencherry with largescale financial irregularities in a land deal. The committee has recommended action against him under the revenue and the Canon laws. The accused Cardinal is one of the seven cardinals in India. It may be mentioned that the Pope is elected from among the Cardinals in the world. The inquiry committee has hence sent its report to Rome.
According to the inquiry committee report, in five land deals, Cardinal George Alencherry received  Rs 27 crores, but he has confessed to receiving only Rs nine crores. The report says that the Canon laws have been gravely violated which amounts to criminal misconduct and breach of trust. In India never has such charges been levelled against any cardinal.
Though the Kerala High Court has stayed registration of a case against the cardinal, the petitioner Shine Verghese has said, “There is no transparency in the functioning of the archdiocese. It is believed that if there are any charges against the cardinal, he should clarify them and prove them wrong. It is not the question related to any one person but involves the entire community. The sale-purchase of the church land would impact the entire community because the inquiry committee has raised questions on violation of the church laws. We need answers to all such questions.”
The Kerala High Court had last month come down heavily on the counsel of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Cardinal Mar George Alencherry for pointing out to the court that as far as the Cardinal is concerned, the appellate authority is the Pope.
Taking a strong view of the Cardinal"s counsel"s contention, the court told him that it is strange to hear that the law of the land is not applicable to the Cardinal and said the court is looking if there was a breach of trust in the land deal.
The court made this observation when a petitioner sought a probe into the land deal done by the Cardinal which had become controversial due to financial deals..
The Ernakulam archdiocese in 2016 sold a three-acre piece of land in Kochi to repay a Rs 60 crore bank loan it had earlier taken to construct a medical college. The agent appointed by the church to facilitate the deal had estimated the value of the land at Rs 27.30 crore, but priests and local people claimed that the property"s real value was at least Rs 80 crore.
The Cardinal’s counsel told the court that as per the Canon Law, the Pope is the appellate authority to take action against a Cardinal.
Observers feel that on the surface there may not be a big effect of it, but internally more than 200 priests have demanded the resignation of the cardinal. The counsel also told the court that despite a few petitions against this land deal and the demand for a detailed probe into it being raised with the Vatican, no action has been initiated by the Pope against the Cardinal. The petitioner urged the court to order a probe to find out if there was any wrong-doing in the sale of land by the Cardinal, which has  caused a loss to the Church.
Delhi-based editor of the Matters India magazine Jose Kavi says “this is church politics. Either you are with the cardinal or you are against it. It is a painful situation. I don’t think it can be resolved internally by the church administration. Either Vatican or CBCI should intervene.”Kanpur-based former president of the All-India Catholic Union  Chhotebhai said “if something wrong has been found at the first sight by the single bench, the cardinal should quit the post till charges against him are held null and void.

(The writer is a Delhi-based freelancer)