Holy men in unholy deals

Father Suresh Mathew
“The next wave of attacks on the Church could be for financial irregularities,” Cardinal George Pell, Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, had said a couple of years back. As one pores over the mountain of material flooding the media (specially in social media) on the ‘land deal scandal’ and the subsequent questionable financial transactions in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, one gets the feeling that Cardinal Pell’s prediction is coming true. The Archdiocese, faced with a serious debt crisis because of the land it bought for its proposed medical college, decided to cut down on its debt by selling some of its properties in and around Ernakulam. The Diocesan Council empowered to take such decisions zeroed in on five plots. A business deal was struck with a realtor. To cut a long story short, the Archdiocese ended up burdened with more debts and unrecovered crores of rupees. It has left a trail of allegations and counter-allegations; it has also given a long stick to the opponents of the Church to beat it with.

The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, in a revealing circular issued to the clergy of the Diocese, says: “Canonical laws have not been followed and there has been no transparency in the deal. Hence, it has landed the Archdiocese not just in financial crisis but in a serious ethical crisis as well.” The Bishop’s frank confession that he and the other Auxiliary Bishop were not taken into confidence in some of the deals and discussions adds to the mystery of the unsavory developments. In the thick of the happenings, the name of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church, crops up off and on, but he keeps a studied silence.

The official circular reveals certain truths, though it may not be the whole truth. One can ignore the gossips and allegations flying thick and thin. But what about the facts contained in the official circular? Bishop Adayanthrath categorically states that some of the deals were contrary to the decisions taken by the canonical councils of the Archdiocese. Going a step further, he discloses that the councils concerned were kept in the dark on the developments. Though the Auxiliary Bishop is the head of the Archdiocesan Institutions Central Office (AICO), which is the body that conducts the businesses relating to all institutions in the Diocese, he had no knowledge of many happenings. This adds to the strength of the allegations floating around.

Here it is pertinent to raise a few questions. How can a few individual priests in a Diocese sidestep the official councils and committees and take decisions of far-reaching importance? Who authorized them to flout not one but several conditions laid down by the official Archdiocesan Forums with regard to the land sale? How could the decision-makers bypass even the two Auxiliary Bishops? Why is Cardinal Alencherry keeping a studied silence over the whole episode when he is the signatory in all the documents related to the sale of the properties? Why did he not heed to the reported warnings given by several senior priests and diocesan forums not to play into the hands of a realtor with apparently dubious credentials? Who are the ultimate beneficiaries in the various deals which brought immense disrepute to the Archdiocese and the Church?

In the end, even if the monetary aspects are settled and money is recovered, it will only find a solution for the financial issues, but the moral problems will remain. “What has happened is not merely a serious financial crisis. It involves grave moral issues like lack of transparency and non-adherence to the Canon Law. Hence, even if the Archdiocese is able to recover the balance amount due to it, it will only help to tide over the financial crisis; the moral issues will remain,” states Mar Adayanthrath.

As the Kerala church, specially the Archdiocese, is caught in the eye of a storm, the authorities have taken the right step to appoint an expert committee consisting of priests and lay people to study the issue threadbare and submit a report. But it should not be the end in itself; the commission’s recommendations should be taken to its logical conclusion. If need be, the Vatican should be kept in the loop. Pope Francis’s commitment to take the Church on a new path of financial honesty and moral uprightness is known to the world.

A few months into his papacy, Pope Francis had made a fire-and-brimstone sermon stating that the corrupt should be tied to a stone and thrown into sea. It is no secret that the Pope assumed the office at a time when the Vatican was caught in ‘financial scandals’ reportedly involving senior functionaries. He had invited international financial watchdog, Moneyval, to check the accounts. He had the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) to have a look at the Holy See’s finances. Finding several cases of suspected financial irregularity, it had sent these cases to the Promoter of Justice, which is the Vatican’s prosecutor.

The Vatican recently confirmed that the Pope has ordered an investigation into the alleged financial and other irregularities in the Diocese of one of his top advisers, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. Italian newsweekly L’Espresso says that the investigation was initiated in May following allegations of failed investments, questionable expenses by one of Maradiaga’s deputies, and the ultimate destination of 35,000 euro a month paid to the Cardinal by the Catholic University of Honduras.

On the issue of financial accountability and transparency of Dioceses, it is worth to recall an initiative by Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics. Last year, it undertook a review of the websites of several Archdioceses and Dioceses that constitute the majority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It found that some Dioceses and Archdioceses were posting their financial audits regularly, but some were not doing so. Patting the back of those who post their financial reports, the VOTF raised a valid point: What prevents the ‘erring Dioceses’ from posting their financial reports while others were doing so? The organization further observed: “Transparency (on the part of Dioceses and Archdiocese) gives the laity a level of confidence that their financial support of the Bishop and the good works of the Arch/Diocese are accomplishing their intended goal.”

The ongoing controversies in the Kerala Church have got it on a slippery land. It should take immediate corrective measures to stop the rot. There is more to the episode than meets the eye. The shepherds are duty-bound to make sure that activities of a few ‘black sheep’ do not take the sheen out of a vibrant Church in Kerala. Pope Francis should be their role model in this regard.

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3 thoughts on “Holy men in unholy deals

  1. The views and concern expressed by brother A. S. Mathew are real. The hierarchy should wake up from high intoxication of power and money and take remedial steps. Or else, the new generations would find solace in alternate spirituality and desert Churches in coming years.

    1. Dear Brother Vincent, thank you for your kind response. If the Christian world, especially that the the Episcopal Churches in India are not radically changed, the religious empire building will be faced with many challenges in the coming days.

      A friend of mine of the Episcopal roots who did invest money in opening the first Church building in the large western city of the U.S. told me that he has a nominal membership with the denomination; but attending the Church of Rev. Rick Warren who prayed at the President Obama inauguration as well as the author of the best seller ” The Purpose Driven Life”.

      One Bishop of an Episcopal Church when left the duty in the U.S., his gift from the believers was a BMW car to enjoy the comfortable drive in Kerala. What kind of CMC custom-made Chariot JESUS had?

      The Bishops must have comfortable vehicle for their travel; but the Benz-Audi-BMW riding spirit is not of JESUS CHRIS or HIS disciples. While watching the huge amount spent for each Priest for their job in the U.S., it will be over $ 100000.00/year.

      I have never witnessed a royal welcome given to Pope Francis in the U.S., the President-Vice President, politicians, Catholic-Protestant-Hindu-Muslims-Sikhs-Jews-Atheists-Buddhists etc gave a very cordial welcome. What kind of a car he used? The car was auctioned for a big amount and the amount was used for helping the helpless old people in Vatican or Rome. Rich people would have been delighted to provide him the most expensive vehicle, but he declined those offers due to his life of care and humility. When the Bishops of all denominations are going to learn that?

      I have attended many mega Churches of the U.S. The Lord’s supper is given through the ushers to each Church seat in a container of small plastic cups along the bread. We do remember that based on the Lord’s supper. In that picture, JESUS is sitting at the middle, the bread and wine was handed over to the next person. Some Episcopal denominations are too adamant that when the church membership get over 200 families, have another Church building in the same city. The main problem is that in a big congregation, the Priest can’t serve the Lord’s supper straight to the believer’s mouth. From where this theology came?

      How much it costs to distribute New Testament in Hindi? Less than half a dollar. We can buy the whole Bible in English for one dollar in the dollar store. How many people are lacking one copy of the Bible in north India? Evangelism as commanded by JESUS is fully ignored by the religious hierarchy.

      I have witnessed that the 3rd Generation of the Indian expatriates in the Episcopal Churches are breaking apart from the Church building established by the grand fathers. Spiritually they are starving simply hearing the same old lifeless repetition, and the perpetual monetary appeal from the Headquarters in India.

      With some of my close spiritual oriented friends I made an adventurous journey through the most dangerous road to the Tibetan border more than 10 years back. The Priest and another Evangelist were too happy to see us because they told us with broken heart, that hardly anybody paid a visit to that remote area of the nation. But, the Bishops are in a rush to land in any of the GCC country, and the final landing in the U.S. for dozens of conferences. How many conferences? What will be accomplished other than a jovial get together for the well to do believers of the Church in the rich nations of the world? How many poor congregations are visited by the Bishops in Kerala?

  2. It is an absolute must that the Episcopal Churches of India should have a reformation through which the religious hierarchy who are called for the Lord’s service in any capacity as Bishop or Priests must fully concentrate upon the spiritual needs of the believers.

    The reputable believers of Church with honesty and integrity in dealing with the material possessions of the Church, both men and women must handle the material things of the Church.

    Now what we observe is the religious empire controlled by the religious hierarchy. The Sunday service is the only cardinal factor and responsibility, then marriages and burial service; but the main energy is concentrated in the Church material empire expansion.

    Not far away from my residence in the U.S., one Afro-American Catholic Bishop was staying in a posh area of the business and sports people, where thousands of Afro-Americans are living in very low standard of living. Years back, I took an exit in that poor area due to missing the proper exit earlier; I was tormented to see that area and one policeman stopped and guided me to the free way. Due Pope Francis’s stern warning, he was forced to sell that mansion and moved to another home. Is the Religious hierarchy for material possessions or as shepherds for the believer’s spiritual nourishment?

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