By Matters India Reporter
Kochi: The Syro-Malabar Church has decried an attempt to link its leader Cardinal George Alencherry with another land scam.
“It is deplorable to slander a person without bothering to verify facts,” says a press statement from Church spokesperson Father Jimmy Poochakkatt.
The statement was issued on May 13, immediately after a laity watchdog movement alleged that the cardinal had diverted land meant for the poor to his family.
The cardinal is also the archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese that had some 45 years ago built houses at Thrikkakkara, a suburb of Kochi, Kerala’s commercial hub.
While the Save Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency movement claims the houses in the Cardinal Colony were meant for the poor, Father Poochakkatt says they were built mainly to accommodate the staff members of the Cardinal School and Devmatha College the archdiocese manages in Thrikkarakkara.
They were built at the initiative of Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, who then headed the Church as well as the archdiocese.
The transparency movement now alleges that Cardinal Alencherry re-registered a house and 6 cents of land, worth 10 million rupees, in the name of his brother, breaking the rule that bars transfer of the houses to others.
According to the group, the land has now been handed over, free of cost, to the cardinal’s sister-in-law and nephew – Thresyamma James and Janson James. The re-registration was done at the Thrikkakara Sub-registrar’s office on September 17, 2016. In the document, the price was recorded as 2.25 million rupees.
“The information was accessed through the Right to Information Act. There was no discussion regarding the deal in any of the church councils,” said Shine Varghese of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency.
And even though the document claims the land was sold to the family, there is no record of the money being credited to the Church’s account, the watchdog further alleges.
However, the Church spokesperson dismisses the allegation as baseless and adds some vested interests are using the similarities in the house name as a cover to defame the cardinal.
Father Poochakkatt clarifies that the archdiocese after allocating most houses to the people concerned had inserted newspaper advertisements to sell the remaining plots and the respondents included one Philipose George Alencherry.
“This person had no relation or acquaintance with Cardinal Alencherry even though their house names are similar,” the spokesperson explains.
Explaining the process started from the time of Cardinal Parecattil, Father Poochakkatt says the archdiocesan procurator used to register the plots in the name of the buyers after they made full payment.
However, Philipose George did not register the plot but wrote in his will that after his death it would go to a son, James. After James also died, his family approached the archdiocese to register the plot in the name of his wife and children.
What Cardinal Alencherry did was to perform his duty as the head of the archdiocese and formalize a deal that was made years ago, Father Poochakkatt explains and adds, “All the records regarding this deal are kept in the archdiocesan curia.”
The spokesperson bemoaned that some people have used the similarities in the house names as a cover to defame the cardinal.
Meanwhile the media in Kerala points out the allegation is the second land scam linked to the cardinal.
In December 2017, the Save Archdiocese Campaign had alleged the archdiocese had incurred huge losses by selling its land at prices lower than the market value. The land was sold to repay debt incurred while buying land to build a medical college.
The scam not only led to court cases but divided the faithful into groups supporting or opposing the cardinal.