Syro-Malabar Church’s quagmire

By Jeemon Jacob

Thiruvananthapuram, June 23, 2019: The 2,000-year-old Syro-Malabar Church, part of the Catholic fold in India, has never had it so bad. There seems to be a new controversy every day, including cases of corruption against the head of the church, Cardinal George Alencherry.

It all started after shady land deals in the Angamaly-Ernakulam archdiocese became public in March 2018. It was found that Cardinal Alencherry sold off prime lands owned by the archdiocese below market price and even transferred the ownership without receiving the amount. Church officials say they lost around 630 million rupees in the deals.

The cardinal defended the deals, stating he was not aware of the money transactions. But the priests’ council demanded an investigation with former church spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat leading the campaign.

Finally, Pope Francis removed Cardinal Alencherry from all administrative positions of the archdiocese and appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.

But in a new development, Bishop Manathodath, Father Thelakat and two others, including IIT Madras MTech student Aditya Valavi, have been accused of forging documents against the cardinal.

“The criminal case against the apostolic administrator and others is part of a mega-conspiracy to save the cardinal. The church, with the support of the ruling Left Front government, is framing cases to silence the cardinal’s critics,” says lawyer Polachan Puthupara, vice-chairman of the Joint Christian Council.

Puthupara has filed cases against the cardinal in the Kerala High Court, among them one for fabricating the fake title deeds. “There is a power bloc including retired judges working to save the cardinal. Six judges in the high court recused themselves from hearing my petition,” he says.

The more than 5 million Syro-Malabar Catholics are in a quandary, with the Church heading for a vertical split. Former Ernakulam MP and social commentator Sebastian Paul says the Kochi police are showing undue interest in the case against the apostolic administrator and priests.

“Fr Thelakat is a much-respected priest. I have known him for 40 years. I can’t believe he fabricated documents,” Paul says. Paul, along with officials from the archdiocese, met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to request a fair investigation in the case.

Meanwhile, on June 6, the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) synod, the apex body of all bishops in the state, issued a circular exonerating Cardinal Alencherry and directed that it be read out in all parishes in the middle of Sunday Mass.

But within hours, the KCBC’s official spokesperson issued another circular withdrawing the initial one. The war within the Church fold seems to be intensifying by the day.


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