Corruption in land deals is rocking the Syro Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala. Dissatisfied with the decision of Singatrura Apostolica, the Catholic church’s supreme authority, pastors and the faithful have launched a protest against its decision to sell church land. They have also requested the authorities to dismiss Cardinal George Alencherry, as the Vatican report on a land deal has found him to be guilty of corruption.
In 2017, Cardinal Mar George Alenchery of the Syro Malabar Catholic church was accused of selling land plots belonging to the church violating cannon laws. The church had planned to build a medical college and availed a bank loan of Rs.59 crore for the same. But the project was dropped later and to repay the loan, a parcel of land was sold. The Vatican appointed KPMG, an international auditing agency, to look into the land deal which found that the sale incurred a loss of Rs.90 crore. But the archdiocese, with Alencherry as it’s head, deemed the audit report unfit to be considered as evidence as it was prepared by a private agency and thus it has no legal validity.
The church had decided to sell the 12 acres of land for a price of Rs.27 crore even though it could have been sold for a higher price. However it was sold for only Rs.13 crore and out of that only 9.3 crore was paid to the church in the end. There is an allegation that a relative of the Cardinal profited from the land deal. Protestors claim that the investigative report on the land deal revealed that the Cardinal asked the middleman in the land deals to invest 10 crore in Deepika daily. Deepika is a daily run by the Syro Malabar Church clergy and faithful, through Rashtradeepika Limited, a public limited company. Alencherry was promised to be given the position of the Chairman of the daily in return for helping with the land deal.
Christians who are against Alencherry’s corruption claim that Saju Varghese, the middleman involved in the land deal, is one of his benamis. The land seems to have been donated by the laity and cases have been lodged against Alencherry and others who helped him. In that regard 16 cases have been filed against Alencherry for selling the land. One of the petitions filed to book the Cardinal for corruption said that a property was donated to the archdiocese by Alexian brothers under the guarantee that it will be used only for the purpose of charity. However it was divided into plots with 16 different land documents and sold off, incurring a loss to the tune of 50 lakhs.
Many such cases were filed with the help of the judiciary. But police closed many of them saying ‘the case was registered due to a ‘Mistake by fact’‘. While the police claimed that there was no evidence to prove the allegations against Alencherry, the laity and priests protesting against him say otherwise and point to the report of Vatican appointed committee. Ironically, Alencherry filed complaints against the pastors of his own archdiocese and police chargesheeted 3 of them for forging documents to defame Alencherry.
Apart from being the Major Cardinal, the head of Syro-Malabar Church, Alencherry was the archbishop of Ernakulam archdiocese as well. After widespread protests he was removed from the position of archbishop and the Synod appointed Bishop Antony Kariyil as the Vicar Archbishop. Now, Almaya Munnettam, an organisation of the faithful following the Syro-Malabar Church, has started protesting against Antony Kariyil as well.
After Kariyil took over, efforts were made to recover the loss incurred by the controversial land deal. A committee proposed that other properties of the archdiocese be sold to make restitution which was accepted by the Vatican. But the followers and rebellious pastors . The laity organisation has stuck wall posters challenging the Vatican’s decision to sell more properties. Protestors accuse Kariyil of not being supportive in the issue. Posters saying ‘Real estate collaborator Bishop Kariyil go back’, ‘End real estate business in the Church’.
Alencherry is well-known not only for indulging in real estate business through his benamis, but for his role in helping the Italian marine shooters as well. In the aftermath of their arrest for killing two Bharatiya fishermen, he was quoted as boastfully saying that he would remain in “close contact with the Catholic ministers of Kerala who would help pacify the situation”. It is an open secret that the Catholic church played an important role in convincing the victims’ kin to withdraw the case and compromise for a compensation of Rs.10 crore.
The Syro-Malabar church land deal scam is reminiscent of how KP.Yohannan, founder of the Believers Christian Church, amassed wealth using FCRA money sent for proselytisation by buying properties. Using the funds collected through his FCRA organisation, known then as Gospel For Asia, he purchased 2,263 acres of rubber plantations. Such incidents reinforce the fact that after the Bharatiya government it is the church that owns a large amount of land. These properties given away or leased out by the British before independence remain the closely guarded treasure of the church.
Hindu temples are taken over and their properties are alienated by the secular government. But when it comes to missionaries, the government, instead of recognising the danger of land jihad and financial losses, panders to them by protecting their properties. In 2013, the Congress government in Andhra tried to bring a legislation to protect missionary properties from being used for purely commercial purposes. While Hindu temples are taken over on the premises of corruption and mismanagement, the church enjoys freedom of managing its property despite its corruption laid bare in the public forums.
(Featured Image Source: The Hindu)
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