Cardinal Pell had predicted financial corruption! Holy Men in Unholy Deals!

Ernakulum archdiocese bp

Fr Dr Suresh Mathew

Indian Currents, New Delhi

 

James kottoor(Note: We have already published several reports on Syromalabar land deal scandal, quoting Times of India report on it. Here is now an  opinion about it from our friend Suresh in Delhi – a farther franker view.

           For a change now the Big fish caught in the sea of corruption in which sails the bark of Peter are the crimson clad princes of the Church, Cardinals. Cardinal Pell of Australia was the opening batsman in the field of pedophilia under investigation. He had predicted he would soon  be followed by equally serious financial scandal now opening for public view in the person of Kochi’s cardinal Mar Alancherry.

        Going to hell becomes tolerable, once in company, someone has said. Think of Michael Angelo’s Hell with Popes and red hats. So nothing in the Roman Catholic Church, with ‘Pharisaic Holier than thou attitude’ should come as too shocking. Now read the article of Suresh from Delhi with questions galore to find answers. james kottoor, ccv editor.

 

“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 (of Ernakulam-Angamali Syro-Malabar Church), 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.

Questions Galore!

1. How can a few individual priests in a Diocese sidestep the official councils and committees and take decisions of far-reaching importance?

2. Who authorized them to flout not one but several conditions laid down by the official Archdiocesan Forums with regard to land sale?

3.How could the decision-makers bypass even the two Auxiliary Bishops?

4. 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?

5.    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?

6.   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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  1. Isaac Gomes says:

    The Indian Church can be likened to both an ostrich and a duck.  Like an ostrich when criticisms of corruption come up, it hides its face in the sand with the illusion that nobody is seeing it. At the same time it is like a duck, as it shakes off all criticisms with utmost aplomb as a duck shakes water off its back.  The prime reason for this arrogance of the Church is because it thinks it is a private body, and therefore no one including the government, has the right to question its authority.  However, it is not at all a private body and as a matter of duty accountable to the Laity, for it feeds on Laity's (donors') money and therefore all its assets (temporal goods) belong to the Laity.  The Church Hierarchy is just a custodian, a caretaker.  But because the Laity which in spite of constituting more than 80% of the Church, prefers to be a sleeping giant, the church authorities rule the roost, with the erroneous notion that they are the bosses. In this blissful arrogance they do not bother for any transparency and accountability to the Laity. Publication of parish / diocese accounts on the website as is  done in the United States of America (mentioned by Fr Suresh in his above article), is a far cry! The Indian Church authorities knowingly and repeatedly turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to Pope Francis' exhortations to "smell the sheep 24×7" and to be "Servant-Leaders". After all the Pope stays several thousands of miles away and all his exhortations by the time they reach India, are consigned to the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.  With only a Nuncio based in New Delhi, the Pope has no control on the Indian Church, especially the Syro-Malabar Church which smacks money and money only.  He simply cannot, without statewise representation (other than the lone Nuncio) and opening up an avenue for feedback of a cross-section of the Laity.  

    A clearer picture of the above Report has been published in the New Indian Express dated 06th January 2018

    Land deal has led to financial crisis, says Archdiocese

    By Express News Service  |   Published: 29th December 2017 

    KOCHI: Breaking its silence over the controversial real estate deals rocking the Syro-Malabar Church, the Archdiocese of the Ernakulam-Angamali Syro-Malabar Church on Thursday issued a circular, in which diocesan authorities admitted there was a lack of transparency in the deals resulting in a huge financial burden to the Archdiocese.The circular, addressing priests and published on the website of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, was issued by auxiliary bishop Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath. The land scam kicked up such a storm that a section of priests demanded the resignation of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry as head of the church.

    There are allegations that plots owned by the Archdiocese in and around Kochi at prime locations were sold at throwaway prices.  In the circular, Mar Adayanthrath confirmed the liability of the church which was `60 crore earlier, now rose to `84 crore after the land deal.  “What happened to the Archdiocese is not only a financial crisis but also a moral lapse. Facts that there was no transparency and ignorance of Canon law also raise serious moral concerns. Though the Archdiocese can recover from the financial crisis to a great extent, issues related to morality will prevail,” the circular noted.

    “The Archdiocese had purchased 23.22 acres at Mattoor in Thuravoor village for the proposed medical college attached to Little Flower Hospital, Angamaly. The land was bought on a `60-crore bank loan. The plan was to sell the land at Varantharapally and repay the loan, but the sale of land at Varanthrapally did not happen in the expected time-frame. With this, the repayment of `60 crore became a burden for the Archdiocese. Following this, it was proposed the bank loan could be repaid by selling other land owned by the Archdiocese and five plots were identified which together had a total area of 306.98 cents. The price was fixed at `19 lakh per cent. The expected price was `27.30 crore.   However, the agent who was entrusted with the sale of land divided it into plots and sold to 36 persons,” the circular said.

    “As per the contract signed on June 21, 2016, the transactions had to be completed within one month. The archdiocese has so far received `9.13 crore only, even 1.5 years after the deal. The Archdiocese is yet to receive `19.17 crore. The 36 plots were sold without the knowledge of canonical committees. It is also learnt the advance was received before the matter came up for discussion before the canonical committees. Even in this condition, another bank loan of `10 crore was availed and 25 acres purchased at Kothamangalam and 17 acres at Devikulam in Idukki.

    Both these land deals happened without the knowledge and consent of the auxiliary bishops or any other committee of the Archdiocese. After the land deal at Mattoor, the church committees had decided not to allow any buying or selling of land.” The Archdiocese had appointed a six-member committee to investigate.

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    The CBCI with its 180+ Bishops has not implemented formation of Parish Finance Committee (PFC) in each parish.  PFCs have been mandated by the Vatican Council II in all parishes.  All the incomes and expenses of a parish, including asset aquisition and disposal, should be routed through PPCs. An Assets Register should be maintained at each parish, for any interested parishioners to inspect. Finance experts who need not necessarily be parishioners, may be coopted in PFCs in the absence of skilled professionals in a parish.  Accounts of a parish must be put up on Church Notice Boards every six months for the knowledge and feedback of parishioners. In Gujarat Archbishop Thomas Macwan had turned a deaf ear to repeated requests of parishioners to institute PFCs and to ensure transparency & accountability and checks & balances.  Since he was arrogant and did not pay heed, the matter is on the verge of being perused in court.  Hopefully, this will ring warning bell for CBCI and all the red robes.
     

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