Isaac Gomes writes from Kolkata:
In connection with the article Where are pastors with smell of sheep? Priests, Power & Profits, the following initiative will help arrest financial misdeeds by the clergy:
A campaign to reform laws governing church property and finances has gained momentum in India’s southern Kerala state, where a rape case against a bishop has created a furore. Church activists, including theologians, have for more than a decade sought greater lay participation in managing the temporal wealth of the Catholic Church, with a view to check embezzlement.
A draft proposal called the ‘Church Properties and Institutions Trust Bill’ was prepared under the guidance of the late V. R. Krishna Iyer, a former judge of the Supreme Court, and was submitted for the consideration of the Kerala government in 2009.
- It is a very good initiative. The Kerala government must consider it by bringing it up in the Assembly for debate in the light of the Kerala high court judgement of 10th October 2012 that ruled that parishioners have rights over Church property. The enlightened laity of Kerala aided by Advocates like Indulekha Joseph who was at the helm of Kerala nuns’ sit-in demonstration for the arrest of Bishop Mulakkal, must pursue this noble initiative to its logical end.
The draft proposal, which is also called the Kerala Church Act, proposes periodic audits of church properties and institutions such as schools. The bill also calls for an elected body to manage financial affairs of the Catholic Church and parishes. Canon Law 537 provides for formation of Parish Finance Committee in each parish. This mandate has not been implemented in most parishes of the 174 Dioceses in India, thanks to the intertia of concerned bishop/archbishop. Canon law states that the pastor is obligated to consult the Finance Council on certain matters. Although the pastor is not obliged to follow the recommendations of the Finance Council, the pastor should not act against such advice, especially when there is consensus, unless there is an overriding reason. In other words, the prudent pastor would not ignore the advice of the Finance Council unless there was a serious reason to do so. When acting contrary to its recommendations the pastor should provide an explanation to the Finance Council regarding the reasons for his decision.
In August 2018 the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement bringing all religious shrines including churches, mosques and all charitable organisations under the ambit of audit. Further hearing on the matter was due on 5th September. No church body has challenged this judgement for fear of facing an immediate probe.
- The Kerala high court on Wednesday 10th October 2012 ruled that parishioners have rights over Church property. Justice K. Vinod Chandran gave the ruling while hearing a case over property rights between parishioners and church authorities of ‘Mukkad Thirukudumba’ Church, Sakthikulangara, Kollam. It was said in the judgement (later ratified by the Supreme Court of India) Parishioners, independently or together as a committee of administrators are competent to represent the parish and claim rights over the properties of the church.
The proponents of this movement, must cite the above judgement as a case reference to avoid labour from ground zero.