St. Mary's Forane Church Athirampuzha (Changanacherry Arch diocese), which traces its existence back to 835 AD has become a shrine of shameful stories today. Misuse of funds, power and position to establish vested interests of the authorities have become the signature approach of this parish. Finally, senior parishioners have awakened and they have formed an association by name Team Conscience. When is the Archdiocese of Changanacherry going to hear their plea? We don’t know. Here is the summary of recent developments in this parish forwarded to us by Shri. Augustine Paul Alancherry on behalf of Team Conscience. This is just one story from Kerala, where almost in all parishes there are small units of Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement. Joseph Mattappally – Associate editor, CCV.
To An Unresponsive Congregation, Once Again
Fr. Cyriac Kottayil, vicar of St. Mary’s church Athirampuzha led a procession recently through the market to protest against the burglary at St. Sebastian’s church (Cheriya Pally) and the nearby St. Mary’s Girls High School. The offering box close to the church was broken apparently for the small change in it. The box was emptied the previous day according to the trustees and it is assumed that the thief entered St. Mary’s GHS in search of hard cash as nothing was missing from the school. Our church is on CCTV surveillance and the securities are on an all-night vigil, yet unlawful activities do not abate!
The reaction of our vicar to the incident was disproportionate since the culprit could only be a lowly thief, in search of food. The offering boxes get stolen across churches, but many treats them are non-incidents. Recently, in a parish church in Changanacherry, the altar as well as the Host (Eucharist) was despoiled, but the vicar objected to any public parading on this grave incident.
The hypocrisy of our vicar is evidenced by the numerous instances including criminal destruction in Athirampuzha, where he should have exhorted the parishioners to protest. High rankers like Fr. Mani should have led the procession, but the presence of his past trustees was ample enough and gave out the right message.
It was alleged that Fr. Mani concocted the scandalous conspiracy and orchestrated the destruction of the church building known as ‘Krishi Bhawan’ with the connivance of local criminal elements. The study materials and other implements used by the nursery children were also wrecked during the melee. The criminal case filed against the church was withdrawn at the instance of our present vicar. However, as custodians of the church property, our ex vicar and his trustees cannot escape their liability and are obligated to bear its replacement cost. The wise parishioners of Athirampuzha shut their eyes and closed their minds to this inexcusable atrocity and never ever thought of leading a public procession against this evil or took a stand against the evil-mongers.
Several of the parishioners may still be in the dark about another demolition that happened recently. St. Aloysius HS was broken into and the blackboards, tables, chairs and ceiling fans, were knocked down and wrecked, causing substantial financial loss to the school. However, no complaints have ever been filed with the police, no public meetings were conducted, no procession was taken out and no announcements were made in the church about the incident. The Vicar, Fr. Mani and Archbishop Perumthottam admitted their connivance and guilt that they have misappropriated, mismanaged and siphoned off crores of rupees belonging to the faithful with absolute disregard to morality when they ousted the elected Auditors. Even when the civil laws and the canons specify that they have used unsubstantiated authority, the collective conscience of the lion-hearted parishioners of Athirampuzha refused to acknowledge this ominous message from the clergy and decided to suffer silently instead of speaking truth to the power and organizing protest rallies or sit-ins.
The general body decided to restore the pedestrian path that was demolished by the previous vicar. The decision was taken in last November and its re-establishment continues to be a mirage. The vicar claims that the restoration of the path has inevitably linked with the non-receipt of outstanding grant for the stadium. The church has already said goodbye to this remaining grant since no proper accounts that can pass scrutiny exist. There have been no public outcries, no remonstrations and naturally no condemnation even from those who are inconvenienced.
The so-called stadium was opened for parking at our insistence briefly, but closed again pointing out some insignificant excuses. It could be holed up to conduct conventions, exhibitions and fests. It can even be used to sell dried fish. But, our good vicar feels that the stadium cannot be used for parking cars. A place that belongs to the parishioners is slammed shut on them because of the pig-headedness of the previous vicar. The congregation of Athirampuzha is yet to contemplate on a protest march or demonstration or show any disapproval of this dubious action of the vicar.
Even if the parishioners disregard a majority of the huge misappropriations in the accounts, high priority should have been assigned to the offerings given to the church. All our offerings are exclusively intended for social welfare activities and no funds can be diverted to any other projects of the church. Our thoughtful contributions have immense value as that of the ‘poor widow’ and are enough to sponsor a number of charities in our church without giving any additional burden to the parishioners. But our church has no such scruples for compassion and humanity. We carry on giving our offerings and the church goes on stealing our contribution. We are yet to show our disapproval or censure our administrators.
An irresistible inference we can reach from the words and deeds of our vicar is that money is supreme in the Kingdom of God. His mindset stays uncomfortably out of step with modern times and current reality. He looks for money from the faithful to renovate the chapel and repair the schools. No family can take any additional burden, due to the prevailing economic situation and the just concluded ‘mochanayathra’ of AKCC too projected this message. Our church is in monumental debt and his first priority is to clear this liability, not renovating chapels or building churches. The perilous ideas of our vicar are in the forefront on matters relating to financial governance and the pathetically subjugated faithful are yet to atone for their obeisance to an unelected and unaccountable clergy.
Fr. Cyriac Kottayil presided over a political meeting on waterway tourism, which is the sole responsibility of the Panchayat. An ordained is entrusted to preside at Mass, absolve sinners, anoint the sick, proclaim and explain the Gospel, give blessings and spiritual leadership to nurture his community in faith, but cannot give out cheap political speeches. In a developed secular society, elected representatives are delegated to supervise the developmental activities of the region and religious leaders have no role in it. Pope Francis says, “We must 'undress' ourselves of worldliness like St. Francis and bring into focus a church that is poor and is for the poor, promotes peace and loves and protects creation”. No one has taken any cudgels against his present thinking and definitely no parishioners have any sort of complaints.
The parish vicar has peeled off his pseudo vestments of love, compassion and humanity and worn the robe discarded by Fr. Mani. It is learned that when a parishioner came to report the demise of his mother, he brusquely asked him to notify it to the concerned priest. He had no words of concern, showed no grief at the demise and no soothing words at his loss, a total disconnect from the spiritual realm he governs. The only vicar, who sees his parishioners with appointment, Fr. Cyriac has time for everything else except for giving sacraments. Spirituality is getting short shrift and is replaced by material riches and an irresistible craving for adulation. The leftover elements of Mani regime have killed all that was good in him. The activities around the church suggest that Satan has invaded the House of God. The parishioners are yet to instil in him that with no sense of caring, there can be no community.
It is true that only a generation with an awakened moral sense can properly be rallied to rise up for humanity. The parishioners of Athirampuzha have lost their moral sense and become apathetic, depriving themselves of all feelings and awareness. They are on their deathbed and on their final moments of complete submission with no last piece of wisdom on their lips, no reflection on their life influenced by shady clerics, no last stand in all these turmoil and having no final score to settle, oblivious that posterity will ask questions for their silence today.
Augustine Paul Alancherry, Team Conscience of Athirampuzha