Absolutely Rotten! – Kerala Catholic Reformation Movement, Athirampuzha Forane Unit

Here is the copy of the memorandum, Kerala Catholic Reformation Movement Athirampuzha Forne unit has directly handed over to the new Vicar, Fr. Joseph Mundakathil. The same Shakespeare who wrote that something is rotten in the State of Denmark, if alive today, would have written that something still remains unrotten in the Kerala Church with reference to those religious faithful who still remain loyal to these wolves.

Syro Malabar Church is jumping from frying pan to burning fire and again from burning fire to frying pan. As far it is controlled by a few corporate minded red caps and they are not likely to mend their ways, it is sure to explode one day. The lone protests during the early days have grown into mass protests, which Bishops can’t hold. Their home brewed media commission, filled with people who know to speak between lines only, too find it difficult to prove their decisions legitimate.  

This copy of the letter referred above, which Shri Augustine Alancherry, a honourable member of the community, has sent us will tell you what is happening in an average Kerala parish. Unlimited inflow of money, that is the root reason of all agonies – Joseph Mattappally asso. editor CCV


Dear Vicar

Then Jesus answering said unto them, “Go your way, and tell John what things you have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached”. Luke 7:22

This is the quality that we look forward to in every minister of Christ. Unfortunately, in the last several years we have seen the abandonment of the most fragile, the disadvantaged, the poor, the dispossessed and the underprivileged by the church hierarchy and made Christ irrelevant in our age. We witnessed limitless narcissism and alarming degree of randomness in the administration. The fundamental iridescent ideas of harmony and democratic convictions were shown the door, further endangering dissenting voices. It is the need of the time to introspect on the past activities of the church and take remedial action. 

Our previous vicar appears to celebrate a number of his controversial projects as great achievements. However, we consider all his projects as disasters or downright fiascos with substantial loss running into crores to the community. He commenced his administration by axing the lawfully elected Auditor without assigning any reason. Chavara Bhawan, where St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara purported to have stayed, was brought to the church despite strenuous objections from the parishioners, insisting that it contained the saint’s footprints. Now, Chavara Bhawan is dumped into our old cemetery, with no one to care for it. The cost to the community for conceiving, transporting and relocating this project is substantial. 

A Confessional requires only two chairs as can be perceived from a scene from St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis is among the confessors. Why should one air-condition a confessional, where the confessant spent only a miniscule of time? Further, the confessional was in the news for the wrong reasons and the ignominies suffered by the church are massive. There are ample open spaces in the church for reconciliation, and the church should read the times and bring transparency. Similarly, to pray for our daily bread, he built a perpetual adoration chapel, which was wholly unnecessary and propagate the erroneous idea that our main church is devoid of His Presence. For these two projects, Fr. Cyriac spent an amount close to one crore. 

Acquisition and alienation of temporal goods belonging to a church is governed by Canons 1034 to 1042. The law demands a written expert valuation of the proposed property to be alienated and the written consent of the Archbishop. The land acquired at Parolickal is suspect as our vicar could not produce any such documents when demanded at the general body meeting. 

Church property at Mannanam was alienated without the consent of the general body and without following the procedures described in the canons citing an earlier general body decision to sell the property. General body decisions get lapsed if unimplemented in that financial year, and decision of the general body should be taken afresh to sell the property with written valuation report submitted to it. This serious lapse of transparency put aspersion on the vicar, particularly when a general body was announced at that time. This deal is suspect and needs high-level review. Ernakulam Archdiocese is in doldrums because of similar actions.

We are always against new churches or pastoral centres as such projects are unneeded as the eventual victims would be the faithful. Rita Church costs the congregation one crore and the pastoral centre at Mannanam costs the faithful 1.5 crores. These two projects were undertaken with the clear intention of competing with the existing churches. The monastery church at Mannanam has been catering to the spiritual needs of the faithful and is a renowned pilgrim centre. The Charis Bhavan too has celebratory status. Building churches very close to these places imply irreverence to our Creed that commands us to believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The foundation stone for the Parolickal church project was laid by our previous vicar for a reported cost of 60,000. This project requires extensive consultations with all sections of the community prior to its commencement.

In all major projects, future additions are evaluated for taking maximum utility of the land. One of the defects of St. Mary’s Parish Hall was that there was no foundation laid for future add-ons on it, thus making the land under-utilized. The new St. Sebastian’s A/C Auditorium too was built with no proper foundations for further additions with the result that valuable land got wasted. The general body sanctioned only 90 lakhs for the project, but an overwhelming sum of about 8 crores was spent for the project, without the permission of the general body. Such a big budget project should have experts and consultants from various disciplines to minimise expenditure. Solar energy should have been an option for such a large project as it conveys persuasive messages to all to switch to solar power and that we are a responsible community. Everything about the project was hidden and opaque and the faithful suspects substantial money mismanagement in the execution of the project.

Green protocol was the slogan of our previous vicar and he was much enthused with the word. There were lots of trees in the church compound when he took charge and now there are none. With four auditoriums and a teashop, our church is also the biggest creator of waste, which includes plastic, food and other junks. All these wastes are being collected and burned behind the cemetery creating lots of difficulties to the nearby residents. This is a sad commentary of the priorities of the church hierarchy. Please remember that Kerala has strong criminal laws against burning of plastic and other wastes and can lead to fine and imprisonment. A waste disposal unit should have been in place prior to the commencement of any major project. Similarly, sound pollution has been an unwritten rule of the church and must come down to lawfully permitted decibels. The church should see nature as sacred, as advocated by Pope Francis, and nurture its natural expansion to environmental stewardship. 

There have been instances of malicious rudeness to the poor and downtrodden parishioners by our previous vicar. Priests were unavailable for funeral services and the families were asked to keep the dead body in the mortuary till the priests are ready. Dalit Christians got rotten deals and were not allocated parish halls. He scripted untruth and half-truths, made the faithful believe in them and subjugated an entire congregation. In doing so, he dehumanised the faithful and made zombies out of them. Yet, we perceived pseudo-innocence and undignified self-promotion in his farewell speech during the general body meeting.

Our true mission is to impart knowledge to the society to create a responsible citizenry. We have spent crores of rupees on questionable projects, but not a penny to renovate our schools. Government schools now have smart classrooms, and we are even today using the infrastructure provided by our ancestors. A fund collection drive for the renovation of our schools was organised across Athirampuzha at the behest of the previous vicar spearheaded by school teachers a couple of years back, but neither any renovation was done, nor anyone know where the funds had disappeared. Our schools must have a complete revamp and should mirror the advancement of the time we live in. Sadly, our previous two vicars considered school infrastructure renovation, a bad investment. A project that was commenced in 2004 to revamp St Mary’s Girls High School is in limbo for all these years. We understand that St. Mary’s GHS got only a conditional fitness certificate. This case needs to be in your priority list and needs your immediate attention. 

For the past 10 years, one person has been the pivot in running the church activities, and both our previous vicars succumbed to his antics. All construction and building activities were carried out by a single individual. There was no transparency in the bidding process even for multi-crore projects and everything is decided by the trio, the vicar, the contractor and the pivot. We had a system where 4 administrators were elected at the General Body meeting to administer the temporal goods of the church, and each administrator had a tenure of 3 months. Corruption and illegality were an aberration at that time. Our system also commands that such administrators so elected cannot hold office for the next 10 years. During the time the previous two vicars, one person got preferment and was at the helm for a period of 10 years with alleged lapses in financial management. Our previous vicar has entrusted him the pending works of the AC auditorium in contravention of the provision of the Canon and Civil Laws. Please take note that the elected administrators are the custodian of the temporal goods of the church for the period so elected, and any arbitrary appointment should be terminated with immediate effect.

The current liabilities of the church as per the last pothuyogam is 10 crores. It is unacceptable for any church to be in financial doldrums. A church exists for the spiritual rejuvenation of the faithful and for the fulfilment of societal commitments, not for doing business. Experience reveals that our previous vicars were no financial wizards and their haphazard decisions cost the parish crores of rupees. Most probably, our church may be paying an amount of 50 to 70 lakhs towards interest. The offerings by the faithful are the capital to carry out social activities for the needy and disadvantaged and should exclusively be used for their welfare and should not be used for any other purposes. Our previous vicar, who claimed to have no personal banking accounts, had no qualms in squandering the offerings of the parishioners. Several of the Conventions and Athirampuzha Fest organised by him were disasters, thus presiding over the wanton destruction of wealth of the parish. We, therefore, request a white paper on the financial assets of the church. 

It is crucial that ethical and accomplished people head our parish as deficient leadership can cause it immense harm. Strong, well-managed parishes are respected, empowers the honest and corruption becomes an aberration, but when they weaken, illegality becomes acceptable, justice gets eroded, societal functioning collapses, the tainted gains preferment, opposition gets suppressed and the collective interest suffers.

Though Athirampuzha remains unchanged outwardly today, its soul is mangled and stifled. It may take time to unclog the toxins that our previous vicars strewn on the faithful, but your compassion and empathy can raise it from its current status of wasteland. Leaders, who crave the good of the populace, have something enduring about them and they always remain momentous. Such leaders will never be denied the recognition for their services to the society and the ideals they propounded. They need no plaques to remember them by, unlike our previous vicars, whose plaques are eyesores and whose memories become inconvenient and fade into oblivion soon after their departure. We hope you would uphold the spiritual nature of the church, as Pope Francis commanded, a church that is poor and is for the poor, promotes peace and loves and protects creation, thus adorning a place reserved for great leaders.

Kerala Catholic Reformation Movement

Athirampuzha Forane Unit

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