Church Building Craze
dr. james kottoor
Ever since the blessing of the 50 crore brick and concrete wonder called the Edappally Church the CCV has been pleading with the SMC church in Kerala to proclaim a moratorium on Church buildings. Church is the people of God dialoguing in harmony. Without it no amount concrete structures can create it. Jesus never built any church but lived in the midst of community always, not in the rectory upstairs or downstairs alone in a parish. Pope Francis lives in a community at St.Marthas and shows how.
The present topic of discussion is all about a new parish Church in Mannanam, in the confines of Athirempuzha parish which the Archbishop of Changanaserry wants to build but is opposed tooth and nail by a vocal group of laity in the area.
The thrust of the complaint here is that even joint pleadings from a concerned Laity Forum is not listened to, considered or discussed by the hierarchy even in this “Hour of the Laity” when Pope Francis wants bishops to look up to the laity – not vice versa — and learn from what they have to say.
The bulk of what follows are: An introductory note from Augustine Paul Alencherry, the leader of the Laity Forum, Athirempuzha and second a deatailed letter sent to Archbishop Perumthottam, of Changanasserry, with copies to Pope Francis, the Vatican, Major Archbishop Cardinal Alencherry and all other bishops in the curia, all Vicar Generals of Changanacherry Archdiocese and All Vicars of the Archdiocese.
The purpose of publishing these vexing issues is to get as many reactions as possible from CCV readers to clarify issues and to reach an agreeable solution. Dialogue, vertical and horizontal in the church is like blood circulation. Where there is no blood circulation, whether it be in the ecclesiastical body or human body, what we have is just a dead corpse. It must be buried immediately, before it starts stinks and poison the environment.
The main lengthy letter to the Archbishop is full of unforgettable thought provoking quotes from the Pope on the hour of the Laity and the duty of pastors to listen to them and learn from them. We have either highlighted or underlined portions in that letter for the special consideration of readers to react. So speak up with the freedom of the children of God with good will to all and ill-will to none. Now listen to what Augustin Paul Alancherry has to say.
james kottoor, editor, CCV
Augustine Paul Alancherry, Mob.9447569908
Laity Forum Athirampuzha had 100+ members, when we submitted a memorandum (see it below) to Archbishop Perumthottam. However, when our request was denied by both the Archbishop and our vicar, we met again to chart out our plans. There were two diametrically opposite views, those who favoured ‘soft approach’, who believed in pleading, beseeching through more memorandums and those who preferred legal approach, who opined that further letters are of no use and we should explore legal options.
Those who favoured the legal option, were reduced to 12 active members. They decided to move ahead with an initial complaint to the Collector, Kottayam, on the illegal constructions at Mannanam. Presently, the Collector issued a Stay Order on all construction activities on the said plot.
Though, we are only 12 active members, we have the tacit support of about 90% of the parishioners in the proposed Mannanam parish. They may not come in open support because of clerical wrath and/or possible disharmony at home. We have also joined hands with another laity group of Athirampuzha Forane Church, who are fighting against a proposed church near Charis Bhavan, Athirampuzha, and got a similar Stay Order from the Collector. Currently, our joint Laity Forum has 18 active members.
The faithful who are in favour of the parish belongs to Kudamaloor Forane church living around Mannanam. They are, in fact, fringe elements, who always get marginalised in the running of the Kudamaloor church. The other opposition is Archbishop Perumthottam, who wanted to build a church for every 100 families, his fanatic clerics and his vast resources.
The central issue to be discussed briefly is what follows. A pastoral centre was inaugurated in Mannanam with a futuristic view of making a parish there. A property costing 2.5 crores was purchased for the purpose, out of which 1.5 crore was contributed by Athirampuzha and the rest Kudamaloor. Athirampuzha raised this money through overdraft.
We have sent a letter to the Archbishop regarding this matter with copies to all vicars of Changanacherry Archdiocese, all SM bishops and VGs. We have also made a malayalam translation of the letter. We are enclosing both these letters for your information, and if found good, for publication.
The letter is self-explanatory and if you need further clarifications, please contact the undersigned.With Best Regards
Augustine Paul Alancherry.
What follows is the detailed letter sent to Archbishop Perumthottam on June 10th 20016
We write this letter because of the unexpected inauguration of a Pastoral Centre that got blessed in a rented building in Mannanam in the middle of April. On the following Sunday, an edict from Changanacherry, read out in the church said the parish is being carved out from four nearby parishes, namely, Athirampuzha, Kudamaloor, Villoonni and Mudiyoorkara. Huge amounts to the tune of 2.5 crores have been spent by the above parishes for the purchase of land. Additional funds needed for building the church, parish hall, cemetery, office block and other structures will be collected from the parishioners.
Fr. Cyriac Kottayil, the vicar of St. Mary’s Church, Athirampuzha and Fr. George Vallayil, director of the newly erected parish affirm that the idea of Mannanam parish is the pet project of Archbishop Perumthottam, and they are only following the WILL of the Bishop. When we reminded Fr. Cyriac that we are a democracy and the opinions of the affected are vital to commence any institution and that the clerics themselves are abundantly enjoying the fruits of democracy, he said that the church is not a democratic institution, but a theocratic one and the bishop need not take the permission of the laity to erect a parish. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit because man was created with a ‘FREE WILL’. Christ exhorted the ‘FREE WILL’ of man, when he said, “whoever has ears, let them hear”. When the history of human struggles was mostly about realizing their rights, how can a lowly bishop take them away?
What our vicar conveyed to us was that Archbishop Perumthottam has kindly consented to build a multi-crore church in Mannanam, which we do not require and may never use, without our assent and spending our own money. Nowhere in the world, not even in the violent authoritarian regimes in Africa, can such thoughts be articulated.
Recently, Pope Francis blasted clericalism again and stated that the clock has stopped on the “Hour of the Laity”. He said, “The laity is a part of the holy, faithful people of God, and for this reason, the protagonists of the Church and the world, whom we are called to serve and not by whom we are to be served”. According to him clericalism nullifies the personality of Christians and treats them as errand boys, and is the greatest distortion affecting the church today. He admonished the clergy and said, “we all began our lives as lay people and that the Church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated people, of bishops, but all of us make up the faithful and Holy People of God.” He continued, “It is illogical and even impossible for us as pastors to believe that we have the monopoly on solutions for the numerous challenges thrown up by contemporary life”, and stressed, “It is not the job of the pastor to tell the lay people what they must do and say as they know more, even better than us.” When our pope is so explicit on the rights of laity, how can you think otherwise?
The ostensible reason for the pastoral centre is that the faithful in and around Mannanam does not get adequate attention in their spiritual need. The problem of pastoral care is easily solved if our clerics spend more time on spiritual life instead of squandering time on construction, attending political meetings and other related activities. The faithful belonging to the large parishes of Athirampuzha and Kudamaloor and living around Mannanam can opt for smaller parishes such as Mudiyoorkara or Villoonni. Distance can never create a challenge as every church-goer has some kind of transportation today. Pastoral care for the faithful, therefore, is not a valid argument for spending the wealth of a community (which can be in the vicinity of 20-25 crores) for building a parish and its church.
Pope Francis in his encyclical said, “We need to care for the earth so that it may continue, as God willed, to be a source of life for the entire human family and all His creations”. This is the Year of Mercy and Earth, our only abode, needs more mercy than ever before. Human interventions have caused the present climatic conditions and as an educated society, it is our duty to be on vigil against polluting our planet. Multi-crore constructions and structures defile our place. Mannanam is an overcrowded area and has a number of churches including the Monastery Church, to cater to the needs of the faithful. We need no more churches in Mannanam and will not allow another one to come up.
In a previous Synod, it was held that environmental degradation is a sin and needs to be confessed by those who cause it. Major Archbishop, Cardinal Alencherry, was horrified at the vast sums spent on Edappally church and decreed no more churches need be built. However, the Changanacherry Archdiocese has no qualms in creating ecological ruinations as can be seen from their various construction activities in the diocese. The balance sheet left by our own previous vicar was a narrative of demoralizing negatives.
From misappropriated and embezzled funds in building concrete atrocities to colossal irregularities in the construction of stadiums, flats, and other buildings in the vicinity, the scams revealed shameless execution and total contempt for canons in governance. Rather than gaining knowledge from these misadventures, the administration of Fr. Cyriac conspired to ineptly obscure its tracks, bringing further humiliation on itself. We cannot let that happen in Mannanam and will not allow any pollutants to enter the holy precincts of our Saint.
The eagerness of our clerics to infringe their own obligations as spiritual heads and imprint their schemes and interests on to the consciousness of their parishioners can vitiate the atmosphere in parishes. An order that is imposed can only create soulless churches and woefully defective institutions. The regrettable tendency of bishops to expand their writs without either heart or conscience only initiates a deep chasm between the parishioners and the priests. We are sickened and alarmed by the fanatical gleam in the eyes of our present-day clerics, who follow blindly the will of the bishop. They have no wish to create a new world order that Pope Francis envisaged; they would rather enjoy destroying the present one, and embrace ‘dark ages’.
In the just concluded synod, a memorandum was submitted to the government detailing the plight of Christians, which included fall in prices of rubber and return of families from gulf countries due to plummeting prices of crude oil. Why make such hypocritical and deceitful pronouncements, when your intention is wasting the resources of a community? The two-faced approach of our archdiocese is unmistakable in the pastoral letter of Perumthottam and Cardinal Cleemis, where they are taking a pro-environmental and pro-farmer stand. The wealth of the community is getting depleted, and it is time to be on the alert since there are no restorative financial guarantees seen in the foreseeable future.
These can hardly be isolated incidents, but signal elements of a grand strategy of the SM hierarchy to browbeat and manipulate the laity to their bidding. Spirituality is getting replaced by aspirations for power and objectionable compromises made in their mission for profit. Instead of being living carcasses that obeys the offensive commands of the bishops, the priests should establish effective interventions on behalf of the parishioners they represent. We can, by no means, remain myopic to the intentions of the clergy. We should be perceptive of our nemesis written on the wall. We must be fully conversant of the happenings around us. We can allow nobody to mislead us into ignoring the truth and the reality. We must, loudly, insistently and visibly press for our inalienable right to be heard.
This is the year of Mercy, and as church leaders, you and your ilk cannot remain unaware of its implications to act as socially responsible human beings. Social responsibility means eliminating corrupt, irresponsible or unethical behaviour that brings harm to the community, its people, or to the environment. The social responsibility dictum is inherent in the Golden Rule of Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Open up any newspaper and you can read about innumerable human beings, who eke out withered, miserable and cheerless lives. Can you not feel any empathy for this suffering, emaciated and shattered human beings? Can you not act ethically and with sensitivity towards social, cultural, economic and environmental issues? Have you no social responsibilities, no positive contribution to make? Instead of focusing on insincere non-issues like building new churches, can’t these crores be utilized to build a socially inclusive and just society?
Today’s need is a church that is converged on safeguarding social cohesion to protect and strengthen the dignity of every human being. We need to cultivate a daring spirit that is connected with our environment and is receptive to possibilities. We need more leaders who decisively defy the questionable activities of those in authority; if not, we all will sink into a dictatorial morass. The church cannot presume that rights guaranteed by our constitution are just empty words. Fundamental rights are intrinsic in the basic structure of our national book, and are beyond the power of any bishop to eliminate or abridge. Our rights cannot be shackled and must not be under the tyranny of the unelected.
Fr. Cyriac is inadequately equipped to tackle the problems faced by the parish and lack authority and personality. He was apologetic and insisted that we talk to the Vicar General or the Archbishop about the new parish. Perhaps, deep inside, he discerns that he conspired to do something horribly wrong. When we met him some time back, he expounded his wish to work in a SM Mission. We feel it is time for him to move out of Athirampuzha. By colluding with the old coterie of Fr. Mani, he butchered the finances of the church. The debt of the church continues to move up with multiple crore bank loans taken to finance the new parish. He dismissed his elected auditors (a first in the history of Athirampuzha) in the beginning of his tenure to make the church finances more transparent. With pliable, nominated trustees, he rules the church as his fiefdom. With his known opinion on rights enjoyed by the parishioners, we believe, the North should be an ideal starting point for his missionary activities. He is an indefensible blot on the psyche of Athirampuzha and must go.
Our problem is not the manipulation of our lives by the clerics, but the willingness of sensible parishioners letting themselves to follow these unworthy cassocks. It is our lack of foresight and concern that created this alarming position. We cannot remain blind to this conspiracy of repression. We must not be victims of these entrepreneurs of emotion and must defy its desire to fit us in its notion of what is good for us. The church must respect individual rights and cease the culture of oppressive bullying it has initiated. We can no longer sit on the fence, and need to have clear vision to unearth such self-serving delusions. We must isolate and weed out these visionless clerics from our midst by preventing them to inscribe their malicious signature on our lives and our tomorrows.
In conclusion (the laity forum makes 9 demands which is left out for brevity sake. Ed.)
With respectful regards
Laity Forum Athirampuzha
Copies endorsed to:
- Pope Francis, The Vatican
- Major Archbishop Cardinal Alencherry and all other bishops in the curia
- All Vicar Generals of Changanacherry Archdiocese
- All Vicars of Changanacherry Archdiocese