Land deal: Court orders probe in the murky Ernakulam Archdiocese land sale deal
Matters India Reporter
Published on: 11:46 pm, March 6, 2018
The Kerala High Court on March 6 ordered a police probe against Cardinal George Alencherry and three others in connection with the sale of Church land that allegedly caused millions of rupees of loss to the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. This ruling is in the background of Kerala High Court's earlier judgement where on 10th October 2012 the Court observed 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.
Parishioners, independently or together as a committee of administrators, are competent to represent the parish and claim rights over the property of the church, the HC ruled. As per Canon Law, church property is vested in the hands of the bishop or the vicar and clearly mandates a consent from either the bishop or the vicar for initiating a litigation. The court had then held in its judgment that the competence of the plaintiffs (parishioners) cannot be doubted even going by the Canon Law; less so by the law applicable to this land.
Church and its properties would not vest in the Pope or the archbishop and the maxim "Roma locuta est, causa finite est" (Rome has spoken, case is closed) no longer survives, the court observed in the judgment. The court observed further: "Canon Law, as it exists now, realises the fences erected by civil law and cautiously veers away from any transgression thereof."
The court also pointed out that Canon Law was discussed only to answer the right of the parishioners and it shouldn't be understood that Canon Law would override the civil law of the land. Canon Law can have theological or ecclesiastical implication to the parties, but such personal law cannot have any legal impact, the judge quoted from a full bench decision of the high court that was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
In the present case in hand, Cardinal George Alencherry has committed the cardinal sin, over and above his penchant for money and pomp, of trying to bulldoze his way through the Kerala High Court in the name of his divine Canonical rights and by virtue of his Red Robes. Kerala High Court is no fool. In a repeat of its 10th October 2012 judgement where it ruled that Laity have a right over church properties, the Court stated that the Ernakulam Archdiocese's assets belong to its people and that the Cardinal is only its representative. It also observed commented that the cardinal is not “a king” and that he is subject to the law of the country.
It is time the whole Catholic Church led by the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India) woke up from its pretensions and implemented Parish Finance Committee in each parish. All matters of finance and temporal goods should be routed through this Committee. Each parish must prepare an Assets Register where all movable and immovable assets must be recorded including depreciation, new purchases and sale. All purchase and sale of assets should be routed through Parish Finance Committee and be open to inspection by parishioners. Unfortunately, even after more than fifty years of Vatican II mandate, most parishes do not Parish Finance Committee. If this is not implemented within a stipulated deadline all across the country, monitored by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, many more parish priests/ bishops / archbishops/ cardinals will be hauled up to court. Let us hope the cornered Cardinal George Alencherry does not play the Minority Card on against the Modi Government! Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.
Kochi: The Kerala High Court on March 6 ordered a police probe against Cardinal George Alencherry and three others in connection with the sale of Church land that allegedly caused millions of rupees of loss to the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
However on the same day, the cardinal’s office in a circular denied any violation of civil or canonical law in the land deal. The circular stated the cardinal has authority and rights to sell the land on behalf of the archdiocese as a juridic person.
The court ordered the police to file a case against Cardinal Alencherry, Fathers Joshy Puthuva, the archdiocese’s procurator, Sebastian Vadakumpadan, in-charge of the archdiocese’s estates, and Saju Varghese, the realtor for the land sale.
The order came on a petition filed by Shine Varghese alleging that the deals were conducted without transparency that led to the loss of millions of rupees for the Church and evasion of taxes.
In 2016, the archdiocese had sold a three-acre plot in Kochi to repay 600 million rupees it had loaned from a bank to construct a medical college. The agent appointed by the archdiocese to facilitate the deal had estimated the land value at 273 million rupees, but the petitioner claimed that the real value was at least 800 million rupees.
The High Court observed that the documents submitted by the petitioner indicate conspiracy, betrayal and financial manipulations in the land deal. The court also stated that the archdiocese’s assets belong to its people and that the cardinal is only their representative.
The court while directing a police investigation, commented that the cardinal is not “a king” and that he is subject to the law of the country.
The police is expected to soon file a First Information Report.
The cardinal’s office clarified that the land sale was intended to clear the archdiocese’s debts and that it was done through the procurator after deliberations within the canonical committees. Allegation to the contrary are baseless, adds the press release issued by the Public Relations Office of the archdiocese.
While accepting that the lack of due care and judgment in the financial dealings has led to the current problems, the press release states that measures are being taken to rectify the deficits. It also says the cardinal is now studying the report of a commission he had appointed to investigate the land deal.
The circular asserts that court directions do not confirm the petitioner’s allegations, but only give direction to the police to probe any irregularities. The cardinal will decide further actions in consultation with others, after he receives the court order.