Their Cross to Bear
The Syro-Malabar Church is in crisis after corruption allegations
The 2,000-year-old Syro-Malabar Church, part of the Catholic fold in Kerala, has never had it so bad. There seems to be a new controversy every day, including cases of corruption against the head of the church, Cardinal George Alencherry. It all started after shady land deals in the AngamalyErnakulam archdiocese became public in March 2018. It was found that Alencherry sold off prime lands owned by the church below market price and even transferred the ownership without receiving the amount. Church officials say they lost around Rs 63 crore in the deals. The cardinal defended the deals, stating he was not aware of the money transactions. But the priests’ council demanded an investigation with former church spokesperson Fr Paul Thelakkat leading the campaign. Finally, Pope Francis removed Alencherry from all administrative positions and appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
But in a new development, Manathodath, Thelakkat and two others, including IIT Madras MTech student Aditya Valavi, have been accused of forging documents against Alencherry. “The criminal case against the apostolic administrator and others is part of a mega-conspiracy to save the cardinal. The church, with the support of the ruling Left Front government,
is framing cases to silence the cardinal’s critics,” says lawyer Polachan Puthupara, vice-chairman of the Joint Christian Council. Puthupara has filed cases against the cardinal in the Kerala High Court, among them one for fabricating the fake title deeds. “There is a power bloc including retired judges working to save the cardinal. Six judges in the high court recused themselves from hearing my petition,” he says.
The five million-strong church faithful are in a quandary, with the church heading for a vertical split. Former Ernakulam MP and social commentator Dr Sebastian Paul feels the Kochi police are showing undue interest in the case against the apostolic administrator and priests. “Fr Thelakkat is a much respected priest, I have known him for 40 years. I can’t believe he fabricated documents,” says Paul.
Paul, along with officials from the archdiocese, met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to request a fair investigation in the case. Meanwhile, on June 6, the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) synod, the apex body of all church heads, issued a circular exonerating Alencherry and directed that it be read out in all parishes in the middle of Sunday Mass. But within hours, the KCBC’s official spokesperson issued another circular withdrawing the initial one. The war within the church fold seems to be intensifying by the day.
FAIR PROBE Senior priests arrive for a meeting at the Major Archbishop’s house in Kochi