Their Cross to Bear

The Syro-Mal­abar Church is in cri­sis af­ter cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Jacob

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

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