A Catholic group has sought a white paper on properties owned by the Church in Mumbai since 1947 from the Bombay Archdiocese. This is the latest in a set of demands by the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) which has been protesting against alleged fraudulent land deals and discrepancies in Church policies.
On Friday, a group that was protesting outside the Archbishop’s house at Colaba, met Bishop Agnelo Gracias.
According to advocate Archie Sodder of AOCC, the group’s issues include alleged illegal transactions in the sale of Church properties in Thane and Mahim, sole trusteeship on board owned properties, lack of action against ‘errant’ priests and delay in payment of arrears to teachers in non-aided Catholic schools.
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“Church properties have been sold to builders without proper information to parishioners or tenants and fraudulent land deals have taken place because of sole trusteeship,” said Sodder.
The Archdiocese, however, said that it did not recognise the AOCC and would not be coerced into dialogue through “threats” of fasting unto death and calls for resignation of the Archbishop. “We will not succumb to threats and blackmail. We have always been open to dialogue. The Church is already in the process of getting rid of sole trusteeship. Coming up with a white paper is not possible because the Church has properties purchased 100 years ago as well. But we are moving towards more transparency and have instructed the parishes to collate information,” said Fr Nigel Barrett, Archdiocese spokesperson.
On the issue of priests owning property, the spokesperson clarified that diocesan priests did not take the vow of property and stated, “When a family wills property to an individual and it is under the correct provisions of the law, the Archdiocese cannot interfere or insist on the property being transferred to it.” The Archdiocese also clarified that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, since the time he took over as the Archbishop in 2006, had not sold any Church land nor had given his consent for the sale of any property belonging to the Archdiocese without following due process of law and a clear disadvantage to the Church in retaining it.