Following the Kerala High Court’s direction to the police to register a criminal case against Church head Cardinal George Alencherry and three others over controversial deals involving church-owned land, the permanent Synod of the Church, comprising four bishops, extended support to the cardinal. The Synod has decided to take up conduct of the case from the archdiocese, where Alencherry is ostensibly facing opposition of most priests and others.
Church spokesperson Jimmy Poochakkattu said there is nothing wrong in the Synod’s intervention, although the loss due to the transactions was only for Ernakulam archdiocese. “Cardinal is also the head of the Synod. So he can seek the Synod’s support,’’ Poochakkattu said.
On Tuesday, hearing a complaint from Shine Varghese, a faithful from the archdiocese, a single bench of Justice B Kamal Pasha took strong exception to Alencherry’s attempt to seek immunity from the legal system citing the canon law of the Church.
Justice Pasha said that prima facie there is evidence to show that the respondents have committed criminal breach of trust, cheating and conspiracy. The police, the court ruled, have no other option but to register a criminal case against the respondents — Alencherry, priests Joshy Puthuva and Sebastian Vadakkumpadan, and Saju Varghese Kunnel, real estate broker in the land deals.
While Alencherry’s counsel argued in court that as the supreme authority of the diocese, he can do whatever he wants with its properties, the court said the Cardinal is only the custodian of diocese property. The properties of the diocese, accumulated from contributions from churches under it, and not the Cardinal’s income, cannot be treated as property of the cardinal, the court observed.
“Cardinal is not the king. He is amenable to the law in India. Law is applicable to everyone, and all are equal before the law,” the court held, dismissing Alencherry’s contention that he is answerable only the Pope as per the canon law.
The case pertains to the archdiocese’s losses in the sale of five plots it owned in Ernakulam district. The diocese should have received at least Rs 27 crore from the sales, which it needed to repay bank loans, but received only Rs 9 crore after the dubious deals, according to details.
An internal inquiry conducted by the diocese, comprising priests and laymen, had recommended action against Alencherry and others under civil laws and church rules. The probe panel found that the land dealings allegedly involved black money. Alencherry did not accept the findings and justified that it was only a technical loss.
Alencherry is head of the Kochi-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in the world under Rome. He is also the archbishop of Ernakulam archdiocese. A section of laymen and priests at the archdiocese have demanded his resignation.
According to petitioner Shine Varghese, the cardinal’s “arrogant stand” prompted him to move court. “When we, laymen of the archdiocese, met the Cardinal over the issue, he was not ready to hear us,” Varghese said.