The recovery of allegedly unaccounted Rs 9.66 crore in cash from a Father Anthony Madaserry of Jalandhar, who claims the money came from a company he runs, has put spotlight on the business activities of the Church priests. Father Madassery, who is also director of St Joseph’s School, Defence Colony, Jalandhar, has also accused police of misappropriating Rs 6,65 crore. Bishop Agnelo Gracias, Apostolic Administrator, Diocese of Jalandhar, in an e-mail interview, tells Anju Agnihotri Chaba that the whole episode has adversely hit the image of the Diocese and adds that a priest violating the Canon Law could be suspended from the priestly ministry. Excerpts
What is Canon law? Does it allow a priest under Diocese of Jalandhar to run his own business? If Father Anthony had violated this law then what action can be taken?
Every society has its code of laws. The Church also has its code of law, which governs the life of a Catholic. We call it Canon Law. The Canon Law lays down, for example, the requisites for a person to be ordained, the age of ordination. It is a kind of a charter for Catholics, explaining their rights and duties in the Church.
Yes, Canon Law allows a priest to run a business with the permission of his Bishop. The Bishop will examine what kind of business it is and what is it going to be used for before granting permission.
Just as there are penalties against a person violating the law of the land, there are penalties against priests who violate Canon Law. If it is a serious offence, the priest could even be suspended from the exercise of his priestly ministry.
The image of the Diocese of Jalandhar has taken a hit following this episode. What action is being taken?
It is true that this episode has hit the image of the Diocese of Jalandhar. But that is very much because the recovered cash has been portrayed prematurely as ‘hawala money’. If the inquiry (to be conducted by the Diocese) finds Father Madassery guilty of wrongdoing, he will face punishment. On the other hand, the inquiry finds the priests explanation true – that the money is white money and that the bank officials were present in the premises to count the money and collect it for banking – then, we would expect from the police a public apology for damaging the reputation of a priest of the Diocese.
What is the number of students in 70 schools under the Diocese where Sahodhya Company, run by Father Madassery, supplies books?
The Diocese of Jalandhar has educational institutions of different types: a senior college, some higher secondary schools, high schools, and primary schools. Most of these are English medium, some in Punjabi medium, and three in Hindi medium. The total number of students in all our institutions would be roughly about 300,000. Sahodhaya books are supplied only to the English medium schools – many, not all the English medium schools, since some of them belong to religious congregations, which are not run by the Diocese, even though they are under its umbrella.
Do partners in the firm – Sahodhya – who are also directors of some schools, sell the company’s books in their schools? Is it not a clash of interest?
Sahodhaya has a number of branches. For example, one is a security company which trains unemployed youth so that they can get jobs as security personnel and thus save them from the drug menace sweeping Punjab. This company runs at a loss and it is subsidized by the branch, which sells books and makes profits – the losses are thus balanced off. Each of the partners is in charge of one branch. In practice, Father Madassery is overall in charge of the Sahodaya Company. The other partners are not directly linked with the book sales branch. Our schools are under the supervision of the Diocesan Board of Education. I have asked the director of education to look into this matter with the help of the legal cell. In the meanwhile, I am immediately asking Father Madassery not to attend to any matters of the school of which he is the director. I will wait for the advice from the legal cell of the Board of Education. If there is any clash of interest, I will certainly remove Father Madassery from the post of school directorship.
What is the mystery of Rs 34 lakh? Father Madassery says the total amount recovered was Rs 16.65 crore. Khanna police claimed to have recovered Rs 9.66 crore. There is an allegation that police embezzled Rs 6.65 crore. The numbers don’t add up.
I have asked Father Madassery to share the exact amount of money involved. I will have to investigate this.