A church panel probing land transactions in the archdiocese of Ernakulam has recommended action against Cardinal George Alencherry under Church and civil law for causing losses to the diocese. This is the first such recommendation — the case also involves black money — for a Catholic Church in India. Alencherry is among the Indian cardinals eligible to elect the Pope. The church panel report has been sent to Rome.
Ernakulam archdiocese spokesman Father Paul Karedan admitted the probe report contained grave charges against Alencherry and said the report would have reached the Pope by now. “We have sent the report to Rome via the Apostolic Nuncio ( Vatican representative) in Delhi,” Karedan said. Two others were also blamed for the land deal.
Alencherry is head of the Kochi-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, one of the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in the world under Rome and is also the archbishop of the Ernakulam archdiocese.
Last month, the archdiocese had appointed a six-member panel, comprising priests and laymen, to probe losses suffered by the archdiocese in dubious land deals since April, 2015.
Alencherry’s secretary and church spokesman Father Jimmy Poochakkattu said the Cardinal would not react now. “He will bring out a circular in which he is expected to explain everything. It will be read out in churches under the archdiocese,” he said.
The losses were incurred after the sale of five plots owned by the diocese in various parts of Ernakulam district. The diocese should have received at least Rs 27 crore from the sales, which they needed to repay bank loans, but received only Rs 9 crore after the dubious real estate deals.
The report stated, “There is grave violation of the Church laws, which amounted to naked act of breach of trust and criminal misappropriation of properties.’’
The probe committee also found unaccounted money, which it termed a “grave issue”. “Total amount receivable according to 36 deeds is Rs 13.52 crore. But, there is a difference of Rs 13.62 crore between the documented amount and the amount in the curia ( a diocese body) resolution. Receiving unaccounted money is a serious offence as per the Income Tax Act.’’
The church panel report stated: “The Major Archbishop (Alencherry) was directly involved in alienating all the five plots, which were sold after being divided into 36 pieces. The first deed was registered even before it was discussed in the Consulters’ Forum. Decision of the finance council quoted in all the 36 sale deeds is incorrect. The receivable value set by the diocese was Rs 27.15 crore, whereas the value according to the registered deeds was only Rs 13,51,44,260.”
The report also noted that the diocese only received Rs 9.13 crore from the “agent”. “It is painful to note that at the time of execution of the sale deeds, Alencherry has not assured the receipt of money to the archdiocese.’’
According to the report there were “numerous instances” of violation of Church law and civil laws along with the lack of transparency and collegiality. “As the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Alencherry should have taken utmost care in respecting the provisions of Church laws,” the report said.
Two others from the Church – priest Sebastian Vadakumpadan and the finance officer Joshy Puthuva – were also blamed for the dubious land deal. The report also named Saju Varghese Kunnel as the kingpin in the deal and alleged that he enjoyed the confidence of the Cardinal and father Puthuva.
Without naming the Cardinal, the committee recommended, “People who are responsible for the crisis should be tried according the law of the Church and necessary action should be taken for the violation of the civil law.’’
The report stated that the registration of land deeds took place in violation of all norms even without receiving the entire amount from the sale. The committee found that the value of the land was Rs 4.47 lakh per cent but the archdiocese fixed this at Rs 9.5 lakh per cent. One cent is equal to 435.5 square feet.
The report has blamed Alencherry for involving Kunnel in the transaction, but the former claimed he who introduced Kunnel to the finance officer Puthuva, who in turn said he acted under Alencherry’s instructions.
The committee also evaluated that the diocese has lost Rs 46 crore in various land purchase and sale deals since April, 2015. Though the price fixed for five plots was Rs 9.5 lakh per cent, the then prevailing market rate was Rs 15 lakh per cent.
Secretary of priests’ council Father Kuriakose Mundadan said the council had discussed the committee report on land dealings. “Alencherry informed the priests that the council would have an elaborative debate on the report later. The meeting of the pastoral council, a body of priests and laymen, would be held after the detailed discussion on the report in the priests’ council,’’ he said.
Karedan ruled out chances of Alencherry’s resignation. “He has told the priests that he would give explanation for all the allegations after studying the report. He has reservations about some of the findings in the report. He has sought some more time to explain his stand,” he said.