catholic church

Head of Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church urged to quit amidst accusations of corrupt land deal

Cardinal George Alencherry is accused of causing significant losses to the church by allowing a plot in Kochi to be sold for less than the market value.

Pressure is mounting on Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church based in Kerala, to resign after allegations that church land had been sold below market value in a deal that he had approved.

Alencherry, 72, was ordained as a Cardinal, a priest of the highest rank in the Roman Catholic Church, by Pope Benedict XVI in February 2012. He is one of only five Cardinals in India.

The deal in question concerns the sale of three acres of land in Kochi by the Ernakulam archdiocese in 2016 to repay a Rs 60-crore bank loan it had taken to build a medical college. The agent appointed by the church to conduct the deal had estimated the value of the land at Rs 27.30 crore, but the church has so far received only Rs 9.13 crore of that amount.

However, priests and lay people critical of the action claim that the plot was actually worth at least Rs 80 crores.

Joseph Parecattil, a priest in the Ernakulam archdiocese, said that the Presbyteral Council of the Ernakulam archdiocese has decided to submit a formal request to the Pope to inquire into these financial dealings. The Presbyteral Council is a panel of 57 priests that looks after the archdiocese’s financial and administrative affairs.

“This is the first-ever complaint from a Presbyteral Council in Kerala to the Pope requesting him to investigate financial irregularities,” said Parecattil.

Another priest, who asked to remain anonymous, said Alencherry should step down if the Pope acts on the complaint. “He would have to quit to ensure free and fair investigation,” he added.

Separately, the charitable organisation Mother Teresa Global Foundation has also sent a complaint to the Pope, urging him to remove the Cardinal from his post. “We represent the laity,” said VJ Hycinth, chairman of the foundation. “We pray to the Pope to take our complaint seriously.”

Police complaint

The Cardinal may have to answer to the police as well. Polachan Puthuppara, president of the Kerala Catholic Association for Justice, filed a complaint with the police on January 3, asking that the Cardinal and two priests, Joshy Puthuva and Monsignor Sebastian Vadakkumpadan, be charged with corruption. They have committed a crime, he alleged, by selling church property without paying tax and stamp duty. No case has been registered so far.

“The land was sold under its market value,” alleged a priest named Augustine Vattoli. “It should have fetched at least Rs 80 crore. Who is responsible for this massive loss?”

The Permanent Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church, a council of five bishops entrusted with helping with the administrative affairs of the church, has also criticised the Cardinal for the deal, claiming that he had not been vigilant enough during the sale.

In a note to fellow priests on December 28, Auxiliary Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath raised concerns about the sale. “Moreover, lack of transparency and ignorance of canon law raises serious moral concerns too,” the note read.

In his note, Adayanthrath also announced that a committee comprising three priests, a chartered accountant, a tehsildar and a lawyer would look into the deal. People familiar with the situation said that the committee submitted its report on Friday.

Stalling tactic?

The Presbyteral Council was scheduled to convene on Thursday to draft the complaint to the Pope but the meeting was postponed. “Some members of the laity stopped me from attending the meeting,” Cardinal Alencherry wrote to the council a few minutes before the meeting was to begin. “I am forced to postpone the meeting.”

Since Alencherry is the president of the council, the meeting could not be held without him.

Some priests, however, said that this decision was suspect. “It was a planned move to thwart the submitting of the memorandum to the Pope,” said Parecattil. “If the Cardinal fails to convene the council meeting within a week, the council secretary Father Kuriakose Mundadan has the power to send the memorandum.”

Only the Pope has the authority to take action against a Cardinal. “That is why the council has decided to write to the Pope,” said Vattoli.

Will it counsel the Cardinal’s ouster? “No, we are not supposed to raise such a demand,” Vattoli said. “It is up to the Pope to take a decision. But we feel that Cardinal Alencherry should stay away from his office, taking moral responsibility.”

Adding fuel to the controversy, a magazine published by the church over the weekened was asked to withhold a report on the sale. The cover story of Indian Currents, titled Cardinal Sin, described how the land deal had landed the archdiocese in a “mess”, and had taken the credibility of the Catholic Church “on a slippery slope”, The Hindu reported.

The story was to have been published on the publication’s website on Saturday morning. Indian Currents Chief Editor Suresh Mathew told The Hindu that his superior had asked him to hold the story until the church’s internal investigation into the deal was over.

Scroll.in sent several text messages and phoned the Cardinal and the archdiocese’s spokesperson for their comments, but they were unavailable. This story will be updated as and when they respond.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.