In a big victory to the Save Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, the Kerala High Court on Tuesday ordered a police probe against the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Cardinal and others for allegedly effecting a land deal that caused a loss of crores of rupees to the Church.
The court on Tuesday came down heavily on the Cardinal and asked whether the "Cardinal is the King.”.
The court ordered the police to file a case against Cardinal Mar George Alencherry and three others, including two priests – Archdiocese procurator Joshy Puthuva and Sebastian Vadakumpadan – and a middleman, Saju Varghese, who was the real estate dealer for the land sale.
The order came on a petition filed by Shine Varghese – who has been fighting to expose land deals by the Archdiocese, which he says were conducted without any transparency, and cost crores of rupees to the Church, and also loss of tax money to the government.
The Ernakulam Archdiocese in 2016 had sold a three-acre piece of land in Kochi to repay a Rs 60 crore bank loan it had earlier taken to buy land in Maddur in Ernakulam, to construct a medical college. The agent appointed by the church to facilitate the deal had estimated the value of the land at Rs 27.30 crore, but priests and local people claimed that the property's real value was at least Rs 80 crore.
The allegations raised by the Save Archdiocese Campaign, a forum in which most of diocese priests are members, is that the church had incurred huge losses by selling the land owned by it for lower prices. While the Cardinal and the diocese defended the allegations, the Campaign moved on to further measures, despite being under pressure for coming out against one of the most powerful Christian group of the state.
On Tuesday, the court said that the conspiracy, betrayal and the financial manipulations of the deal are evident from the documents submitted by the petitioner.
The court also observed that the assets of the Archdiocese are that of the people and the Cardinal is only a representative of them.
The counsel of the Cardinal had said on February 29 that as far as the Cardinal is concerned, the appellate authority is the Pope. The court had then said that it was strange to hear that the law of the land was not applicable to the Cardinal.
Flaying this stand of the Church, the court while directing police investigation, said that the Cardinal is not king and is one who is liable to obey the law existing in the country.
Now with the court ordering the police probe, an FIR would be registered soon in the case.
Speaking to TNM Shine said, “I am happy over the court judgment which implies that there is truth in what I have said. I am happy that justice and truth have won. In a democratic country no one should think that they can do anything using power and money. There is even a mafia behind the land deals, that has become nothing before the law.”
Reacting to the verdict, Paul Thelekkat, senior priest of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church said that it was a sad and very painful verdict.
"Everyone in the Church, including the Pope, is aware of what has happened. But despite the best efforts, it was not resolved. What must be noted is that despite ways and means of a course correction being there in the system – that also was not used. This is a sad and painful verdict," said Thelekkat.
With IANS inputs