77-year-old Cardinal George Alencherry's appearance in court sparks renewed call for him to resign
Indian Cardinal George Alencherry outside St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Feb. 18, 2012. (Photo: AFP)
Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church, has secured bail in a two-year-old court case in which he stands accused of illegally selling some plots of land of a southern Indian archdiocese, prompting renewed calls for him to resign.
The 77-year-old cardinal was granted bail on Jan. 27 when he appeared before a magistrate court close to his residence in Kochi in Kerala state, which is the headquarters of the Syro-Malabar Church — the second largest eastern church in communion with the Holy See.
The case against the cardinal was registered following a complaint accusing the senior prelate — who was elevated to the rank of cardinal in February 2012 — of illegally selling some lands of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, as its archbishop.
A Church official said it was a case fabricated by vested interests.
His court appearance prompted the Archdiocese Movement for Transparency (AMT), a body of priests and laity in the archdiocese, to renew demands for the cardinal's resignation.
Cardinal Alencherry had lost his moral right to continue in office after appearing in court as an accused, it said.
Father Antony Vadakkekara, spokesman of the Syro-Malabar Church, however, dismissed the demand for the cardinal to quit.
"It is a case fabricated by vested interests," the priest told UCA News on Jan. 30.
“As a law-abiding citizen of the country, the cardinal complied with the court order for his personal appearance. That does not mean that he should resign,” Father Vadakkekara said.
He said the bail order did not impose any condition or restriction on the cardinal, as the courts normally do, the Vincentian priest explained.
“Even those accusing him are not saying that he had gained any financial benefits in the deal other than certain failures in overseeing the deal,” the priest added.
He said those who target the cardinal “were also demanding for a law to bring Church properties under the monitoring of government. It raises question marks about their concerns.”
Riju Kanjookaran, the AMT spokesman, said courts consider it a serious case.
The high court in Kerala state and India’s Supreme Court had dismissed the cardinal’s petition seeking an exemption from having to appear in court to face trial.
“Fourteen criminal cases have been registered against Cardinal Alencherry" and therefore, “he should resign from office and face the cases,” Riju Kanjookaran, told UCA News on Jan. 29.
The group has been demanding the cardinal's resignation since his name first figured in the controversial land deal in 2008.
It accuses the cardinal of selling several plots of lands undervalued, without proper consultation with diocesan bodies, and without transparency. The deals have incurred an estimated loss of about US$10 million for the archdiocese, AMT leaders claim.
Kanjookaran previously appealed to the Vatican and the Synod of Bishops, the top decision-making body of the Syro-Malabar Church, to initiate action against Cardinal Alencherry.
The cardinal, however, has denied the allegations but reportedly admitted before the Church’s synod that there were administrative lapses and a lack of oversight on his part.
After sustained public campaigns, the Vatican took away his administrative powers as archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, and now the archdiocese is run by an apostolic administrator.
Cardinal Alencherry, however, still holds his title as the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church with a population of more than half a million in India and abroad.
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