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Controversy-hit Kerala cardinal meets with dissenting priests

Process of dialogue over land deals gone bad has begun

Controversy-hit Kerala cardinal meets with dissenting priests

A file image of Indian Cardinal George Alencherry walking in St.Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 6, 2013. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

In the lead up to Easter, Cardinal George Alencherry of Kerala in southern India and dissenting priests have taken their dispute over alleged dubious land deals behind closed doors.

However, the cardinal has been sidelined from administrative duties.

The priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese have openly accused Cardinal Alencherry and two senior priests of joining a real estate agent in selling off plots of church land at undervalued prices.

They say this involved a loss of more than US$10 million.

But archdiocesan spokesperson Father Paul Karedan told ucanews.com on March 27 that the priests had decided to resolve the matter internally through dialogue.

"The issues have not been resolved, but a process of dialogue has started toward that end," Father Karedan said. "All parties have agreed that it is an internal issue of the archdiocese, and that it can be solved internally," he said. "No one should attract scandalous public attention to it."

Cardinal Alencherry, 72, is the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church.

His removal from decision-making is the result of an arrangement the Synod of this Eastern-rite Catholic Church put in force in January after the controversy became an international news story.

The issue has also been prominent in local media for more than three months.

One priest said, on condition of anonymity, that there had been a "powerful and clear instruction" for Cardinal Alencherry to remove himself from church affairs.

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Examples of how Cardinal Alencherry being sidelined include how his auxiliary convened two major meetings of the consulters and Presbyteral council, which canonically should have been convened by the cardinal as the head of the archdiocese.

The priest said "there is a canonical anomaly" in the synod decision to "clip the wings" of the cardinal by delegating powers to his auxiliary. But that will not happen without the backing of the Vatican. The intervention of other senior bishops in the controversy also must have come with intervention from Vatican channels, he said.

The agreement to try to settle the issue away from public view involved regional bishops' conference president Archbishop Soosa Pakiam and the Major Archbishop of the sister Syro-Malankara Church, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis.

Archbishop Pakiam told ucanews.com that he took the initiative to intervene and broker peace as president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council. "But more than that it has been a concern for all the bishops as the controversy has become a big scandal for the church," he said.

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