A visitor speaks to a guard outside the Major Archbishop's House of the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala's commercial capital Kochi. A financial controversy involving Cardinal George Alencherry continues to rock the church. (Photo by Thomas Christopher)
A financial controversy involving an Indian cardinal has taken another turn after his archdiocese demanded a federal investigation into allegedly fake documents aimed at defaming him.
An explanatory note from Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, read out in parishes on May 26, said the archdiocese is demanding an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation to find the truth behind the documents in a case involving Cardinal George Alencherry.
The note came a week after police arrested Adithya Valavi, a Catholic software engineer, on charges of fabricating documents about the cardinal, who is also the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, under instructions from a group of archdiocesan priests.
The note countered the police claims. “None of our priests have either inspired or conspired to create such documents. All other campaigns are against facts,” it said.
In November 2017, a group of priests accused Cardinal Alencherry and two priests of selling off land and incurring a loss of about US$10 million for the Kerala-based Eastern-rite church.
The Vatican last June removed the cardinal from administrative positions in the archdiocese, but he continues to be the major archbishop and heads its synod, based at the church’s headquarters in Ernakulam.
The Vatican also appointed Bishop Jacob Manathodath as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese.
In February, a priest, who is a junior official of the synod, filed a criminal complaint accusing Bishop Manathodath and senior priest Father Paul Thelakat of forging documents to defame the cardinal.
The complaint said Father Thelakat forged documents showing that the cardinal had transferred money from his private bank accounts to some corporate accounts. The bishop was accused of presenting the documents to the synod with the intention of tarnishing the cardinal.
The complainant wanted a police investigation into the “conspiracy” behind the attempt to defame the cardinal. The investigation led to the arrest of Valavi last week.
“But we have reasons to suspect that the investigation is flawed. The truth behind the alleged fake documents can come out only through an impartial inquiry,” said Father Kuriakose Mundadan, secretary of the Archdiocesan Presbyteral Council.
The note said the software engineer stumbled on some documents concerning financial transactions of some bishops and shared some of them with 70-year-old Father Thelakat, who has been the church’s spokesman for more than three decades.
The priest gave these documents “privately and confidentially” to his superior Bishop Manathodath, who passed them to the cardinal in confidence.
“It was Cardinal Alencherry who presented them in the synod” and sought an investigation to find the truth of them, the note said.
After Bishop Manathodath and Father Thelakat were accused of conspiracy, Cardinal Alencherry wrote to the religious of the archdiocese to say that the bishop and Father Thelakat were named inadvertently and the case against them would be withdrawn.
“However, that promise has not been fulfilled. Both of them continue to be accused,” the note said.
The arrested software engineer was illegally kept under police detention for more than 48 hours and police used third-degree methods to make him accept that he fabricated the documents under the instructions of some priests, the note said.
“This is a blatant violation of human rights and an open challenge to the judicial systems,” it said, adding that “the archdiocese genuinely believes the investigation is not on the right track.”
Some church sources say the controversy is part of a three-decade-old factional fight in the Syro-Malabar Church, with one group advocating changes in liturgy along modern lines while the other wants to maintain the church’s purity.
Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese has been leading the faction of modernists but the Vatican appointed Cardinal Alencherry, who belongs to the other faction, as head of the church and the archdiocese.
However, archdiocesan spokesman Father Paul Karedan said “these are unnecessary angles” being given to a “painful controversy.”
“We all wanted to see the source and truth about these documents. Several bishops are named in these documents. We are convinced our priests are not behind this. The truth should come out,” he said.