The order from India’s top court came while also hearing an appeal by Cardinal George Alencherry, head of Syro-Malabar Church
Activists of the Kerala Church Reformation Movement march through the streets of Pala town in the Christian-stronghold district of Kottayam on Jan. 27, 2018. They were demanding a state law to govern church properties. (Photo provided)
India’s Supreme Court has restored the powers of Catholic bishops in Kerala to transfer diocesan properties and quashed a state court's order that restricted them to dealing only with spiritual matters.
“The Supreme Court order setting aside the high court observations is a matter of great relief to bishops and the entire Christian community in the state [Kerala],” said Father Jacob G Palakkappillly, spokesperson of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, a regional Indian bishops’ conference.
The Supreme Court on March 17 said the state High Court's order was “unwarranted and deserve to be quashed and set aside, and are accordingly quashed and set aside."
Kerala High Court in August 2021 held that Catholic bishops, notwithstanding their canonical powers, had no powers to alienate landed assets of their dioceses because their “powers are confined to religious and spiritual matters.”
Two dioceses-- Thamarassery and Bathery-- as part of Eastern rite Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches respectively channeled the High Court's order in the Supreme Court, resulting in the current judgment.
“We manage our properties in compliance with the country’s laws and there was no need for the High Court to restrain the powers of bishops from transacting them,” Father Palakkappilly said.
“The High Court order had very serious long-lasting ramifications for the entire Church as anybody could question the authority of bishops to transact a property deal,” Father Palakkappilly told UCA News on March 20.
The Supreme Court heard the appeals of the dioceses clubbing them with an appeal by Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.
The cardinal's appeal wanted to quash seven criminal cases registered against him in connection with land deals he executed as head of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly five years ago.
The court, however, dismissed Cardinal Alencherry’s appeal to quash the criminal cases against him and ordered him to face trial.
A section of people in Kerala has been demanding a state law to regulate the management of Church properties, providing greater lay involvement.
However, Church authorities have dismissed the demand as unnecessary.
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