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Indian priests get bail in Syro-Malabar forgery case

Court finds no reason to detain pair accused of forging documents to defame Cardinal Alencherry

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

Published: June 12, 2019 10:29 AM GMT

Updated: June 12, 2019 10:35 AM GMT

Indian priests get bail in Syro-Malabar forgery case

Cardinal George Alencherry is seen at the Vatican in this February 2012 file photo. Two priests have been accused of forging documents to defame the cardinal, the Syro-Malabar Church’s major archbishop. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Two Catholic priests of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church have secured anticipatory bail in a case that accused them of forging documents to defame Cardinal George Alencherry, the church’s major archbishop.

The district court of Ernakulam in the southern Indian state on June 11 granted bail to Fathers Paul Thelakat and Antony Kallookaran, observing that it could not find a need to detain them for the continuing investigations.

The allegations of forgery were raised in a police complaint filed in February by a junior priest-official of the Syro-Malabar synod, the highest decision-making body of the Eastern rite self-governing church.

Father Thelakat was accused of forging documents and giving them to Bishop Jacob Manathodath, administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese. The bishop is accused of presenting them to the synod with the aim of tarnishing the cardinal’s image.

Following an investigation, police on April 28 arrested Adithya Valavi, a Catholic software engineer, on charges of fabricating documents. His custodial interrogation led police to the two priests, claiming Valavi acted under their influence.

Valavi was bailed after three days in police custody. The priests, fearing their arrest, applied for anticipatory bail, which the district court granted.

Media reports said the prosecution now plans to approach Kerala High Court to oppose the district court’s decision.

“The state is the prosecutor. They may or may not move to the state High Court. We have nothing to do with that,” said John Varghese, the lawyer for the petitioner.

He said the petition does not aim for the arrest and jailing of any priest.

“All we complained about to police was the fake documents,” Varghese said. “The investigators are naming suspects. We cannot get in between and say he or she should not be included.”

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The forged documents, according to the petition, claimed the cardinal had made inappropriate money transactions through his private bank account.

The case is linked to a land case involving Cardinal Alencherry. In November 2017, a group of priests in the archdiocese accused the cardinal and two priests of selling off land, incurring a loss of about US$10 million.

In June 2018, the Vatican removed the cardinal from administrative positions in the archdiocese and appointed Bishop Manathodath as its administrator.

The cardinal continues to be major archbishop and heads the synod, based at the church’s headquarters in Ernakulam.

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