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India’s Cardinal Alencherry to face trial in land deal

The top court in the country turns down an appeal by the Syro-Malabar Church head to quash seven criminal cases against him
Indian Cardinal George Alencherry and two senior priests were investigated by police over controversial land deals in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in southern Kerala. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by him to quash criminal cases against him in the matter

Indian Cardinal George Alencherry and two senior priests were investigated by police over controversial land deals in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in southern Kerala. The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by him to quash criminal cases against him in the matter. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 17, 2023 12:00 PM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2023 06:17 AM GMT

India’s top court has dismissed an appeal by the head of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, to quash seven criminal cases against him in connection with a controversial land deal in his archdiocese.

A division bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Dinesh Maheshwari on March 17 turned down the 77-year-old cardinal’s appeal paving the way for him to face trial in land deals he executed some five years ago in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in southern Kerala state.

“It is not a final order. We will consult our experts and take further course of action legally,” said Father Antony Vadakkekara, spokesperson of the Sryo-Malabar Church, the second largest among the Eastern Churches.

“We have not yet received the copy of the order and we only know from the court proceedings that the cardinal’s appeal was dismissed,” the Vincentian priest told UCA News on March 17.

Cardinal Alencherry in April 2022 moved the Supreme Court against an August 2021 order of the Kerala High Court which directed him to face trial in seven criminal cases.

The cardinal also sought a stay on the high court order. However, the Supreme Court refused to accept it but agreed to hear his contentions.

Before the Kerala High Court, all the lower courts in Kerala asked the cardinal to face trial. 

The allegations against Cardinal Alencherry, who was named a cardinal in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, came to light in November 2017.

A group of priests in the archdiocese publicly accused him along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land over a period of two years, incurring a loss of US$10 million to the archdiocese.

The cardinal has denied the allegations but admitted before the Syro-Malabar Church Synod, the highest decision-making body, that there were administrative lapses and a lack of oversight on his part.

His supporters say the austere cardinal did not personally benefit from the deals and the archdiocese was trying to generate funds to pay off an accumulating bank loan.

After a sustained public campaign, 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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2 Comments on this Story
Well Supreme Court basically went by the earlier observation of the Kerala High Court judgement published in Times of India and other news portals on 11th October 2012 where the court had said that (1) Parishioners have rights over church property; and (2) Parishioners, independently or together a Committee of Administrators, are competent to represent the parish and claim rights over the property of the church. The Court had further observed that the Church and its properties would not vest in the Pope or the archbishop and the maxim "Roma locuta est, causa finite est" (Rome has spoken, the case is closed) no longer survives. It also said that Canon Law can have theological or ecclesiastical implication to parties (parishioners) but cannot override the civil law of the land. This judgement was later upheld by the Supreme Court. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/kerala-hc-backs-laitys-right-over-church-property/articleshow/16761845.cms Cardinal Allencherry and his legal brains had tried their best to impress upon first the Kerala High Court and then the Supreme Court of India, the powers of the Vatican but it cut no ice!
Why this dubious character is still retained at the head of Syro-Malabar church
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