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India's Eastern Church sees sinister plan to oust cardinal

The Syro-Malabar Church has witnessed repeated calls for the removal of Cardinal George Alencherry in the past four years

India's Eastern Church sees sinister plan to oust cardinal

Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church. (Photo: AFP/Osservatore Romano) 

Renewed calls for the ouster of Cardinal George Alencherry from the office of major archbishop of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church are part of a plan to tarnish his and the Church’s image, says an official.

A lay group in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in southern India's Kerala state has made public demands this week to remove the cardinal, saying a leaked report of a church-authorized probe has found him guilty in a controversial land deal.

“The allegations against Cardinal Alencherry and the demand for his ouster from offices he holds are fresh attempts to tarnish him and the Church,” said Father Alex Onampally, secretary of the media commission of the Syro-Malabar Church.

A church-authorized probe, conducted by international professional service network KPMG, found the cardinal “guilty of a clandestine land deal and incurring losses,” said Shaiju Antony, an office bearer of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT).

“We want Cardinal Alencherry to step down as head of the Syro-Malabar Church and president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council,” Antony told UCA News on June 27.

Antony and his group, which campaigns for transparency in the financial dealings of the archdiocese, allege that the cardinal bypassed canonical bodies of the archdiocese and tried to invest funds from land sales as shares in a church-run daily.

There is enough evidence in the report that directly links Cardinal Alencherry with a clandestine land deal

They support their arguments by quoting from leaked portions of the confidential KPMG report, which was reportedly sent to the Vatican in early 2019.

The Vatican asked for an independent probe after a section of the priests in the archdiocese in November 2017 accused the cardinal and two priests of selling off archdiocesan land while bypassing canonical bodies and incurring a loss of some US$10 million.

The Vatican removed the cardinal from his administrative responsibilities but he continues to be the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, holding the title of major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly.

“There is enough evidence in the report that directly links Cardinal Alencherry with a clandestine land deal. He should not continue as cardinal and hold offices of the Church,” Antony demanded.

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The land deal controversy was punctuated with similar calls for the cardinal’s ouster over the past four years.

Father Onampally said such demands are part of a motivated campaign against the cardinal and the Church.

“I have never seen this KPMG report,” Father Onampally told UCA News on June 28.

“Those who leaked this report to the media have a hidden agenda to keep the issues alive regarding the land sale and to tarnish the image of the cardinal,” he said.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches has intervened “to settle the issue definitively" by directing the archdiocese to sell the two plots of land, which Cardinal Alencherry registered in the archdiocese's name, as a guarantee to ensure that the archdiocese does not suffer losses.

“This position of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches has vindicated Cardinal Alencherry,” Father Onampally added.

An allegation by a report of a private agency does not hold much value

The priest claimed that the cardinal executed the land sales “respecting all canonical and civil norms. This is accepted by the Vatican and in the police inquiry report.”

“Cardinal Alencherry admitted supervisory failures as head of the archdiocesan team in the execution of the land deal many times,” Father Onampally said.

He said the Vatican congregation’s decision for restitution, made public last week, comes “after taking into account the reports including that of KPMG and the petition against Cardinal Alencherry by the interested parties.” 

“An allegation by a report of a private agency does not hold much value. Besides, leaking it to the media is the outcome of a premeditated plan,” he added.

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