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India's top court admits cardinal's appeal in land case

Cardinal George Alencherry is facing criminal charges for selling plots of land in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in Kerala

India's top court admits cardinal's appeal in land case

Cardinal George Alencherry walks in St. Peter's Square in Rome after a pre-conclave meeting at the Vatican on March 6, 2013. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 05, 2022 04:23 AM GMT

Updated: April 05, 2022 05:38 AM GMT

The Supreme Court of India has admitted an appeal by Cardinal George Alencherry to discharge him from criminal cases related to the sale of church land in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in Kerala state.

The head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church is seeking to quash the order of Kerala High Court delivered in August 2021 ordering him to face trial over seven criminal charges registered against him in connection with controversial land deals he conducted four years ago.

Cardinal Alencherry filed his appeal in the country’s top court in February. On April 1, a bench of Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose directed the Kerala government and others listed as parties in the case to file their replies within two weeks.

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The cardinal’s attorneys asked for an interim stay on the high court order but the judges declined as they have agreed to consider his case for detailed examination.

Senior advocates Sidharth Luthra and Gyanant Singh, arguing for Cardinal Alencherry, said criminal proceedings were initiated against him at a court in Kakkanad even as a prior complaint with respect to the same cases was pending before the judicial magistrate of Ernakulam.

The complainant, they said, had concealed the fact about the pendency of his complaint on the same subject matter covering all allegations and filed six fresh complaints.

“The cardinal is fighting a court battle and hence cannot be held guilty yet. Truth will surely triumph, although it might take some time”

A group of priests and laity in Ernakulam-Angamaly had publicly accused Cardinal Alencherry of selling off several plots of land over a period of two years, incurring a loss of about US$10 million to the archdiocese.

Cardinal Alencherry denied the allegations but reportedly admitted before the church’s synod that there were administrative lapses and a lack of oversight on his part.

After sustained public campaigns against the land deals, the Vatican removed him from his administrative role and appointed a metropolitan vicar archbishop to run the archdiocese.

The Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) has now demanded that Cardinal Alencherry resign from office since the country’s top court had not stayed the order of Kerala High Court.

It also appealed to the Vatican to remove the cardinal from all his official duties as head of the Syro-Malabar Church and appoint an administrator in his place to run the church until he gets a clean chit from all the criminal cases registered against him.

The AMT also vowed to intensify protests against Cardinal Alencherry if he refuses to resign from office.

A church official, who did not want to be named, defended the cardinal, saying that “he is not convicted in any case.”

“The cardinal is fighting a court battle and hence cannot be held guilty yet,” the official told UCA News while hoping he would prove his innocence in the court of law.

“Truth will surely triumph, although it might take some time,” he added.

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