Indian women check emails and browse the internet at an Akshaya (Eternal) e-learning centre in Mundakulam village of Malappuram district in Kerala in this 2004 file photo. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)
India’s Syro-Malabar Church has rejected as baseless a claim that it collects and sells Catholics’ personal information to an unnamed US-based company for millions of dollars.Officials of the Eastern-rite Church, based in Kerala state in southern India, said the “baseless allegation” comes from disgruntled members and aims to discredit the Church and confuse the faithful.Social media discussions claim a mobile phone application developed by the Church’s Internet Mission has been contracted to an overseas company to collect and sell personal data. It is claimed the contract involves millions of dollars.“This is an absurd allegation,” said Bishop Jose Porunnedom, chairman of the Internet Mission (IM) that started a decade ago to help use internet technology for the benefit of the Church.The IM developed the application to help connect with the Church’s some 3,200 parishes spread over 35 dioceses and make communication faster. Some 13 dioceses are outside its base in Kerala and four are outside India.
"We have not sold any personal data of our subscribers to anyone or compromised on their privacy. The allegations are absolutely baseless and an attempt to discredit the Church and create confusion among the faithful,” Bishop Porunnedom told UCA News. Some disgruntled Catholics are behind the allegations, he said.Those who accuse the Church of wrongdoing have not produced any documents to substantiate their claims. The Kerala state and federal governments are facing similar charges over mobile phone applications they developed.The government applications have been purportedly developed to collect and update data about the health status of people in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. But opposition politicians expressed fears that data would be shared with foreign companies for commercial gain, breaching people's privacy.Bishop Porunnedom of Manathavady Diocese in Kerala told UCA News on May 5 that the allegations are “aimed at maligning the Church.” He challenged those leading the campaign to produce evidence to prove their claims.“We have nothing to hide and are ready to prove our innocence," the prelate said, indicating that he and the IM are ready to face investigation by “any government agency or from any expert of reputation."