Kerala priests turn to Vatican in land deal case

Kerala High Court dismisses case against Cardinal Alencherry and two priests because of jurisdictional errors
Kerala priests turn to Vatican in land deal case

Kerala High Court has dismissed a case against Cardinal George Alencherry over land deals in the southern Indian state. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Priests in India are pinning their hopes on the Vatican after the High Court of Kerala dismissed a case against Cardinal George Alencherry over a land deal that has rocked the church for more than a year.

Chief Justice Antony Dominic dismissed the case on May 22 on grounds that the court made jurisdictional errors in allowing the investigation against the cardinal and petitioners had rushed to the court before waiting for a police investigation.

The court's move has "not given us any justice. The moral and ethical violations and the related frustrations continue," said Father Kuriakose Mundadan, secretary of the presbyteral council, a canonical body of priests in the cardinal's Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

Cardinal Alencherry, also the major archbishop and head of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church, was accused along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land and incurring a loss of more than US$10 million.

The case came to court after a church committee claimed land was sold at undervalued prices and money was missing. The court on March 18 asked police to investigate if there was a breach of trust by the accused.

When the cardinal challenged the proceedings and contended that he followed church laws in dealing with land, the court allowed an investigation of technical aspects of the case without going into its merits.

The court dismissed the case, filed by lay Catholic Shine Varghese, on grounds of legal infirmity because the petitioner approached the court complaining of police inaction within hours of filing a police complaint.

"The court has not quashed the police complaint. It has not said there is no case against the cardinal, nor that the police should not investigate. However, we continue with the problem without a solution," Father Mundadan said.

He said the church committee's report showed there had been "clear malpractices, lack of transparency and violation of church laws. Seeking a solution, we have approached all church bodies" including the Vatican and the synod, the highest decision-making body of the Syro-Malabar Church.

"We are yet to hear from these bodies," Father Mundadan said. Priests in the archdiocese and lay people look to "higher church bodies to find a solution to the moral and ethical violations we have experienced," he told ucanews.com.   

Petitioner Varghese, a member of the archdiocese, said he does not expect any police investigation of the case as "the hands of the police were tied by the government." He said without judicial intervention police will not allowed to act against the head of the politically influential church group. 

He said he has the option of approaching the Supreme Court. "I am consulting my lawyers about its scope," he said.

Father Augustine Vattoly, a priest leading the movement seeking action against those involved in land deals, said the priests are looking to the Vatican. 

"Our presbyteral council has submitted a formal request to the pope to inquire into the land deals. We are awaiting his response to our request," he said. 

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