UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News


Massive march for law to manage church assets in Kerala

Christian demonstrators say assets of Christian churches are mismanaged and misused by clergy-dominated systems

ucanews reporter, Kochi

ucanews reporter, Kochi

Updated: November 28, 2019 11:40 AM GMT
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Massive march for law to manage church assets in Kerala

Thousands of Christians march through the streets of Kerala state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Nov. 27 demanding a law to manage church properties. (Photo supplied) 


Share this article :
As thousands of Christians marched shouting slogans demanding a law to end alleged clerical abuse in managing church assets in southern India's Kerala state, Catholic officials denounced it as an unwarranted move.

An estimated 50,000 Christians cutting across denominations, including the Catholic Church, demonstrated near the state secretariat in capital Thiruvananthapuram on Nov. 27, demanding a law to administer all Christian properties in a participatory and transparent manner.

"The move is condemnable and worrying," said an official statement from the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council.

The All Kerala Church Act Action Council, a collective of Christian groups from various denominations, spearheaded the movement, describing it as a "Church Act Crusade."

Organizers claimed some 200,000 people joined the protest, arriving from various parts of the state at Kerala's southernmost city, the seat of the government.

The state's High Court awaits the opinion of Kerala's communist-led government on a petition to enact a law and end clerical dominance in the administration of Christian assets. 

The court on Nov. 12 wanted to know the government's stance on the petition filed by four Christians, seeking to end Christians being discriminately treated in managing their assets.

The petition claimed India's major religions, such as Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism, have separate and legally recognized bodies to manage their properties. But Christians have no such organization and management of properties and assets has been left to clerics.

"This demand is a mischievous move," said Father Antony Thalachellor, public relations officer of the state's Syro-Malabar Church.

"We don't need any regulatory body. We manage our properties well as per the existing laws in the country," said Father Thalachellor, speaking for the socially dominant Catholic group who constitute roughly 4 million of some 7 million Christians in the state.

The official statement of the bishops' council said some disputes within a couple of denominations had been blown out of proportion to demand a new "law for the entire Christian churches in the state, which is not acceptable."

The council consists of bishops from all three Catholic rites of Syro-Malankara, Latin and Syro-Malabar, which together comprise some 5.5 million people, the vast majority of Christians in the state of some 33 million people.

The bishops' council said the Catholic Church complies "with the laws of the land" in acquiring and managing its assets and institutions. It has "its well-established bodies within it to regulate" management of its assets, said the statement.

"Therefore, there is no need for any other agency or regulatory body to manage its assets," asserted the bishops' statement.

Claims of misplaced claims 

The decade-old demand for such a law forced the government to press its Law Reforms Commission to service. It prepared a draft — the Kerala Church (Properties and Institutions) Bill — that was published in March seeking suggestions.

The Catholic bishops, together with leaders of Christian denominations, have opposed any law to regulate their properties. They argued the law will lead to government interference in the internal functioning of their churches.

The government shelved a draft law early this year following opposition from hierarchies, but the massive demonstration shows Christians in the state feel the need of it, said Rev. Valson Thampu, a priest of the Protestant Church of South India and one of the four petitioners in the High Court. 

"A groundswell of popular unrest and frustration at the alarming signs of spiritual and moral decay have erupted in the form of an unprecedented protest march," said Rev. Thampu, who claimed some 200,000 people joined the protest.

Lawyer Induleka Joseph, a Catholic who took part in the protest, told ucanews that the claims of transparency and lay participation in managing properties of the Catholic dioceses in the state are displaced. 

"Bishops or bishop-led trusts own the properties. Lay people have no role in the decisions on sale and purchase of properties. The parish committees and diocesan committees, at best, have just advisory roles," she said. 

"Only those who toe the line of the priests or bishops are nominated to such committees. That's why we are pressing for a law to regulate church properties." 

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
UCA Newsletter
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Also Read

UCA News Podcast
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution
Mission in Asia | Make a Contribution