HC orders FIR against Syro-Malabar church head over land deals

PTI Kochi | Updated on March 06, 2018

The Kerala High Court today ordered the police here to register an FIR against the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, and three others on a complaint alleging irregularities in land deals involving them in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

Passing the order, Justice B Kemal Pasha rejected the Cardinal’s contention that the land belonged to the diocese and that a third party could not complain about the alleged loss in the sale of such a private property.

He held that the Cardinal was only a caretaker of the assets owned by the church and that any ordinary member of the society could seek action if any irregularities took place in the dealings of the Church properties.

The judge passed the order on a petition filed by one Shine Varghese from Cherthala, who had moved the court saying the Ernakulam Central Police had not lodged a First Information Report (FIR) on his complaint against the Cardinal and others over the land deals.

Besides Alencherry, priests Joshy Puthuva and Sebastian Vadakkumpadan and middleman Saju Varghese were the others against whom the complaint was lodged.

The judge observed that the non-registration of the FIR, despite receiving a complaint, was in violation of the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in the Lalita Kumari case, laying down the guidelines on FIRs.

Directing the police to conduct a free-and-fair probe after filing the FIR, Justice Pasha said the alleged conspiracy and breach of trust issues could be investigated.

Alencherry’s counsel had contended that the Cardinal could not be charged with breach of trust in the sale of land belonging to the church and the alleged financial loss.

In his complaint, the petitioner had sought the registration of an FIR for criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and cheating against the Cardinal and the three others.

The complaint was filed last month after a church committee, which probed the alleged irregularities in financial and land transactions of the archdiocese, said it found numerous instances of violation of canon and civil laws and recommended necessary action against those responsible.

The six-member enquiry committee had also said that Cardinal Alencherry “seems to have fully known and involved” in the alienation and purchase of lands by the archdiocese between April 1, 2015 and November 30, 2017.

The panel, comprising priests, was appointed by Alencherry, who is also the Major Archbishop of the archdiocese, after some priests and faithful accused him of selling prime land of the archdiocese for “a very low price“.

The Syro-Malabar Church has over 30 dioceses in the country and four outside -- in the US, Canada, Australia and Britain -- serving over five million faithful.

Published on March 06, 2018

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