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The crisis triggered by a land deal scam allegedly involving Cardinal Mar George Alencherry in Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church has deepened with a section of the laity petitioning the Pope against him and the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, of which he is the Major Archbishop, admitting that there was lack of caution on his part in the land deal which caused losses to the tune of tens of crores of rupees to the archdiocese.
“A commission of the Archdiocese is looking into the land deal. The report of the commission will be submitted to the Pope,” Archdiocese spokesperson Fr Paul Karedan told the media adding that Rome itself might hold a probe against Cardinal Alencherry if necessary, adding that several aspects of the deal had not been discussed in the concerned councils.
A letter sent to the Pope in the name of VJ Hyacinth, chairperson of a forum called Mother Teresa Global Foundation, demanded a probe against Cardinal Alencherry under the direct supervision of The Vatican as the investigation by the intra-diocese commission lacked credibility because members in it were allegedly the Cardinal’s loyalists.
The controversy pertains to the sale of prime land belonging to the Archdiocese in Kochi city worth tens of crores of rupees to private persons. The lands were sold in two schedules to 36 persons in September, 2016 and between January and August, 2017.
Cardinal Alencherry himself had signed in all the land sale documents. The Archdiocese had suffered a loss of a minimum of Rs 18 crore through these land sales for which a middleman, whose credibility has now come under suspicion, had been engaged allegedly under instructions from the Major Archbishop himself.
Fr Karedan admitted that the deal and the Cardinal’s alleged role in it had pushed the Archdiocese into a crisis but he hoped that it would overcome it soon. “There have been serious errors in the land sales. The decision was to sell the land in one lot but it was sold in pieces. It is strange that the Cardinal had signed the papers of such a deal,” he told the media.
He said the report of the commission, which would be presented by the end of January, might mention that the Cardinal had not shown the required caution in the land sales. “Rome may hold its own investigation (against the Major Archbishop),” he said by pointing out that only Rome had the authority to conduct inquiries in matters concerning the Cardinal.
It has also been alleged that the land sales had involved illegal aspects like tax evasion and play of black money, causing further discomfort for the Syro-Malabar Church in general and the Archdiocese and the Cardinal in particular.
“That takes the issue beyond the walls of the Church. If there is truth in the charge, it is far more serious,” said a senior priest.
The Archdiocese had sold its lands in order to repay at least part of a massive bank loan it had availed for purchasing land at Thuravoor near Angamaly, several kilometers away from Kochi, for a medical college project. The entire problem arose with the purchase of that land which was in no way suitable for the project, according to the Archdiocese itself.
It had borrowed Rs 58 crore from a bank to purchase the 23-acre land in 2015 in Thuravoor but it abandoned the medical college project later. However, it suffered a huge loss in the sale of its lands and the net result is that the liabilities of the Archdiocese are now reportedly standing at over Rs 80 crore.
Supporters of Cardinal Alencherry argue that the Church land was sold and the middleman was engaged with the approval of all the concerned councils and senior clergy of the Archdiocese. “The Cardinal is victim of a betrayal from within. The decision to sell the lands was taken collectively but he is now being described as a fraudster,” complained a supporter.
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