Priests go on indefinite fast against Cardinal George Alencherry: All you need to know about church land row

On Thursday, priests of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly launched a hunger strike against Major Archbishop and Cardinal George Alencherry, and demanded his resignation. Representatives of priests held talks with the cardinal on various issues pertaining to the archdiocese including controversial land deals allegedly involving the top priest. They, however, were not satisfied with the cardinal's response and declared an indefinite fast at the Bishop's House.

Who is Cardinal George Alencherry? 

Alencherry is a Syro-Malabar major archbishop. He was ordained as cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI at a ceremony at the imposing St Peter's Basilica in Vatican. With this, the head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church — India's largest and richest Catholic church with 3.7 million members — joined an elite group of 213 cardinals that elects the next successor to the 84 year-old pope.

 Priests go on indefinite fast against Cardinal George Alencherry: All you need to know about church land row

File image of George Alencherry. News18


Why are priests protesting against Cardinal Alencherry ?

A report by The Hindu said that “the demands of the priests relate to police investigations into the ‘forged documents’ case in which it has been alleged that a group of priests forged documents with the help of lay persons to implicate the cardinal in a series of personal financial deals with a private company”. Two other priests Father Paul Thelakkat and Father Antony Kallookkaran were questioned in the case by the police.

The priests have demanded the appointment of an administrative bishop to handle matters of the archdiocese. PTI reported that the protesting priests seek an independent investigation into the land deals allegedly involving the cardinal in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

Alencherry secured full powers of major archbishop of the archdiocese after the Vatican directed Bishop Jacob Manathodath, appointed as the archdiocese's apostolic administrator last year, to go back to his Palakkad diocese to carry out his pastoral duties. The protesting priests have questioned the decision to suspend Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath and Bishop Jose Puthenveetil from their offices of Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese.

In 2018, Alencherry was divested of all administrative powers as the head of the Ernakulam archdiocese by the Vatican. The reason behind this action by Vatican was Alencherry’s alleged involvement in suspicious financial dealings and loss to the church, reported The Indian Express. The publication also reported that “the archdiocese had suffered a loss of Rs 90 crore following controversial land dealings executed by the cardinal in 2016”.

In March 2018, the police filed a case against Alencherry after a complaint of irregularities in land deals. The FIR was registered nearly a week after the Kerala High Court ordered the police to do so against the cardinal, priests Joshy Puthuva and Sebastian Vadakkumpadan, and middleman Saju Varghese on a petition filed by Shine Varghese from Cherthala.

Shine alleged that the accused were involved in criminal conspiracy and cheating in the sale of over three acres of land, worth crores of rupees that belonged to Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

A six member church committee appointed by Alencherry highlighted numerous instances of violation of cannon and civil laws and demanded action against the accused.

What are the priests' demands?

The protesting priests have expressed their discontent and demanded that the cardinal should not be allowed to preside over the synop of bishops scheduled for early August. "The cardinal has to be removed as he is facing about 14 cases, mostly related to financial dealings. The cardinal should not chair the coming synod as it's against the code of law. Pope's representative should chair the synod," Father Jose Vailikdath was quoted as saying by News18.

Updated Date: Jul 19, 2019 18:48:52 IST