Circular Issued by Bp Sebastian Edayanthrathu,
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam–Angamaly on the Controversial Land Deal
December 28, 2017, Prot. No. CR-6/17
(Note: Bishop Edayanthrathu the Auxiliary was entrusted with writing this letter by the Cardinal to inform the priests the detailed facts of the land sale. So CCV is publishing it for the information of the general public, also to prevent roomers based on tell-tale wrong information spreading. james kottoor, editor ccv)
Loving, respected priests,
At the clergy conference of the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly held on December 21, 2017, we discussed the issues regarding the purchase and sale of land in the archdiocese. At the end of the conference, I was entrusted with the responsibility of informing all the priests the truth about the issues through a circular. Accordingly, I inform you about the facts related to the financial crisis facing the archdiocese.
On May 29, 2015, the archdiocese bought 23.22 acres of land, adjacent to the Little Flower Hospital at Mattoor in Thuravoor village to set up a medical college. For this a loan of Rs 60 crore was obtained from the bank. The archdiocese, which does not have much surplus fund, bought this land in the belief that it would be able to sell the archdiocese’s land at Varantharapalli and repay the loan.
However, the land at Varantharapalli could not be sold. As a result, the Finance Council of the archdiocese felt that it was very difficult for the archdiocese to pay the annual interest of Rs 6 crore on the bank loan of Rs 60 crore.
As the archdiocese had bought 23.22 acres of land in its own territory, it was thought feasible to sell some other plots of land belonging to the archdiocese and clear the debt. These are the five plots of land selected for sale:
a) 70.15 cents of land in front of Naipunya School at Kochi (Trikkakara)
b) 62.33 cents in front of the Trikkakara Bharat Mata College
c) 99.44 cents near Trikkakara Karunalayam
d) 20.35 cents at Nilampathinjimukal, Kakkanad
e) 54.71 cents at Marad
Thus, the total land that was decided to be sold measured 306.98 cents. The price that was decided for various plots of land varied from Rs 19 lakh per cent to Rs 3 lakh per cent. The average price of land to be sold worked out to Rs 9.05 lakh per cent.
Under the agreement reached with the person who was entrusted with the responsibility of selling the land, he should not have divided the plots and sold them to a third party or parties. However, the documents suggest that the land was given to 36 persons in violation of the agreement.
The archdiocese was under the impression that the five above-mentioned plots would be sold in a month’s time and the archdiocese would get Rs 27.30 crore. When that money is deposited in the bank, the archdiocese would be left with a debt of only Rs 32 crore. The decisions were taken in the belief that the rental income from the soon-to-be completed shopping complex at Chakkaraparambil would be sufficient to meet the needs of paying the bank’s interest and clearing the principal amount.
The five plots of land measuring 301.76 cents, excluding 5.22 cents earmarked for a road, were sold under 36 title deeds. Under the agreement signed on June 21, 2016, the financial transactions regarding the land sale should have been completed in one month. Yet, the archdiocese received only Rs 9.13 crore even after one and a half years.
The balance of Rs 18.17 is yet to be received. Although the decision to sell the five plots of land was discussed in the canonical councils of the archdiocese, they were not taken into confidence when the land was divided and sold under 36 title deeds. Not only that, even before the subject was to be discussed in the canonical councils, advance amounts were believed to have been obtained from the buyers of the land.
If, after the purchase of the land at Mattoor, the liability of the archdiocese stood at Rs 60 core, it has now increased to Rs 84 crore after the above-mentioned land transactions.
What has happened to the archdiocese is not just a financial crisis. Also involved are moral issues of lack of transparency and non-adherence to canonical laws. Thus, even if the archdiocese is able to receive the balance amount due to it, it would solve the financial problems only to some extent. The moral issues would, however, remain intact.
Realising the grave situation and in accordance with the decision of the clergy council held on November 29, 2017, the head of the archdiocese appointed a six-member committee to study the issue in detail. The interim report of the committee was presented before the various bodies prior to the clergy conference held on December 21, 2017. The committee has been asked to submit its final report before January 31, 2018.
The clergy council and the clergy conference want the final report to be sent to the Vatican. On the basis of the interim report and in accordance with the directions given by Cardinal George Alencherry, the responsibilities of Monsignor Sebastian Vadakumpadan, who is the Synchellus in charge of all the establishments in the archdiocese, and Fr Joshi Puthuva, who is the financial officer of the archdiocese, have been controlled.
The details given above are based on the documents and information regarding the financial crisis facing the archdiocese as a result of the land transactions. I submit them to the knowledge of the respected priests. There is no need to read out the circular in the parishes.
Hope everyone would stand united and sincerely pray and work to find a permanent solution to all the crises facing the archdiocese.
Yours in love and prayers
Mar Sebastian Edayanthrathu
Protosynchellus, Ernakulam-Angamali Archdiocese
Holy Men in Unholy Deals!
Suresh Mathew of IC, New Delhi
(Note: We have already published several reports on Syromalabar land deal scandal, quoting Times of India report on it. Here is now an opinion about it from our friend Suresh in Delhi – a farther franker view.
For a change now the Big fish caught in the sea of corruption in which sails the bark of Peter are the crimson clad princes of the Church, Cardinals. Cardinal Pell of Australia was the opening batsman in the field of pedophilia under investigation. He had predicted he would soon be followed by equally serious financial scandal now opening for public view in the person of Kochi’s cardinal Mar Alancherry.
Going to hell becomes tolerable, once in company, someone has said. Think of Michael Angelo’s Hell with Popes and red hats. So nothing in the Roman Catholic Church, with ‘Pharisaic Holier than thou attitude’ should come as too shocking. Now read the article of Suresh from Delhi with questions galore to find answers. james kottoor, ccv editor.
“The next wave of attacks on the Church could be for financial irregularities,” Cardinal George Pell, Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, had said a couple of years back. As one pores over the mountain of material flooding the media (specially in social media) on the ‘land deal scandal’ and the subsequent questionable financial transactions in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala, one gets the feeling that Cardinal Pell’s prediction is coming true.
The Archdiocese, faced with a serious debt crisis because of the land it bought for its proposed medical college, decided to cut down on its debt by selling some of its properties in and around Ernakulam. The Diocesan Council empowered to take such decisions zeroed in on five plots. A business deal was struck with a realtor. To cut a long story short, the Archdiocese ended up burdened with more debts and unrecovered crores of rupees. It has left a trail of allegations and counter-allegations; it has also given a long stick to the opponents of the Church to beat it with.
The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath, in a revealing circular issued to the clergy of the Diocese, says: “Canonical laws have not been followed and there has been no transparency in the deal. Hence, it has landed the Archdiocese not just in financial crisis but in a serious ethical crisis as well.” The Bishop’s frank confession that he and the other Auxiliary Bishop were not taken into confidence in some of the deals and discussions adds to the mystery of the unsavory developments. In the thick of the happenings, the name of Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church, crops up off and on, but he keeps a studied silence.
The official circular reveals certain truths, though it may not be the whole truth. One can ignore the gossips and allegations flying thick and thin. But what about the facts contained in the official circular? Bishop Adayanthrath categorically states that some of the deals were contrary to the decisions taken by the canonical councils of the Archdiocese.
Going a step further, he discloses that the councils concerned were kept in the dark on the developments. Though the Auxiliary Bishop is the head of the Archdiocesan Institutions Central Office (AICO), which is the body that conducts the businesses relating to all institutions in the Diocese, he had no knowledge of many happenings. This adds to the strength of the allegations floating around. Here it is pertinent to raise a few questions.
How can a few individual priests in a Diocese sidestep the official councils and committees and take decisions of far-reaching importance?
Who authorized them to flout not one but several conditions laid down by the official Archdiocesan Forums with regard to the land sale?
How could the decision-makers bypass even the two Auxiliary Bishops?4.
Why is Cardinal Alencherry keeping a studied silence over the whole episode when he is the signatory in all the documents related to the sale of the properties?
5. Why did he not heed to the reported warnings given by several senior priests and diocesan forums not to play into the hands of a realtor with apparently dubious credentials?
6. Who are the ultimate beneficiaries in the various deals which brought immense disrepute to the Archdiocese and the Church?
In the end, even if the monetary aspects are settled and money is recovered, it will only find a solution for the financial issues, but the moral problems will remain. “What has happened is not merely a serious financial crisis. It involves grave moral issues like lack of transparency and non-adherence to the Canon Law. Hence, even if the Archdiocese is able to recover the balance amount due to it, it will only help to tide over the financial crisis; the moral issues will remain,” states Mar Adayanthrath.
As the Kerala church, specially the Archdiocese, is caught in the eye of a storm, the authorities have taken the right step to appoint an expert committee consisting of priests and lay people to study the issue threadbare and submit a report. But it should not be the end in itself; the commission’s recommendations should be taken to its logical conclusion.
If need be, the Vatican should be kept in the loop. Pope Francis’s commitment to take the Church on a new path of financial honesty and moral uprightness is known to the world.
A few months into his papacy, Pope Francis had made a fire-and-brimstone sermon stating that the corrupt should be tied to a stone and thrown into sea. It is no secret that the Pope assumed the office at a time when the Vatican was caught in ‘financial scandals’ reportedly involving senior functionaries. He had invited international financial watchdog, Moneyval, to check the accounts. He had the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF) to have a look at the Holy See’s finances. Finding several cases of suspected financial irregularity, it had sent these cases to the Promoter of Justice, which is the Vatican’s prosecutor.
The Vatican recently confirmed that the Pope has ordered an investigation into the alleged financial and other irregularities in the Diocese of one of his top advisers, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga. Italian newsweekly L'Espresso says that the investigation was initiated in May following allegations of failed investments, questionable expenses by one of Maradiaga's deputies, and the ultimate destination of 35,000 euro a month paid to the Cardinal by the Catholic University of Honduras.
On the issue of financial accountability and transparency of Dioceses, it is worth to recall an initiative by Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), a worldwide movement of faithful Roman Catholics. Last year, it undertook a review of the websites of several Archdioceses and Dioceses that constitute the majority of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It found that some Dioceses and Archdioceses were posting their financial audits regularly, but some were not doing so.
Patting the back of those who post their financial reports, the VOTF raised a valid point: What prevents the ‘erring Dioceses’ from posting their financial reports while others were doing so? The organization further observed: “Transparency (on the part of Dioceses and Archdiocese) gives the laity a level of confidence that their financial support of the Bishop and the good works of the Arch/Diocese are accomplishing their intended goal.”
The ongoing controversies in the Kerala Church have got it on a slippery land. It should take immediate corrective measures to stop the rot. There is more to the episode than meets the eye. The shepherds are duty-bound to make sure that activities of a few ‘black sheep’ do not take the sheen out of a vibrant Church in Kerala. Pope Francis should be their role model in this regard.