A Catholic priest of the archdiocese, Father Anand Muttungal, filed the petition. The priest’s petition says the archbishop’s appointment as the head of the diocesan society was arbitrary, illegal and unconstitutional and sought direction to quash his appointment.
According to the priest, the diocesan society was registered under a state law that governs registered societies (the Madhya Pradesh Society Registrikaran Adhiniyam, 1973) and the bishop’s appointment as its head violated the law. Quoting from the provisions of the law, he said only a member of the society is eligible to become or elected as the head (president/chairperson) of the society.
The archbishop became the chairperson of the diocesan society that deals with the religious activities by virtue of his appointment as bishop by the Vatican. However, Archbishop Leo’s appointment was unconstitutional as he was not a member of the diocesan society, the petition pointed out. It is a common practice in the Catholic Church that a bishop automatically becomes the head of the diocesan society.
An adverse order from the court in this case would have serious repercussions for the Church in India as it would question bishop’s continuing as the head of the diocesan societies across the country. Father Muttungal also wants the court to strike down a by-law in the diocesan society that permitted a bishop to become the natural head of the society without being member of the society and the consent of other members of the society.
A bishop is appointed according to Canon Law, which is respected in the Indian courts. But when it comes to the appointment of bishop as head of a diocesan society that is duly registered within the country it will have to follow the law of the land and the Canon Law is will not be applicable, notes the priest’s counsel Manjit PS Chuckal.
The petition is before the principal bench of the High Court at Jabalpur. The bench headed by Justice KK Lahoti adjourned the hearing when the matter came up for hearing on Tuesday. Earlier, the priest had approached the Registrar of Firms and Societies with same demand but to no avail.