Respected Archbishop, Mar Perumthottam,
In the General Body Meeting of the St. Mary’s Forane Church, held on 26.04.2015, Mr. Augustine Paul Alancherry and Mr. Joy Ponnattil were elected to serve as Auditors along with two other past auditors. On Monday, 8th June, our vicar, Fr. Cyriac Kottayil, called us to his chamber and read out a juridic act from you intimating that the newly elected auditors, Mr. Augustine Paul Alancherry and Mr. Joy Ponnattil were unacceptable to the archdiocese and as such their election as auditors was nullified.
‘The extraordinary situation prevailing in Athirampuzha’ was the assigned reason for this strange decision. We have met you on 21st June, during your visit, to deliberate on this matter. Instead of listening to us, you have been pontificating on the importance keeping peace, love and harmony in the parish quoting Bible verses. The ideal verses should have been the cleansing of the temple, where Christ drove out everyone who made the temple unholy, calling them a ‘den of thieves’. Instead of being seen decisively on the side of the righteous, you seem to be resolute in protecting the corrupted.
During our meeting, you were insisting that you were well within your right to countermand elections. A person in your position should have more knowledge on the civil rights enjoyed by the citizen in a democratic country. It is a well settled law that a decision of the general body cannot be countermanded unless the person elected has ‘disqualified himself’ or ‘not elected as per the provisions of law’. Fr. Cyriac Kottayil, the presiding officer of the general body meeting, has declared during the general body meeting that the elected persons were of good standing and the elections were legally held. If the archbishop can chose the officers of the church freely, the general body need not function at all.
RSA 662/2003 reported in (2012) 51.KLR.277, it is decided that the temporal goods belonging to a parish, does not belong to the diocese. The Church and its properties would not vest in the Pope or the Archbishop even in accordance with Canon Law, but belongs to the faithful living in the parish. Canon Law can have theological or ecclesiastical implication to the parties, but such personal law cannot have any legal impact and cannot override the civil law of the land. It is, therefore, quite obvious that the church and its properties shall be administered by the representatives of the pothuyogam and they need no confirmation from the archdiocese.
Even as per Canon Law, the competent authority cannot refuse confirmation. Canon 960 of CCEC says, “The competent authority cannot deny confirmation if the person elected is qualified according to the norm of law and the election was conducted in accordance with the law”. Election, confirmation or rejection needs to be intimated in writing as per Canon 957. The parishioners too must be apprised of your decision. Otherwise, the elected are free to take over their official position.
By reversing the voice of the parishioners, you have insulted the Pothuyogam, cast aspersions on the good reputation of the elected and vilified their character. You have abdicated your responsibility as a leader and showed scant regard to the sentiment of the parishioners Instead of showing leadership, you have sided with the previous vicar who allegedly made immoral crores off gullible believers with no fig leaf of accountability and without any established principles You are also guilty of protecting the past administrators who spearheaded the destructive activities done in the church.
Character assassination is specifically prohibited by Canon 23, which says, “no one is permitted to damage unlawfully the good reputation, which another person enjoys or to violate the right of any person to protect his or her own privacy”. Canon 935 is also pertinent here, which says, “Anyone who unlawfully inflicts damage upon someone by a juridic act, or indeed by any other act placed with malice or culpability, is obliged to compensate for the damage inflicted”.
The ire against us may be because of the uncomfortable questions asked by the pothuyogam on the account statement submitted by the church. The vicar announced an amount of 1.07 crores as income from ‘Perunnal’, but only 73 lakhs is shown in the account statement. The recently completed ‘Thirthadana Bhavanam’ is renovated again spending 30 lakhs. Kavukattu Bhavanam, which is already rented out, took another 20 lakhs. The church spent a whopping amount of 37 lakhs to pay interest. Archdiocese is paid 35 lakhs, when no money need be paid by a church in debt. As per the accounting practices suspense account should be ‘0’, at the time of reporting, but we have 9 lakhs in suspense. Financial prudence is nowhere in sight for a church in debt as 60 lakhs were spent on maintenance and 7 lakhs buying furniture. There is mismanagement or negligence which costs the church more than 1 crore this accounting year also. The church, with an annual income of more than 4.5 cores, spent only Rs.73000/- towards social / community care projects.
You foster distress in the community by assaulting on the authority of the pothuyogam in the name of values, such as love, peace and harmony. This unmistakable Christian rhetoric is totally divisive in the present context as the nefarious activities of the previous regime affect the entire archdiocese. It appears that no values or convention are sacred in the governance of the church, barring the one rule of honour among thieves.
Destroying dissent is an autistic tendency and you and your types can become relics with no church to govern and no believers to follow your toe-line in the not-so-distant future. Your preoccupation with silence can make you fade into irrelevance. The SM church may require a ‘Wailing Wall’ for the victims you created.
We are aware of the perils that confront the righteous, particularly when the intended entity is mighty and powerful. If the Archdiocese neglects to act constructively in this case, the suspicion that it too has plenty to suppress will strengthen. Your position as a fair and impartial adjudicator becomes dubious and issues can reverberate into the past with further bigger reverses.
However, regardless of the scandal, regardless of the public fury, nothing in the church has changed. There appears to be no option since each person, who can make a difference, is on the same side. We would, therefore, urge the archdiocese to abandon such intimidating actions. You are using ‘non-existent’ power to remove auditors and your overreach can only be condemned. You cannot strip our parishioners of their decision making powers and make them disempowered. Let no one say that the archdiocese continues to be run by cassocks of withered will.
Our advocate says that this is an open and shut case where we will win easily and decisively. We would advise you to get a legal opinion on the subject immediately. The reputation of SM church is not profound at present and we would not like to humiliate it further. We are reluctant to take the matter to the Civil Court, since it is our last option in case your decision is not reversed.
Team Conscience of Athirampuzha
This is published in Church Citizens' Voice too - Cassocks of Withered Will?