Open letter to nuncio on Jalandhar incidents

We are grateful to you for taking action on our previous submissions regarding the removal of Franco Mulakkal (FM) from the episcopacy of Jalandhar Diocese (JD), and subsequently for preventing the transfer of the five nun witnesses in the alleged rape case.

The latest stink bomb to emerge from the same diocese is the 16 Crore Rupees (CR) cash haul from Antony Madessery (AM), a priest of that diocese a few days ago. This has again grabbed national headlines and brought shame and disgrace on the Catholic Community in India. Permit me a recap of the events.

THE INCIDENT: On 29th March AM was caught by the Punjab Police with over 16 CR in cash. He claims that he had earlier deposited 14 CR in a bank, so the total amount involved is over 30 CR. By any standards this is a huge sum of money.

THE JUSTIFICATION: AM claims that he is legally and canonically permitted to do what he is doing, just like the Ambanis, the country’s richest family. Bp Agnelo Gracias, the Apostolic Administrator, states that Sahodhaya, the firm through which AM operates, together with three other priests, has got the permission of the diocese.

THE OBFUSCATION: AM has tried to obfuscate the main issue of his doing cash business amounting to 30 CR or more by claiming that the police “misappropriated” 6 CR of the cash seizure. He has also disputed the circumstances/ location from where the cash was seized. Significantly, he has not denied the amount of cash involved, which he claims is legitimate tax paid money.

THE IMPLICATIONS: Such a huge stash of cash is a transgression of several laws of the land.

a. The Model Code of Conduct is in force because of the Lok Sabha elections. As per its provisions one cannot carry more than Rs 10,000/- in cash.

b. As per provisions of the Income Tax Act one cannot transact business exceeding Rs 10,000/- in cash.

c. The modus operandi of AM and his firm Sahodhaya is in direct contravention of the provisions of the Competition Act 2002 that was enacted “to prevent activities that have an appreciable adverse effect on competition in India.” This Act replaced the Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices Act of 1969 that was meant “to curb the rise of concentration of wealth in a few hands by monopolistic practices.” Prima facie the way in which AM’s firm has been doing business, it attracts the provisions of the said Act.

CHURCH TEACHINGS: Canon Law states that “Clerics are forbidden to practice trade and commerce, either personally or through another, for their own or another’s benefit” (Can 286). Unfortunately AM has availed of the caveat that makes an exception “with the permission of the lawful ecclesiastical authority.” It is important to emphasise here that this is an exception that only proves the rule, that commerce or trade are forbidden for clerics. The concerned persons cannot hide behind the fig leaf of some “permission.” Canons 1286 (1) and 1290 state that all financial dealings should be in accordance with the provisions of civil laws. This is obviously not the case here.

Canon Law also provides for the establishment of Diocesan Finance Committees (492) which should have at least three lay people, and Parish Finance Committees (537). Besides “Persons related to the bishop up to the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity are excluded from the Diocesan Finance Committee” (492:3). It is noteworthy that FM and the four priests that are partners in the firm Sahodhaya are all from Kerala. They could be related to the bishop. They are certainly his country cousins. Legal nuances apart, what is happening in JD is contrary to the spirit of Canon Law.

FEAR ELEMENT: there is an element of fear in all that is related to FM and JD. AM has been out on bail for several months, and the charge sheet in his case has not yet been filed. A lesser mortal would have been rotting in jail. He is out probably because of his influence and the impending elections. It is a matter of record that Rev Kuriakose Kattuthara, a priest of JD, who was a key testator against FM was found dead in October 2018 under unsolved circumstances. The 5 sisters who are witnesses in the case, as also the alleged victim herself, have repeatedly stated that they fear for their lives. In the instant case AM is reportedly the Superior General of the Franciscan Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation founded by FM. The alleged rape victim was also the Superior General of the Missionaries of Jesus (sisters), again coming under FM. All this cannot be mere coincidence. There seems to be a deep rooted conspiracy by very powerful persons.

CLERICALISM: Pope Francis has been repeatedly saying that clericalism is the biggest scourge in the Church. A recent gathering of bishops and theologians in Varanasi said the same thing. What is happening in JD is the height of clericalism.

BREAKING NEWS: The Indian Express on 8th April has done an investigative report on the “Businessmen Priests of JD.” It states that AM and his gang, for want of a better word, have established 15 business enterprises in the last 10 years, and more particularly since FM became the bishop in 2013, with an annual turnover of about 60 CR. It also reveals the “open secret’ that book publishers are giving donations to the management of Church run schools. It is highly probable that both the suppliers and purchasers are all priests from Kerala, making this a potent nexus of vested interests. This must STOP….