A controversial land deal that rocked India’s Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church four years ago has resurfaced after a group of priests called a Vatican restitution decree unjust and unethical.
Syro-Malabar priests in India say the new archdiocesan administrator bypassed canonical channels to sell property to pay off debt. They will appeal to the Vatican’s Apostolic Signature against a decree from the Congregation for Eastern Churches, a senior priest told.
The Vatican decree, leaked to the media June 27, seeks to reduce the arch-diocese’s losses by selling two plots of archdiocesan land at a price and a buyer approved by the permanent synod of the church.
The demand for restitution began in November 2019 after a group of arch-diocesan priests publicly accused Cardinal George Alencherry of bypassing canonical bodies to sell off several plots of land over a period of two years, incurring a loss of some $10 million to the arch-diocese. Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, was archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly at the time.
The Vatican intervened two years ago and removed Cardinal Alencherry from administrative duties in the archdiocese. It later appointed Archbishop Antony Kariyil as its administrator.
The Vatican also asked the church’s synod to find a way to recover the losses.
Earlier this year, the synod suggested the sale of two pieces of land bought during the time Alencherry led the archdiocese, suggesting that price appreciation of the land could make up for the losses incurred.
However, members of the archdiocesan college of consultors and finance body opposed the suggestion, saying the land legally belongs to them because they bought it with their own money. The consultors say income from its sale cannot be considered restitution of the losses.
More than 385 of about 400 priests in the archdiocese also signed a petition to the Vatican congregation rejecting the synod proposal.