Indian court asks cardinal to appear for criminal trial

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

November 10, 2022

By UCA News Reporter

Cardinal George Alencherry has cases pending against him for the sale of Church land in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese

A top court in the southern Indian state of Kerala has dismissed an appeal by Cardinal George Alencherry seeking exemption from appearing in a district court in cases related to his alleged involvement in the sale of Church lands.

The Nov. 9 decision of the Kerala High Court effectively means the head of Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church will have to personally appear in a court in Ernakulam district in connection with the criminal cases pending against him.

Cardinal Alencherry had pleaded that the presence of his legal counsel be treated as his presence in court as he is “a senior citizen aged 77 years and the head of the Syro-Malabar Church” with duties like “performing religious ceremonies, rituals, including the ordination of bishops, priests, the consecration of churches” among other things.

The prelate further submitted that he had to render supervisory, administrative functions across 35 dioceses out of which 18 are outside Kerala while four are out of India. He is also president of the Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council and a member of the College of Cardinals, which requires him to attend meetings in Rome.

Justice Ziyad Rahman dismissed the cardinal’s pleas as “untenable” as the offenses alleged against him were serious and “punishable with imprisonment for seven years or more.”

The judge further observed that if the cardinal admittedly attends meetings across the globe including in Rome, then he is not under any physical difficulty that could prevent him from appearing in court, which is barely three kilometers from his official residence.

“Moreover, granting an exemption to the petitioner for the first appearance, in this case, would send a wrong message to society as well,” Rahman added.

The judge further asserted that the cardinal is not “entitled to any special privileges when he is brought before a court of law as an accused. The statutory mandate is over and above all the superiority the accused possesses or claims to have, by virtue of his position.”

The prelate is facing 14 criminal cases in connection with the dubious land deals executed in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese since his appointment as its head in May 2011.

Those accusing him of alleged corruption in the sale of Church lands claim a loss to the tune of US$10 million to the archdiocese.

These allegations forced the Vatican to curtail Cardinal Alencherry’s administrative powers and an apostolic administrator in June 2018.

However, the Vatican allowed him to continue as the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Chruch with Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese as his seat. 

Hundreds of Catholics in Ernakulam-Angamaly staged a torchlight protest in front of the Archbishop’s House demanding the prelate’s resignation as the Major Archbishop in wake of the court order.

The protestors said the prelate had brought shame to the entire Syro-Malabar Church and the Christian community in India.