India’s Cardinal Alencherry to face trial in land deal

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

March 17, 2023

By UCA News reporter

The top court in the country turns down an appeal by the Syro-Malabar Church head to quash seven criminal cases against him

India’s top court has dismissed an appeal by the head of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, to quash seven criminal cases against him in connection with a controversial land deal in his archdiocese.

A division bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Dinesh Maheshwari on March 17 turned down the 77-year-old cardinal’s appeal paving the way for him to face trial in land deals he executed some five years ago in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in southern Kerala state.

“It is not a final order. We will consult our experts and take further course of action legally,” said Father Antony Vadakkekara, spokesperson of the Sryo-Malabar Church, the second largest among the Eastern Churches.

“We have not yet received the copy of the order and we only know from the court proceedings that the cardinal’s appeal was dismissed,” the Vincentian priest told UCA News on March 17.

Cardinal Alencherry in April 2022 moved the Supreme Court against an August 2021 order of the Kerala High Court which directed him to face trial in seven criminal cases.

The cardinal also sought a stay on the high court order. However, the Supreme Court refused to accept it but agreed to hear his contentions.

Before the Kerala High Court, all the lower courts in Kerala asked the cardinal to face trial. 

The allegations against Cardinal Alencherry, who was named a cardinal in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, came to light in November 2017.

A group of priests in the archdiocese publicly accused him along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land over a period of two years, incurring a loss of US$10 million to the archdiocese.

The cardinal has denied the allegations but admitted before the Syro-Malabar Church Synod, the highest decision-making body, that there were administrative lapses and a lack of oversight on his part.

His supporters say the austere cardinal did not personally benefit from the deals and the archdiocese was trying to generate funds to pay off an accumulating bank loan.

After a sustained public campaign, the Vatican took away his administrative powers as archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, and now the archdiocese is run by an apostolic administrator.

Cardinal Alencherry, however, still holds his title as the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church with a population of more than half a million in India and abroad.