By JD Flynn, CNA
An Indian court has ruled that Cardinal George Alencherry will stand trial in a case related to controversial land deals in the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly.
The Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court ruled Aug. 24 that Alencherry, along with the former financial officer of the archdiocese and a real estate agent will face charges that the cardinal sold archdiocesan land at undervalued prices, for a loss of $10 million.
A court in the Indian state of Kerala initially registered a criminal case against Alencherry in April. The cardinal and his co-defendants filed a plea to dismiss the case, but this week’s ruling means the case will continue unless a higher court intervenes.
A spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church told CNA in July that Alencherry acted in good faith in the allegedly corrupt land deals and has the support of the Vatican.
Father Abraham Kavilpurayidathil, press officer for the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala state, told CNA that in his view, the land deal was more complicated than is usually reported, and that said that Alencherry’s actions were an effort to make the best decisions in an unexpected situation.
“A few pieces of land under the possession of the Archdiocese were sold, as per the decision taken collectively in the canonical bodies of the Archdiocese to repay the debt of the Archdiocese,” the priest said.
“But, the broker handed over only a part of the amount to the archdioceses in the stipulated time. When cardinal understood that the broker has not given the expected money, he prevailed on the broker to get two plots of land, which were under the possession of the broker, registered in the name of the archeparchy as security or pawn for the money due from him. By doing so, in fact, Cardinal Alencherry tried his best to save the archeparchy from the loss in the land sale deed. In fact, if the two lands registered in the name of the archeparchy are sold, the archeparchy would get financial profit and not loss.”
But the lawyer who argued against Alencherry’s motion said the court is “convinced that there are clear violations of law.”
“There are two complaints – writing the deed of the sale of property without even receiving any payment and selling the property belonging to the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese without communicating with any of the committees of the Church,” attorney Rajendran V, said, according to the New Indian Express.
Kavilpurayidathil claimed that the allegations against Alencherry are part of a coordinated attack against the cardinal.
“There have been attempts to defame Mar Alencherry by a small group who constantly demands that he should resign. For this purpose, somebody forged a few documents that show Cardinal transacted money to business firms, that he has membership in famous clubs, that he convened business meetings along with some other bishops of the Latin Church of Kerala in a commercial institution etc.,” he told CNA in July.
Regarding the news that Alencherry will face trial, Kavilpurayidathil blamed the cardinal’s detractors.
"The news as reported is the work of the dissident group as the case itself. It is true that cardinal lost in the lower court, but that is not the end. He will be making appeal to the High Court of Kerala in the due time," he said.
Alencherry’s lawyers have not yet said when the cardinal will appeal the court’s decision.