சாந்தோம் சர்ச் ரூ1500 கோடி சொத்து ஊழல்கள் -ஆர்ச்பிஷப் மீது குற்றச்சாட்டு
Land-grabbing allegations against religious head
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
Chennai: Two Catholic organisations Forum for Catholic Unity and Federation of the Catholic Faithful have demanded the resignation of Rev A M Chinnappa,archbishop of Madras-Mylapore,charging him with alleged involvement in financial irregularities.The charges levelled by the fora against the bishop and some office bearers of the diocese include handing over of prime church properties worth close to Rs 1,500 crore to outsiders for paltry sums.
MG Devasahayam,a member of the Besant Nagar parish,who addressed media representatives along with LM Menezes,former Union secretary and a member of the Anna Nagar parish,said the archdiocese had several churches and schools under its jurisdiction that generated substantial revenue.But,there is hardly any accountability in the way money is spent.The administration of church properties and its educational institutions is mired in secrecy and the faithful have been taken for a ride by a group of people with vested interests, said Devasahayam.He said the diocese was planning to pull down several buildings in the city for re-development with a view to making realty gains.In this context,he cited the example of the Sacred Heart Church at Egmore,which could be demolished soon to construct a new shrine worth several crores of rupees.
The fora urged the government to enact legislation under article 25 and 26 of the Constitution to ensure proper administration of Christian institutions and assets across the country,adding that such provisions were already available for religious establishments of Hindus,Muslims and Sikhs.
The fora said that though they had levelled a series of charges in a letter to the archbishop over a year ago,he has not replied so far.Rev Chinnappa could not be reached for his comments.
CORRUPTION CHARGES AGAINST THE ARCHBISHOP OF MADRAS-MYLAPORE
Forum for Catholic Unity
Most Rev. Dr. A. M. Chinnappa
Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore
41, Santhome High Road,
Chennai – 600 004
Most Reverend Archbishop,
We the undersigned write to you with a heavy heart but with a full sense of responsibility for what we are saying on the distressing state of affairs in the Archdiocese under your stewardship. We have waited long enough but we see no light whatsoever at the end of the tunnel. We would be abdicating our sacred duty to Mother Church if we do not draw your attention, to the list of misdeeds that have rocked the Archdiocese in the past four years but which seem to have left you unmoved. We, therefore, have no alternative but to put these charges in writing.
We would not be vague but substantiate our contentions with specific instances:
1 A. Benz Garden Property belonging to Sir John D’Monte Trust*
Sometime in mid 2001, the then Property-in-charge, Fr. Lawrence Raj and Property Administrator Fr. Antony Devotta illegally put one Thiru Jeppiaar in possession of very high-value property (150 grounds) known as ‘Benz Garden’ in the Boat Club area of Raja Annamalaipuram, Chennai belonging to the John D’Monte Trust, which is a Religious & Charitable Trust. Your predecessor filed collusive suits with this Jeppiaar in the Madras High Court seeking to give these properties on long lease to Holy Satellite Town Ltd. and Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology, both represented by Jeppiaar. Hon’ble Madras High Court vide Judgment dated 06-03-2006 dismissed these suits and refused to give the sanction requested for.
Despite the lapse of over three-an-a-half years after the High Court judgment dismissing the suits, Thiru Jeppiaar continues with the illegal occupation and commercial enjoyment of this property. You as the ‘Sole Trustee’ of the Trust have taken no steps to vacate the illegal occupant and retrieve this very high value property worth at least a thousand crore of rupees for the Trust.
The same duo – Fr. Lawrence Raj and Fr. Antony Devotta – sometime in early 2002, put one M.G.M. Maran in possession of 50 Grounds in the same Benz Garden property without any valid document or orders from the competent court of law. Till date, despite notices and letters from concerned people you have not made any move at all tovacate the illegal occupants and retrieve for the Trust, this very high value property worth hundreds of crores of rupees.
Kindly enlighten us as to the status of this matter.
1 B. Messing up Benz Garden property again
You have also illegally entered into a deal and signed an MoU with a Bangalore party in 2007 to alienate the 150 grounds of land now occupied by Mr. Jeppiaar and have taken Rs. 5.00 crores as advance. This deal also has fallen through and the Bangalore party is demanding the return of the money with interest. You are unable to do so since the money has been squandered. Typical example is the Rs.1 crore you have given away to ‘your friend from Malaysia’ to construct a Community College project at Pannur near Thiruvallur. No college has been constructed. This ‘friend’ of yours has vanished and there is no trace of the money.
Please enlighten us as to the status of this matter.
2. D’Monte colony Property belonging to Sir John D’Monte Trust
This prime property of 186 grounds abutting the TTK Road and St. Mary’s Road (near Hotel Park Sheraton) in Raja Annamalaipuram is a case of deserted road, unoccupied houses, broken gates, wild creepers, dry leaves and eerie silence. All because of gross mismanagement and dereliction of duty. Rents in the commercial complex are ridiculously low and kept that way due to pecuniary considerations. Because of all this, the Trust, meant to look after the poorest of the poor, has lost tens of crores of Rupees.
What is worse, it is understood that in recent months land is proposed to be parceled out in plots of 4 to 8 grounds and deals are being struck with all and sundry for alienation/long-lease without any transparency and without complying with basic legal requirements. It is also learnt that the advocate on whose advice you appear to have relied and acted has burdened the Trust with a bill of about Rs. 35 lakhs for the ‘services rendered’.
Please enlighten us as to the status of this matter.
3. Proposal to construct ‘palatial and mighty’ Sacred Heart Shrine in Egmore
Your proposal to pull down an old and perfectly usable church at Egmore and construct a large shrine at a cost of Rs 9 crores has shocked the members of the archdiocese. The meeting convened by you to discuss fund raising for this project ominously points towards forcible extraction of money from Parishes, schools, colleges and other social development institutions.
We would like to refresh your memory of the major scandal surrounding the Irumbuliyur (Tambaram) plotted development scheme in your predecessor’s time. After selling the plots to hundreds of low income Catholics, it was discovered that the CMDA approval for the scheme was obtained fraudulently. In order to save the Archbishop and the Property in Charge from criminal charges, the buyers had to be paid back in full, with interest and penalty. This money was forcibly extracted from Parishes, Schools and colleges. It would have been yet another scandal if the students of these institutions had come to know where their money was going.
We caution you on trying to get so called “donations” from Parishes, schools, colleges and other institutions in the archdiocese. The worst fall out from such projects in Parishes is the widespread belief of people that they are mainly designed to siphon off money into private pockets. Our suspicion is borne out from the fact that recently huge embezzlement and defalcation of money has been unearthed from some schools with the amount running to several crores. In spite of receiving reports you have not initiated any action.
We expect you to immediately drop this totally ill considered proposal. It was a sad day for the Church in Chennai when the school in the Church premises, catering to the poorest children, was closed down abruptly in aid of this project and the children sent away.
4. Embezzlement and misappropriation of funds in the diocesan schools
There have been disturbing reports of embezzlement and misappropriation of crores of rupees from several schools and institutions under the control of this Archdiocese. There are reliable reports that the accounts are deliberately left unaudited and in a test-audit conducted recently ‘surplus funds’ to the tune of about Rs. 2.5 crores were unearthed in just a handful of schools. There are also reports brought to your notice and requests made to set up a Commission to enquire into the matter and find out the truth, but you ignored the request and allowed the sad state of affairs to continue.
There have been specific cases of some priests misappropriating huge amounts of money and going away to Kerala or USA with your blessings and support. The Mathew brothers and M. Anthonysamy, the Parish Priest of Erukkencherry are being cited as typical examples of embezzlement to the tune of several crores of rupees. There is widespread belief that you and some senior priests have brought the Diocesan Catholic schools and institutions into disrepute.
5. Encouraging priests to become real estate agents and construction contractors
There has been a most disturbing trend in this Archdiocese in the past few years, which is looked upon with utmost cynicism and deep suspicion by most members of the Church, and that is the wanton demolition of old and perfectly maintained church buildings on the excuse of providing more space and constructing bigger and grander buildings. Queenship of Mary (Chindadripettai), Vellankani Church Besantnagar), St. Louis Church, Adyar and the Santhome Basilica are a few examples.
Vast majority of upright and regular Church goers in the archdiocese are scandalized that some Parish Priests should spend a major portion of their time and energy in fund raising and land development and building construction work- with all the unsavoury connotations attached to them and the inescapable suspicions of misappropriation of funds which is inevitable in an opaque system of management and unaccountability.
Are you unaware, dear Archbishop that our builder priests compulsively associate with the wheeler-dealers of the real estate world and are constantly seen in their company, even at odd hours? Do you think that these are secrets unknown to the common laity?
All this seriously erodes the discharge of the Parish Priest’s legitimate and onerous responsibilities to his flock. He must set aside time to hear confessions. He has to make himself available to his people at all reasonable times. He must visit families in distress. When people have severe domestic problems, they often need the counsel of a kind and solicitous Priest. Then there are the large numbers of poor families, living on the edge, who look to the Parish Priest for a word of comfort. And over and above this, he must find time for prayer, recollection and preparation for his duties at the altar.
We are shocked to know that Fr. Lawrence Raj**, Parish Priest, Nungambakkam, proposes to demolish the perfectly preserved Saint Theresa’s Church, to construct a new one. This is being done, when the centenary of the Church building is in the year 2011. It is being planned in the Year of the Priests. It is pertinent to note that the two wings of the Church were added only 25 years back. This outrageous plan must be quashed at once.
And what is worse, many constructions taken up by Parish Priests are not in conformity with the planning laws and building rules and the priests brazenly proceed with the works, which raises disturbing questions of possible bribery of civic officials. What sort of example is this to the Parishioners and to the non Christians?
We expect you to immediately place a moratorium on the demolition and reconstruction of church buildings in the Archdiocese.
6. Harbouring and elevating a murder-accused as Chancellor***
Appointment of Fr. N. A. Charles Kumar, who was a prime accused in a murder case, as Chancellor of the Archdiocese , is an act of brazen insensitivity and an affront to the whole Church in Chennai.
When he was the parish priest of Our Lady of Purification Church, Manambathy Kandigai, now in Chengleput diocese, bifurcated from Madras-Mylapore, Fr. Charles Kumar was arrested and jailed for more than a month as the main accused in the murder of one Selvaraj, a school teacher. This arrest was made in full public view soon after he con-celebrated a wedding Mass in the Santhome Cathedral. This news was reported in all the Tamil daily newspapers and magazines. Out on bail, Fr. Charles Kumar was required to report to the Police Inspector at the Maduranthagam Police Station once in every fortnight.
On May 23, 2008, he was again arrested at the Chennai Airport while trying to board a flight to Germany in violation of the Court orders against his leaving the country. It is evident that he could not have obtained the German visa without your full support. By appointing such a person to the high office of Chancellor with powers and responsibility to oversee and guide the work of the clergy of the Archdiocese, you have not only acted against the grain of the Catholic Church but also grossly violated Canon Law 483:2 which reads: “The Chancellor… must be of unblemished reputation and above suspicion.”
We expect you to replace the Chancellor immediately.
7. The Syro-Malabar Rite Scandal
A few thousand Catholics of Syro Malabar Rite (SMR) live within the jurisdiction of the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese. Most of them had migrated here several decades ago and are fully assimilated in the local Church practicing Latin rites and are registered members of the parishes where they live. All the requirements of the Second Vatican Council and Canon Law are being fully met.
Efforts to separate the SMR population from the local Church started some time in 1979 but faced very strong opposition. However the Irinjalakuda Diocese managed to establish a pastoral centre at Ayyanavaram to attend to some matters concerning the welfare of the SMR population. But their repeated efforts to get a ‘personal parish’ for the SMR failed.
In a sinister move in December 2000, Ayyanavaram pastoral centre, functioning on behalf of Irinjalakuda Diocese in Kerala discreetly asked the diocese of Madras-Mylapore to return the ‘illicit property’ they hold and ‘clear their debts’ due to the true children of St. Thomas the Apostle i.e. SMR of Irinjalakuda in Kerala!
Since the matter was taking a disturbing dimension, and property-grabbing rather than piety appeared to be the motive behind SMR parish demand, it was brought before the Convention of Forum for Catholic Unity (FCU) on 11 November 2001, attended by over 100 laity and priests and an unanimous resolution was passed condemning the move
This resolution was conveyed to your predecessor and subsequently the matter was taken before the Diocesan Synod held in March 2003. Out of 407 members who attended the Synod, 368 voted. After serious debate wherein twenty members spoke, three questions were put forth for voting and the votes polled are as below:
Srl. No Question Votes
1. Should the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore grant 2 366
permission for Syro-Malabar Parishes?……..
2. May one Syro-Malabar parish which report to the 2 366
Arch Bishop of Madras Mylapore be granted?…..
3. Should all the parishes of Madras-Mylapore be 367 1
offered to Syro-Malabar Rite for services?……….
It was a total and unanimous rejection of separate Parish for SMR and full endorsement of the SMR population’s assimilation in the local Church. The matter ended there and the devious scheme of Irinjalakuda Diocese to ‘segregate’ the Malayalam speaking SMR population from the Tamil speaking Catholics collapsed. Not one Parish was granted. You had yourself issued the confirming declaration in December 2005 and written to the Bishop of Irinjalakuda stating the position.
But all of a sudden on 21 December 2008, you signed a decree granting ten (10) ‘personal parishes’ – Ayyanavaram, Otteri, Perambur, Avadi, Eranavoor, Mogappiar, Ambattur, Little Mount, Royapettah, Kodambakkom – to the SMR. You also issued a ‘Pastoral Letter’ in the matter directing the parish priests to undertake a virtual ‘racial profiling’ of SMR Catholics and segregate them from the Latin Catholics with whom they have been living for decades. Who gave you this authority.?
We expect you to rescind this decree at once.
8 Your legacy at Vellore Diocese
While as Bishop of Vellore, you had opened an official account in the name of “Most Rt. Rev. Dr. A.M. Chinnappa S.D.B. Ph.D” to receive and operate the foreign donations (regulated under FCRA) received by the Diocesan Society for projects and schemes to uplift Dalit Christians who constitute the vast majority of the diocesan population. On 03-05-2000, one Rex Jegaraj, a peon/attendant in your office, opened another account in the same bank in the name of ‘Bishop A.M. Chinnappa’. Thereafter, in league with the Bank manager, donation cheques received from abroad and to be deposited in the FCRA Account were illegally deposited into your private account and embezzled. This went on for six years and the amount embezzled is stated to be between Rs. 8-10 crores.
When there was a public outcry, a farce was enacted with one Fr. S. Daniel filing an FIR (No: 251/06 dated 04-07-2006 for offences under Sections 420, 408, 468 and 471 IPC registered at Viruchipuram P.S., District Vellore) against attendant Rex Jegaraj for embezzling Rs.1.45 lakhs from the private account mentioned above. At that time, this Rex Jegaraj was stated to own property and jewels worth about a crore of rupees!
All efforts by the Camp of the Laity to have the FIR properly investigated and the real culprits found out are being blocked. Even High Court orders in this matter are not being complied with.
Please enlighten us, as to where the matter stands.
The sad truth is that there is absolutely neither transparency nor accountability in the affairs of the Church in Chennai. You do not seem to be accountable to anyone. Your decisions in ecclesiastical as well as secular matters seem to be undemocratic, arbitrary and, often, whimsical, as evidenced in all the charges we have brought against you. And it is clear that the Priests are not accountable to you. On the other hand, WE ARE THE CHURCH. And in all matters, including purely lay matters, the laity is treated with scant respect, not worthy to be consulted or even recognized.
Dear Archbishop, it is not our intention to publicly scandalize the Catholic Church in Chennai. Nor is it our intention to publicly assail the reputations of the head of the Church in Chennai and the offending members of the clergy.
We expect a response from you on each of these matters within two weeks. In the Roman Catholic Year of the Priests, we sincerely hope that good sense will prevail.
In the event of your being unable to respond to this letter and take immediate and serious steps to set right the scandal, corruption and mismanagement which the Archdiocese is plagued with, we would strongly urge you to resign from your position forthwith and spare the Faithful the agony and shame they are going through every day.
Mr. M. G. Devasahayam IAS (Rtd) Besant Nagar Parish
Mr. A. F. Rajan Civil Engineer’s Consultant Annanagar Parish
Mr. L. M. Menezes IAS (Rtd) Former Secretary, Govt. of India Annanagar Parish
Mr. Felix Ryan Adviser to The United Nations & Environmental Specialist Little Mount Parish
Dr. J. Kuriakose Former Professor of Chemistry, Dean, Indian institute of Technology Chennai, Madipakkam Parish
Ms. Laura Shahani Founder of Non Profit PEACE Former Member, Executive Council, Kilpauk Parish
Mrs. May George Former Chief Engineer Taminadu Housing Board Luz Parish
Mr. Gerald Anthony Environmental and Social Activist Nungambakkam Parish
Leslic Prabhu, Ex. General Manager of a public Limited Company Pudupet Parish