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Plea for help from Sri Lanka: The Church of England Newspaper, June 13, 2014 June 26, 2014

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The Bishop in Jaffna, the Rt. Rev. Daniel S. Thiagarajah has called upon the Indian government to come to the aid of Tamils left destitute by the civil war in Sri Lanka. Speaking to the Times of India last week, Bishop Thiagarajah said the Church of South India has set up a relief centre in Jaffna to assist in the resettlement of refugees and to support widows and orphans, but private NGOs could not shoulder the entire burden. The Christian churches in Sri Lanka sought to foster ethnic reconciliation, reuniting Tamils and Sinhalese into a single nation.  “We are all one people. Ahead of us is a challenging task of rehabilitation of our people who have gone through the darkest period in our history,” the bishop said.

Church plea to save India’s forests: The Church of England Newspaper, June 6, 2014 June 17, 2014

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A pastoral letter issued by the Church of South India’s Bishop in Central Kerala has called for Christians to support a government plan to curtail development of the Western Ghats. A UNESCO recognised natural heritage site comprising a contiguous forested mountain range stretching from Kerala to southern Gujarat, the Western Ghats were the subject of a 2011 government report that recommended a halt to mining, deforestation and a strict limit on building. The Kerala and Goa state governments had fought implementation of the conservancy initiative as had the Catholic and Syro-Malabar Orthodox Church. However the pastoral letter read in churches on 1 June 2014 from the Rt. Rev. Thomas K. Oommen, Bishop in Central Kerala said conservation would benefit farmers.  Bishop Oomen’s letter, entitled “Let us raise our voice for the sustenance of life” said: ”Those who are against the Gadgil report have vested interests and there is nothing that is detrimental to the interests of the farmers.” The new BJP federal Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is expected to approve the conservation report as it had campaigned in favor of the reforms.

Bishops’ plea to vote against the BJP: The Church of England Newspaper, April 25, 2014 June 2, 2014

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The Moderator of the Church of South India has endorsed a joint pastoral letter with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Hyderabad calling upon Christians in Andhra Pradesh not to cast their votes in support of sectarian political parties in the forthcoming elections for the state assembly and India’s federal parliament, the Lok Sabha. In a letter read in the states’ churches on 13 April 2013, Bishop Govada Dyvasirvadam and Archbishop Thumma Bala asked Christians to “elect leaders who are close to people and their needs, and only vote for those who uphold secular character and promote communal harmony.” Bishop Dyvasirvadam told the Times of India he had taken the unprecedented step of offering political advice to protect Christians. “We are worried about the communal carnage that happened in Kandhamal, Orrisa and what is happening now. There could be a repeat in the state, if the voters do not take an anti-communal stand. We need a strong government to protect us,” Bishop Dyvasirvadam said.

New leaders for the Church of South India: The Church of England Newspaper, January 24, 2014 February 3, 2014

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The Rt Rev Govada Dyvasirwadam

A new moderator, deputy moderator and general secretary have been elected by the 34th meeting of the Church of South India’s (CSI) General Synod.

Meeting from 11-14 January 2014 in Vijayawada, Andrah Pradesh the 22 bishops from the four South Indian states and Jaffna in Sri Lanka, 135 presbyters and 275 lay members elected new the Bishop in the Diocese of Krishna-Godavari, the Rt. Rev. Govada Dyvasirvadam, to a two year term as moderator.

The Bishop in Madhya Kerala Diocese, the Rt. Rev. Thomas K. Oommen was elected Deputy Moderator and Dr. Rathnakara Sadananda, Professor of Theology at the Karnataka Theological College, was elected general secretary.

Sources in the Church of South India tell CEN the election marks a change in the church’s political power structure, with an “insider” elected moderator and “outsiders” untainted by the church’s past corruption scandals elected as deputy moderator and general secretary.

Ordained in 1978, the new moderator Bishop Dyvasirvadam was a lecturer then warden of Andrah Pradesh Theological College. From 1998 to 2001 he served as General Secretary of the CSI before his election as Bishop of Krishna-Godavari. At the 2012 meeting of synod he was elected deputy moderator of the CSI.

Bishop Oommen was elected Bishop in Madhya Kerala Diocese in 2011, and has gained the support of lay activists and reformers within the church.

First woman bishop for India consecrated: The Church of England Newspaper, October 4, 2013 p 44. October 15, 2013

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The Church of South India has consecrated its first woman bishop. On 29 Sept 2013 the Rev. E. Pushpa Lalitha was consecrated Bishop in Nandyal in the Southern Indian state of Andhra Predesh.

On 25 Sept the CSI’s Synod Executive selected Bishop-elect Lalitha from among four candidates short listed by the diocese to succeed the Rt. Rev. P.J. Lawrence.

Bishop-elect Lalitha (57) was born in Diguvappad village in the Kurnool district of Andhra Predesh in Southern India. Educated at Andhra Christian Theological College, she was ordained a priest in 1984. A Telugu speaker, she ministered in several villages before serving as the director of Vishranthi Nilayam in Bangalore and as the administrative head of the CSI’s women fellowship.

In a statement released on her behalf by the CSI, Bishop-elect Lalitha said: “My parents had decided to dedicate me to the lord even before I was born, as they had already lost two sons. My life has been God’s mercy, and I wish to be his servant for life.”

Among her priorities is the empowerment of women. “Be it any institution, women are always given second-rung treatment. We need to change that by promoting values that teach us to not to discriminate and treat all humans the same.”

“I hail from a village and my parents sold their land to educate me. I want every girl from such a background to get the best education possible. Only education can change lives,” she said.

“As a priest, my primary responsibility was towards my congregation. As a bishop, the responsibilities are much more,” she said.

Women were first ordained for the Church of South India – a united church formed from the merger of the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist and other Protestant denominations in 1947. The church at present has 110 women clergy.

India consecrates its first woman bishop: Anglican Ink, September 30, 2013 September 30, 2013

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The Church of South India has consecrated its first woman bishop.

On 29 September 2013 the Rt. Rev. E. Pushpa Lalitha was consecrated and installed as Bishop in Nandyal at Holy Cross Cathedral in Nandyal. She was selected by the CSI’s Executive Synod on 25 Sept from four candidates chosen by the diocese.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

India appoints its first woman bishop: Anglican Ink, September 28, 2013 September 28, 2013

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The Church of South India has appointed the subcontinent’s first woman bishop.  On 25 Sept 2013 the CSI’s Synod Executive selected the Rev. E. Pushpa Lalitha from among four candidates to be the next Bishop in Nandyal.

Bishop-elect Lalitha (57) was born in Diguvappad village in the Kurnool district of Andhra Predesh in Southern India. Educated at Andhra Christian Theological College, she was ordained a priest in 1984. A Telugu speaker, the Rev. Pushpa Lalitha ministered in several villages before serving as the director of Vishranthi Nilayam in Bangalore and as the administrative head of the CSI’s women fellowship.

In a statement released on her behalf by the CSI, Bishop-elect Lalitha said: “My parents had decided to dedicate me to the lord even before I was born, as they had already lost two sons. My life has been God’s mercy, and I wish to be his servant for life.”

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Synod brawl leads to bishop’s suspension: The Church of England Newspaper, April 21, 2013 p 6. April 22, 2013

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The Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth of the Church of South India has been suspended for assaulting the CSI’s General Secretary during the 25 Feb 2013 meeting in Chennai of the Synod Executive Council.

Spokesmen for the Bishop and the executive Council did not respond to requests for clarification but the anti-corruption lay group Youth4CSI reports the spat between the bishop and the Synod’s Executive Council is politically and financially motivated.

The altercation between Bishop J.A.D. Jebachandran and General Secretary M.M. Philip began when the bishop objected to the minutes of the Council’s January meeting that discussed the affairs of his diocese. After the general secretary declined to strike that portion of the minutes,  Bishop Jebachandran allegedly rose from his chair, grabbed Mr. Philip by his collar, took away his microphone, and shoved him away from the podium.

Uproar ensued, and a vote was taken by the Council to suspend the bishop. A formal notice of  suspension was subsequently served upon Bishop Jebachandran on 3 April 2013.

Indian bishop suspended for assault: Anglican Ink, April 11, 2013 April 12, 2013

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Bishop J.A.D. Jebachandran

The church of South India has suspended the Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth Diocese for assaulting the church’s general secretary during a meeting of the Synod’s Executive Council in February.

On 3 April 2013 Sun TV reported that moderator of the CSI, the Bishop in Kanyakumari Diocese G. Devakadasham, had assumed temporary oversight of the diocese following the suspension of Bishop J.A.D. Jebachandran  for assaulting General Secretary M.M. Philip.

Spokesmen for the bishop and the executive council did not respond to requests for clarification but the anti-corruption lay group Youth4CSI reports the spat between the bishop and the Synod’s Executive Council is politically and financially motivated.
Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Indian bishop jailed for forgery: The Church of England Newspaper, March 31 2013, p 7. April 3, 2013

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Manickam Dorai

A retired Bishop of the Church of South India (CSI) has been sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined Rs 15,000 for forgery and fraud.  The conviction of the Rt. Rev Devaraj Bangera, the former Bishop in the Karnataka Southern Diocese last week follows news that the Indian tax authorities have seized the assets of the former Bishop in Coimbatore, Manickam Dorai– who last year was defrocked by the CSI for fraud and theft.

On 20 March 2013 a judge in Mangalore sentenced Bishop Bangera after the trial court found he had forged his birth certificate in order to avoid mandatory retirement at age 65. Elected Bishop in 2005 the bishop declined to step down from office on his 65th birthday on 29 June 2009.  He presented a birth certificate showing he had been born in 1945 and brought suit to block his retirement.

However the newly appointed treasurer of the diocese, while investigating allegations of theft made against Bishop Bangera, uncovered a birth certificate dated 1944. An inquiry with the municipality that had allegedly issued in 1945 birth certificate found it was a forgery and bishop’s true birth year was 1944.  Bishop Bangera currently is on bail pending appeal.

Last month the Enforcement Directorate (ED) of the Indian tax authority attached properties registered in the name of the life and brother of the former Bishop in Coimbatore Manickam Dorai under the rules governing the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.  The levies came after the Tamil Nadu state police registered a case against Bishop Dorai and his brother for “misappropriation of Diocese funds, a public charitable trust, to the tune of Rs 7.93 crore” (£865,000).

In 2012 Bishop Dorai was defrocked by the CSI after he was found guilty of fraud and theft of church funds.

Church call to end nuclear power in India: The Church of England Newspaper, November 29, 2012 December 7, 2012

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The Church of South India has backed calls to decommission India’s nuclear power plants. In a statement released last week the Ecological Concerns Commission of the CSI’s General Synod said the church was in “full solidarity” the Koodankulam nuclear power plant protestors and wanted an end to nuclear power in India.

Construction has slowed to halt at the power station in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in the face of local protests. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the Russian state corporation Atomstroyexport are building two 1 Gigawatt reactors at a projected cost of £2.2 billion. When completed the water-cooled reactors will be the largest atomic power plant in India.

In September 2010 the executive committee of the CSI’s General Synod issued a statement expressing “her deep solidarity” with the protestors and said the “huge radioactive accumulations at the plant site could become the principal causes of environmental and health hazards” in the event of a disaster. On 27 October 2011 the CSI Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth JAD Jebachandran and approximately 100 clergy from his diocese joined local Roman Catholic leaders at Koodankulam offering their support to the anti-nuclear protestors.

But the moderator of the CSI, Bishop G. Davakadasham, said that the CSI’s House of Bishops at their 14 Feb 2012 meeting had declined to take a stand on the issue.

The 20 Nov 2012 statement from the Ecological Concerns Commission puts the issue back before the wider Indian church. They called for India to close down its nuclear power plants and begin work on renewable energy projects.  They urged the government to invest in solar power and begin a nationwide education programme teaching villagers how to recycle, reduce pollution and conserve energy.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Court overturns church college appointment: The Church of England Newspaper, October 28, 2012 p 7. October 30, 2012

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The American College, Madurai India

An Indian court has overturned the appointment of the head of the Church of South India’s American College, saying the late bishop in Madurai-Ramnad had colluded with his son-in-law to engineer the younger man’s appointment as principal.

Elected bishop in Madurai-Ramnad in 2003, Bishop Asir was also elected deputy moderator of the CSI in 2008.  In 2010 he stood for election as Moderator, but lost by 8 votes.

At the time of his death in February 2012, Bishop Christopher Asir had been fighting tax fraud charges brought by the Indian government. The District Revenue Collector of Madurai had charged the bishop with being part of a criminal ring that had defrauded the diocese of £925,000 by selling college land and pocketing the proceeds.

In response to a lawsuit brought by a member of the staff, on 15 Oct 2012 Justice Vinod Kumar Sharma quashed the appointment of M. Davamani Christober as principal of the church-owned college.  The court accepted the petitioner’s claim the bishop and his son-in-law had created a search committee composed of their cronies and had participated in subsequent board meetings “without revealing the fact that Mr. Christober had applied to the post of Principal as early as February 21, 2011. It is clear proof of collusion between the two.”

However, the court did not rule on the claim the appointment had been engineered to cover up the bishop’s alleged thefts.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 54, October 26, 2012 October 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Anglican Consultative Council, Anglican Covenant, Anglican.TV, Canon Law, Church of England, Church of Nigeria, Church of North India, Church of South India, Fort Worth, Persecution, Zimbabwe.
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In this weeks episode Kevin and George bring an update on the Diocese of South Carlina and their separation from the Episcopal Church. Also this week they talk about Women’s Ordination and the new task force created by the Anglican Church in North America. And what episode would be complete without news from one of the broken Anglican “Instruments of Unity”. Peter talks about the reality of Women Bishops in England and Allen Haley guildes the viewer thru the Kangaroos courts found in Title IV. Comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU54

CSI moderator to clean up the Indian church: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 6. September 26, 2012

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Former CSI General Secretary Pauline Sathiamurthy

Anti-corruption activists in the Church of South India have applauded a series of reforms instituted by the church’s new moderator the Bishop in Kanyakumari, Gnanasigamony Devakadasham, to clean up the scandal plagued church.

Bishop Devakadasham  has appointed Adrian Rozario to serve as the CSI synod’s chief legal adviser, the Youth4CSI website reports.  Mr. Rozario spearheaded the investigation into the misappropriation of Tsunami relief funds donated by Episcopal Relief and Development to the Church of South India.

In 2009 detectives from the Central Crime Branch of the Madras police arrested the former General Secretary of the Church of South India (CSI) Dr Pauline Sathiamurthy on charges of stealing almost £1 million of the £2.2 million donated by Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD) to the CSI to help in relief efforts following the 2004 tsunami.

Dr Sathiamurthy, her husband, daughter and nephew were arrested on 13 Oct 2009 following a 10-month investigation by police. The alleged thefts came to light in 2007 when the Rev Moses Jayakumar was appointed General Secretary of the CSI in succession to Dr Sathiamurthy. Upon assuming office Fr Jayakumar found that a request for an accounting for the funds from ERD had been ignored by Dr Sathiamurthy and that the NGO had cut off funding pending an audit.

The CSI asked retired Madras High Court Judge J Kanagaraj to head the committee charged with investigating the defalcation. Dr Sathiamurthy declined to cooperate but Judge Kanagaraj found that she had appointed her husband to oversee the construction of houses built for survivors of the tsunami, her daughter to head up medical relief efforts, and her nephew to serve as a liaison officer for tsunami rehabilitation work — all at inflated salaries.

In December 2008 Fr Jayakumar turned the Judge Kanagaraj’s report over to the police and appointed Mr. Rozario to serve as the church’s attorney in the affair. The police began a criminal investigation and arrested Dr. Sathiamurthy. The daughter of the former moderator of the CSI and Bishop in Tiruchi-Thanjavur, Dr. Solomon Doraisawmy, Dr. Sathiamurthy was subsequently released on bail and has since absconded.

Following the election of the Bishop in Karnataka Central Diocese S. Vasanthakumar as moderator of the CSI in January 2010, the new moderator replaced Mr. Rozario as the church’s attorney.  Bishop Vasanthakumar, who was the subject of corruption and abuse of office claims and whose election as moderator was marred by accusations of vote buying, served as Deputy Moderator of the CSI when the Tsunami funds were stolen.

Under Bishop Vasanthakumar, the CSI declined to press the police to track down Dr. Sathiamurthy and recover the stolen funds.  With Mr. Rozario’s return to office, anti-corruption activists hope new interest will be shown by the church in resolving the scandal.

India’s Christian Divorce Act questioned: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 6. September 25, 2012

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The Karnataka High Court has asked the Church of South India and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangalore to respond to a challenge to the constitutionality of the Indian Divorce Act.

Section 10A of the Indian Divorce Act 1869 requires a two year separation before a decree of divorce is granted to Christian couples. Attorneys have challenged the two year rule, noting that the Hindu and Parsi Marriage Act have a one year separation rule. The Kerala High Court has already ruled the Act discriminates against Christians under Articles 14 and 21 of the country’s constitution.

On 14 Sept 2012 Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen declined to follow the Kerala decision, ruling the country’s principle Christian churches should be solicited for their views before a decision is made. “Divorce in haste makes a marriage waste,” the Chief Justice noted.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Attack on Bible Study leaves 1 dead in India: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7. September 13, 2012

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Hindu nationalists attacked a Church of South India (CSI) prayer meeting last week in Tamil Nadu, leaving one man dead and a dozen injured.

On 26 August 2012 supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)attempted to break up a prayer service led by a CSI minister at the home of one of his parishioners in Sasthancode village in the Diocese of Kanyakumari.  One church member is alleged to have invited a friend, a Hindu woman, to attend the Bible study, prompting protests from Hindu militants the pastor was seeking to convert Hindus to Christianity. Two Christians were hospitalized following the attack and the melee spread to the neighboring village of Nadaikavu where a Christian man, Edwin Raj (29), was allegedly beaten to death by Hindu extremists.

The Indian press reports the police have charged seven BJP party members in connection with the attack and are also seeking to question the Kanyakumari district BJP party chief over his role in the pogrom.  A curfew and ban on public assembly was also imposed by police on 29 August to prevent further violence.

The BJP is alleged to have tested police resolve by staging a protest march the next day.  Approximately 800 BJP cadres including the Tamil Nadu BJP party leader, Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan, were arrested on 30 August in Marthandam.

BJP national secretary Muralidhar Rao denounced the arrests saying the incident was a Christian provocation.  “This entire act of falsely implicating the BJP leader and innocent people was part of the attempt by police to please local churches and Christians at the behest of certain political leaders,” he said in a statement to the press.

Mr. Rao said the invitation to a Hindu woman to attend a Bible study angered local Hindus.  The local BJP party chief had been present in an attempt to defuse the tension, however the violence began when members of the Bible study attacked Hindu protestors.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told the Catholic news service, AsiaNews the situation in Kanyakumari was “rapidly deteriorating.”

“The central government and that of Tamil Nadu must do something. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the basis of any healthy society. Such hostility and intolerance are a bad omen for India. If the whole population is not guaranteed freedom of worship, Christians could become second class citizens,” he said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Hindu state prayers draw protests from church leaders: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 August 19, 2012

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A Hindu priest in Karnataka performing an abhishekha by pouring libations on the image of the deity being worshiped, amidst the chanting of mantras.

Government plans to pay Hindu temples to offer prayers to propitiate the gods and ask for rain for the drought stricken Karnataka State in Southern India have prompted outrage by Church leaders and secularists. The BJP-led state government’s funding for Hindu rituals violates India’s secular constitution, critics charge, and will inflame sectarian tensions.

Last month the Karnataka Department of Revenue released a circular to 34,000 Hindu temples asking it to conduct “abhishekha”, “varuna mantra”, “jalabhishekha and other rituals on 27 July and 2 August as it was “convinced” that it was necessary to conduct these rituals in view of the seveare drought, and “for the welfare of people and cattle”. Upon performing the prayers, the government led by Jagadish Shettar would give each temple Rs 5000.

India’s monsoon June to September monsoon season began late this year and has so far provided inadequate rains, leading to fears of famine. The northern Indian states of Haryana and Punjab, which produce over 60 per cent of India’s grain crop has seen 65 per cent less rain this year than the long-term average, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi reports.

Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 percent below its average, sparking fears of drought. “Lack of rain is a worry for everyone … Let everyone pray for rain. But we cannot approve of the government spending money to conduct prayers in temples,” the Rt. Rev. John S. Sadananda, Bishop in the Karnataka Southern Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI), told ENI.

“The government should have spent that money to help farmers” affected by the drought the bishop said.

Writing in Mainstream magazine, Fr. Ambrose Pinto SJ of St Joseph’s College in Bangalore said the state’s support of one religious faith violates the Indian constitution.

Article 27 of the Indian Constitution “rules out public funding of religion,” he noted, but the Karnataka government “has extensively funded religious groups.”

Fr. Pinto added the constitution’s “Article 15(1) states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion. With the grant of money to temples and issue of circular to conduct rituals there to bring down rain from heavens, the State has violated all these norms.”

Indian secularism is committed to the idea of “principled distance” from all religions and strict neutrality in matters of religious practices, he argued. “It is only when the state maintains an equal distance from all religions, the state can put an end to inhuman practices of religions like untouchability, child marriages and devadasi system and initiate progressive changes by framing laws towards communities oppressed and suppressed sometimes with the legitimacy derived from religion.”

The BJP government in Karnataka has abandoned the progressive principles of a modern democratic society and was “taking people back into superstitions, encouraging beliefs and myths. It is in the interest of the secular state therefore citizens irrespective of religions may have to come together to defeat the sinister designs of the State Government,” Fr. Pinto said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Indian bishop suspended for corruption: The Church of England Newspaper, June 24, 2012. June 25, 2012

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T. Samuel Kanaka Prasad

The Church of South India’s Bishop in Medak, the Rt. Rev. T. Samuel Kanaka Prasad has been suspended for corruption by the Synod Executive Committee.

In a letter to the bishop dated 9 June 2012, the Moderator of the CSI Bishop G. Devakadasham stated the Synod Executive Committee had voted on 24 April for suspension in the face of prima facie evidence of corruption, but had been unable to enforce the decision due to a court order blocking the decision secured by Bishop Prasad.  However, when the order lapsed on 5 June, the Executive Committee was free to enforce its decision, and ordered Bishop Prasad to step aside, the moderator said.

Bishop Prasad is the second bishop this year to be disciplined by the CSI. On 9 January 2012 the moderator announced that the trial court for bishops had deposed the Bishop in Coimbatore, the Rt. Rev. Manickam Dorai for corruption.  However, corruption remains widespread in the Indian church, lay activists charge, telling The Church of England Newspaper that only “8 or 9” of the CSI’s 21 current bishops were untainted by corruption charges.

One of India’s wealthiest dioceses, the Hyderabad-based Medak diocese has witnessed legal and physical fights between the bishop and his opponents.  On 10 June 2012, the Deccan Chronicle reported that police were called out to separate the bishop’s men from anti-corruption activists who rallied for Bishop Prasad to go.

In his letter to Bishop Prasad, the Moderator accused him of “not functioning and discharging the responsibilities of Bishop of CSI Medak Diocese in accordance with the provisions of the constitution of the CSI, the directions of the Synod or its Executive Committee and the Council of Bishops.”

“In particular it was brought to the notice of the Executive Committee that you are misusing your position as Bishop, acting as attorney of the CSITA even after the lapse of the power of attorney and committing various illegalities in the administration, supervision and preservation of the properties of the Church. The members expressed shock and anxiety over the same and demanded immediate action against you by the Synod.”

CSI Deputy Moderator Bishop G. Dyvasirvadam of Krishna Godavari was appointed Moderator’s Commissary for Medak by the Executive Committee following Bishop Prasad’s suspension, and a nine-member administrative committee led by a retired Director General of Police has been charged with auditing the diocese’s books.

In addition to accusations of financial malfeasance, Bishop Prasad has been charged with violating canon and civil corporate law.  In 2011 Bishop Prasad banned his opponents from standing for election to the diocesan council and waived rules that forbade sitting council members from serving more than two consecutive terms – subsequently producing a council composed of the bishop’s cronies.

The CSI General Synod refused to recognize the election and attempted to block the seating of the diocese’s delegates at its January meeting to elect a new primate.  However, Bishop Prasad was able to secure a court order allowing his men to be seated at the 33rd meeting of Synod.

The anti-corruption pressure group, the CCC [Christ-Centered Coalition] applauded the Synod’s decision to suspend Bishop Prasad, but asked whether its decision was influenced by Bishop Prasad’s support for the losing candidate in the election for moderator this year.

“What is disconcerting is the double standards being applied by the current synod administration in handling cases of Episcopal corruption,” the CCC said.  The CSI Moderator had allowed the Bishops in Rayalaseema and Dornakal to retire rather than face corruption investigations.  “Is it only a coincidence that both the Rayalseema and Dornakal bishops who supported Moderator Devakadasham and his deputy Dyvasirvadam at the Synod polls in January have got away with their crimes while Bishop Kanaka Prasad who supported their opponents (the Bishops in Madras and Karimnagar) has had punitive action taken against him,” the CCC asked.

Bishop Prasad did not respond to our request for comments, but his son, William Carry told the Deccan Chronicle his father would fight the suspension.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church of South India Trust Association fails government audit: The Church of England Newspaper, June 10, 2012 p 6. June 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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An environment conducive to fraud and corruption surrounds the business practices of the Church of South India (CSI), a government investigation has found. A report prepared by auditors from the Indian government’s Registrar of Companies (RoC) listed 27 violations in the management and practices of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA).  Unless reforms are immediately implements, the trust that holds title to the church’s property may be liquidated or lose its not-for-profit status.

Charted as a not-for-profit corporation under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act of 1956, the CSITA is not required to register a minimum share capital, need only maintain business records for the previous four years, and may increase the number of company directors without prior government approval.  In return, the CSITA is required to use its income for the furtherance of the mission and ministry of the CSI and not distribute dividends to its members.

In a report dated 22 May 2012, the RoC notified the members of the CSITA’s management committee that it had concluded the CSITA’s income was not being used for furthering the objects and purposes of the trust.  The Balance Sheet and Income Expenditure statement of the CSITA for the last four years “do not give a true and fair view of the state of affairs of the company,” the RoC report said.

Nor were transactions properly recorded, the report said as “no details of fixed assets/immovable properties, secured loans, sale of property, sale consideration, purchase of property, receipt of foreign contribution, income and expenditure of other dioceses, units or sub-units reflect in the Balance Sheet and books of accounts of the company.”

The CSI has been plagued by financial scandals in recent years with only “8 or 9” of its 21 current bishops untainted by corruption charges, the lay-led anti-corruption group, the CCC has reported.  Lay leaders have pushed for greater transparency from the bishops and executive committee of the general synod, but have so far been unable to receive an accounting.

On 1 Feb 2010, Dr. John Dorai, the general secretary of the CSITA Beneficiaries Association – a lay advocacy group in the church – filed a complaint requesting the RoC examine the accounts of the CSITA.  The CSITA, through the its secretary, M.M. Philip – who also serves as General Secretary of the CSI – fought the request through the courts.  However in a ruling released on 22 March 2012, Justice S. Rajeswaran of the Madras High Court ordered the CSITA to turn over its records to the RoC.

“Now we know why the CSITA tried so hard to prevent the RoC from doing its statutory duty,” the CCC said after the report was released, stating it was a “scathing indictment of how the church leadership (mis)manages the CSITA.”

“Given the seriousness of the violations unearthed by the RoC, the CSI leadership has no choice now but to put in place mechanisms to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Companies Act,” the CCC said, noting that “any continued violations could attract more stringent penalties including imprisonment.”

The CSITA did not respond to our requests for comments.  But it has been given 10 days to review the findings of the RoC and to offer comments or corrections.  If none are forthcoming the report will be finalized by the RoC.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

CSI ordered to open its books: The Church of England Newspaper, March 30, 2012 p 7. March 29, 2012

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Anti-corruption activists scored a significant legal victory in India after the Madras high court ruled the trust that holds the assets of the Church of South India (CSI) was a corporation under the Companies Act and must submit is financial accounts for inspection.

In a ruling dated 1 March 2012 but released on 22 March, Justice S. Rajeswaran held the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA) must turn over its records to the government’s Registrar of Companies (RoC) for inspection.  A spokesman for the CCC (Christ Centered Campaign) applauded the decision saying the anti-corruption coalition believed that in light of the church’s stonewalling of past government queries into the misuse of funds, “there is little doubt the RoC will now conduct an aggressive inspection of the CSITA which will result in a lot of skeletons tumbling out of its cupboard.”

Long plagued by financial scandals only “8 or 9” of the CSI’s 21 current bishops are untainted by corruption charges, the CCC has reported.  Lay leaders have pushed for greater transparency from the bishops and executive committee of the general synod, but complain of being stymied by the church.

On 1 Feb 2010, Dr. John Dorai, the general secretary of the CSITA Beneficiaries Association – a lay advocacy group in the church – filed a complaint requesting the RoC examine the accounts of the CSITA.  The CSITA, through the its secretary, M.M. Philip – who also serves as General Secretary of the CSI – responded by saying Dr. Dorai had no standing to press his case.

“The complainant Mr John S. Dorai is not a member of the CSITA and is a stranger and as such any representation by a stranger is void,” Mr. Philip told the RoC and stated the complaint should be “brushed aside and needs to be disposed off without any merit.”  However, on 1 Aug 2011, the RoC upheld Dr. Doria’s request for an inspection and ordered the CSITA to open its books to government inspectors on 12 Sept 2011.

The CSI asked for a week’s delay, and then filed a motion with the Madras High Court and received an injunction forbidding the RoC to investigate the church’s trust holdings.

In his ruling lifting the stay, Justice Rajeswaran held the CSITA was subject to the rules of the Companies Act.  The arguments offered by counsel for CSITA were of no merits,” the court held, adding that it was the “duty of the directors and other officers or the employees of the company to provide all the assistance for such inspection of the records.”

The judge agreed with the RoC that the CSITA “is a habitual defaulter in filing the statutory returns in time and also not in the habit of replying to the genuine queries raised by the first respondent regarding the complaints received against the company.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Indian bishops pull back from anti-nuclear protests: The Church of England Newspaper, March 16, 2012 p 6. March 22, 2012

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Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant

The House of Bishops of the Church of South India will not back its bishops of Tamil Nadu in their fight against the construction of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant .

Speaking to the Times of India last week, the moderator of the CSI, Bishop G. Davakadasham said that while CSI bishops from the far South had joined with the Roman Catholic Tamil Nadu Bishops Council in protesting government support for the project, the House of Bishops declined to endorse their stand at their 14 Feb 2012 meeting following the meeting of the general synod.

On 27 October 2011 the CSI Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth, the Rt Rev JAD Jebachandran and approximately 100 clergy from his diocese joined local Roman Catholic leaders at the construction site of the Koodankulam nuclear power station. They gave their blessing to the anti-nuclear protestors, saying the Russian-built plant was a danger to the community.

Construction has slowed to halt at the power station in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the Russian state corporation Atomstroyexport are building two 1 Gigawatt reactors at a projected cost of £2.2 billion. When completed the water-cooled reactors will be the largest atomic power plant in India.

However, local residents have opposed the programme blocking highways to construction traffic and staging hunger strikes to halt the building. In September the executive committee of the CSI’s General Synod issued a statement expressing “her deep solidarity” with the protestors and said the “huge radioactive accumulations at the plant site could become the principal causes of environmental and health hazards” in the event of a disaster.

Last week the Catholic bishops’ conference protested moves by the government to tighten restrictions on church-affiliated NGOs.  Bishop A M Chinnappa told reporters the Catholic Church had requested the “PM to stop harassing the Christian minority”.

The government has expelled a number of overseas church workers and blocked the visas of a group from the Japanese city of Fukushima – the epicenter of the 2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake that led to a crisis at that city’s nuclear power plant.

However, the CSI declined to follow the Catholic lead.  At the last House of Bishops meeting, the moderator said that the bishops agreed that “both the public and nation’s interest should be protected.”

A second bishop confirmed to the Times of India that “we discussed the on-going protests against the Koodankulam project. Bishops from south Tamil Nadu expressed their support for the protestors. But few other Bishops did not accept the argument. So we did not take any stand on the issue.”

CSI bishop suspended for corruption: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2012, p 6. February 17, 2012

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Bishop K.B. Yesuvaraprasad

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Church of South India has placed the Bishop in Rayalaseema on terminal leave in the wake of corruption allegations leveled by members of the diocese.

Last week the newly elected Moderator of the CSI, Bishop G. Devakadasham reported he had removed Bishop K.B. Yesuvaraprasad from office and appointed the Deputy Moderator, Bishop G. Dyvasirvadam as his commissary pending the election of a new bishop.

Elected bishop in 2006 of the diocese located in India’s South Central Andhra Pradesh State, Bishop Yesuvaraprasad (whose name means ‘Gift of Christ’) has enjoyed a turbulent tenure.

Shortly after his election, the bishop allegedly abrogated the diocesan constitution and appointed supporters to key positions on the diocesan council, while leaving other seats vacant.  In November 2009 a criminal complaint was filed against the bishop by Dr. Thomas Reddy accusing the bishop and his treasurer of stealing £100,000 from diocesan coffers.

The bishop allegedly was also involved in selling diocesan assets given to the diocese by th e London Missionary Society for his own benefit, mortgaging diocesan properties and keeping the proceeds, and collecting rents on diocesan properties and not turning them over to the diocese.  A 2010 report commissioned by the CSI Synod estimated the bishop and his cronies had cost the church £765,000 in defalcations and had committed a “serious offence and breach of trust.”

The bishop and his confederates were also accused of offering no-bid contracts for building projects and receiving kickbacks in return from the contractors.  The total amount of the thefts is so far unknown, but a criminal investigation into the bishop’s conduct is on-going.

However, the 2010 synod investigation found that it was not out of “ignorance” that these actions occurred.  The bishop and his cronies had engaged in a “deliberate attempt to misuse the funds and also to harm the diocese.”

The anti-corruption watchdog, CCC, commented that while it was pleased the bishop had been stood down from office, it noted that he was scheduled to retire in March 2012 anyway.  It would be a “crying shame” to allow the bishop to “retire quietly and draw a pension after committing heinous crimes against the church.”

However, the CCC said it did not expect “any action” to be taken.  The terminal leave imposed on the bishop was “largely inconsequential,” but criminal charges lodged by the members of the diocese were outstanding.

Of the CSI’s 21 diocesan bishops, only “8 or 9” were untainted by corruption scandals, the CCC reported.  “That the CSI Synod has turned a blind eye to [Bishop Yesuvaraprasad’s] crimes and not registered even one criminal complaint against him will always stand as stark testimony to the corruption and incompetence that has been the hallmark of successive Synod administrations,” it said.

Bishop Yesuvaraprasad and the CSI synod’s offices concerning the bishop’s suspension and the outstanding criminal charges were not answered as of our going to press.

Bishop fighting tax fraud charges dies: The Church of England Newspaper, February 10, 2012, p 6. February 17, 2012

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Bishop Christopher Asir

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A bishop fighting tax fraud charges brought by the Indian government has died.  On 3 February 2012 the former Deputy Moderator of the Church of South Indian and current Bishop in Madurai-Ramnad, the Rt. Rev. A. Christopher Asir, died at the Madurai Meenakshi Mission Hospital from cancer.  He was 64.

Elected bishop in Madurai-Ramnad in 2003, Bishop Asir was elected deputy moderator of the CSI in 2008.  In 2010 he stood for election as Moderator, but lost by 8 votes to Bishop S. Vasanthakumar.

Last month Bishop Asir was called to testify before the District Revenue Collector of Madurai to respond to charges that he had been part of a criminal ring that included a serving government minister that had defrauded his diocese of £925,000 by selling church land and pocketing the proceeds.

Bishop Christopher Asir and Mr. M.K. Alagiri – the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers – were ordered to appear before the tax authority on 4 Jan 2012 following a year long investigation into the bishop’s stewardship of church lands.

On 28 Jan 2011 Justice V. Kuruppiah of the Madras High Court directed the police to investigate Bishop Asir, Mr. Alagiri and Pauline Sathyamurthy, the former treasurer of the CSI who is currently being sought by police in connection with the theft of tsunami relief funds for selling land given to the diocese by an American mission society for £2.2 million and then pocketing £925,000 of the proceeds.

A prima facie case of malfeasance was found to have occurred by the district officer and the case passed to his superiors for investigation.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 28: February 13, 2012 February 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Albany, AMiA, Anglican.TV, CAPA, Church of England, Church of South India, Civil Rights, Development/Economics/Govt Finances, Women Priests.
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This week Kevin and George take on the year 1662 and the missing 2500 Anglican Clergy. Also, your hosts talk about CAPA and DEPO and how they are relevant or no longer relevant today. Peter Ould covers last weeks events in the Church of England. AS Haley and Kevin discuss Obamacare and the 13th Chime of the Clock. Oh… and how many AMiA parishes are moving to PEAR or ACNA?

Indian diocese loses court bid to keep church properties: The Church of England Newspaper, February 3, 2012, p 6. February 10, 2012

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

In a ruling handed down last week the Karnataka High Court held that the transfer of properties — including 50 church buildings — in 1972 from a property trust created by the United Basel Mission Church in India (UBMC) to the Church of South India (CSI) Trust Association following the merger of the two denominations is void.

The court ordered the CSI Trust to turn over the former UBMC properties to trustees appointed by the court and to provide an accounting of net income generated from the properties since their purported transfer in 1972.

If the ruling is upheld on appeal to the Indian Supreme Court, it could strip the CSI Diocese of Southern Karnataka of the bulk of its properties. However, as the case has taken 43 years to reach this stage, a final disposition is not expected soon due to India’s clogged civil court system.

Founded in 1815 by German and Swiss missionaries as a non-denominational Protestant body, the UBMC began work on the Malabar Coast south of Bombay in what is now the state of Karnataka in 1834. Over time the church formed three geographically distinct branches in Malabar, Bombay Karnataka, and South Kanara and Coorg. The three congregationally organized churches were locally governed but shared a common general synod.

In 1947 the Malabar and Bombay branches of the UBMC joined the newly formed Church of South India. The South Kanara and Coorg branch joined the CSI in 1961. However, litigation ensued following the 1961 merger with four members of the church arguing that the merger of the congregationalist UBMC and the episcopal Church of South India as well as the exclusion of Luther’s Shorter Catechism from the liturgy of the CSI violated the UMBC’s founding theological principles.

In 1968 a Mysore court ruled in favour of the CSI, holding that the doctrine of the UBMC and CSI were substantially similar and did not violate the UBMC’s principles. The case was appealed and in 1974 the Mysore high court reversed itself, finding that the differences in worship between the UBMC and the CSI were sufficient as to have injured the plaintiff’s right to worship under the UBMC liturgy. The case was appealed to India’s Supreme Court and in 1988, 27 years after the suit was initiated, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the CSI and approved the merger.

A second suit over the trusteeship of the properties was brought in 1968 asking the Mysore court to clarify its ruling as regards to the trusteeship of the UBMC properties. The property case was stayed pending the Supreme Court ruling and was relaunched following the 1988 ruling.

In its decision, the Karnataka High Court reported that the original UBMC Trust Association, created in the 1930s, had been revoked by the UBMC in 1957 and the trust wound up in 1972 after the property was transferred to the CSI Trust Association. The decision by Division Bench consisting of Justice N Kumar and Justice AN Venugopala turned on the common law principle of the statute of frauds and rejected pleas from the CSI that its canons ruled the property dispute.

As a matter of law, the courts ruled that they were bound by the rules governing the transfer of property and trusts. When the UBMC Trust Association was created, it took the legal form of a “public trust”. The court held that under Indian trust law the creator of a public trust had “no right to revoke the public trust”.

Accordingly the 1957 revocation was void ab initio, as was the subsequent transfer to the CSI Trust. The properties belonged to the public, charitable and religious trust formed by the UBMC in the 1930s, the court ruled, and as there were no existing trustees the court had the responsibility to appoint new trustees on behalf of the state to manage the properties according to the terms of the original trust.

The CSI Trust Association may appeal the ruling within 90 days to the Indian Supreme Court, but may not alienate any of the properties pending adjudication of the appeal.

Indian bishop sacked for theft: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 7. January 24, 2012

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Bishop Dorai leaving the CSI synod hall after being turned away on 13 Jan 2012 : Photo CCC

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A trial court of the Church of South India (CSI) has found the Bishop in Coimbatore guilty of misconduct and directed he be removed from office and deposed from ordained ministry.

On 9 January 2012 the Moderator of the CSI, the Rt. Rev. S. Vasanthakumar released a letter written to the clergy of the diocese reporting that the synod court had “unanimously passed the sentence that Bishop Manickam Dorai cannot be continued as Diocesan Bishop any longer.”

The “Bishopric of the Coimbatore Diocese has become vacant with immediate effect,” the letter stated, and as per the CSI’s canons, the moderator of the CSI will serve as diocesan bishop until a new bishop is elected. Bishop Vasanthakumar asked the clergy to “kindly make an announcement of the above mentioned facts during the worship services in your churches” on 15 January.

On 2 July 2010 the executive committee of the CSI’s General Synod placed Bishop Dorai on an indefinite leave of absence and dissolved the diocese’s executive council. The bishop and his cronies were accused of embezzling diocesan funds and taking kickbacks on construction projects amounting to over £500,000.

An October 2010 report by a fact finding committee led by retired Karnataka High Court Justice Michael Saldhana found evidence of criminal behavior by the bishop. It said Bishop Dorai had pledged diocesan bank accounts, trust funds and pension funds as collateral for personal loans, sold admissions to diocesan schools, took kickbacks on building contracts and diverted diocesan funds for his personal use. They found the bishop had authorized the sale of diocesan property to real estate developers at approximately 20 per cent of their market value, in return for what the committee believed were kickbacks from the real estate developers.

“These transactions are not a mere case of mismanagement but point to rank dishonesty and criminality,” the committee said.

On 17 May 2011 the Crime Branch-CID of the Tamil Nadu Police filed a 500 page charge sheet with the Chief Magistrate in Coimbatore, accusing Bishop Dorai, his two brothers, and four other accomplices with defrauding his diocese of over £500,000. The former bishop’s criminal trial is expected to begin later this year sources tell The Church of England Newspaper.

The former bishop’s removal from the ministry must be affirmed by the CSI Synod executive committee, which is scheduled to meet later this month in Kanyakumari. However, his dismissal has already been enforced. When the former bishop attempted to enter last week’s meeting of the CSI General Synod, he was ejected.

Should Bishop Dorai seek a civil injunction to block his removal, the CCC – a lay anti-corruption advocacy group in the CSI – reports the “CSI Constitution states in Rule 28 of Chapter XI on ‘The discipline of the church and settlement of disputes’ that ‘No decision or judgment of the Court of the Synod shall be subject to appeal or revision by any person or court outside the Church of South India.’ Were Bishop Dorai to challenge his dismissal before the Madras High Court it would be interesting to see how this provision holds up as it appears to be prima facie in violation of the Indian [civil] Constitution.”

New moderator for the CSI: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 7. January 24, 2012

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CSI Moderator, the Rt. Rev. G. Devakadasham

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The General Synod of the Church of South India has elected a new moderator.  At the 13 January 2012 meeting of the synod held at the Bishop Selvamony Retreat Centre, the Bishop in Kanyakumari the Rt. Rev. G. Devakadasham was elected moderator.

He defeated the Bishop in Madras, the Rt. Rev. V Devasahayam by 219 to 125 votes.  Bishop Devakadasham’s slate of candidates also won handily.  The Rt. Rev. Govada Dyvasirvadam, Bishop in Krishna Godavari Diocese was elected deputy moderator defeating the Rt. Rev. P. Surya Prakash, Bishop in Karimnagar Diocese while M. M. Philip was reelected Secretary and Abraham Bennet Treasurer of the Synod.

The 61-year-old Bishop was ordained as priest on 11 Jan 1981 and elected the fifth Bishop in Kanyakumari Diocese in 2001, and was elected Deputy Moderator on Jan 14, 2009.  He succeeds the Rt. Rev. S. Vasanthakumar, and his term of office will last for two years.  He is eligible to stand for reelection, but must step down by age 65.

Writing from the meeting in Kanyakumari, leaders of the lay led anti-corruption coalition, the CCC, said Bishop Devakadasham’s victory was influenced by several factors. The new bishop “hails from the politically influential Nadar community in Tamilnadu while his rival Devasahayam is a Dalit.  In the 2010 Synod elections the Nadar candidate for Moderator Bishop Christopher Asir of Madurai Ramnad Diocese lost by a whisker of just eight votes to Bishop S. Vasanthakumar of Karnataka Central Diocese. This time the Nadars present in sizeable numbers from among voters representing Vellore, Coimbatore, Trichy. Tirunelveli, Madurai-Ramnad and Kanyakumari dioceses of the CSI made sure there was no repeat of 2010.”

CCC also reported that the outgoing moderator “threw his weight behind his deputy Devakadasham and played a proactive role in influencing the outcome.”

Tax fraud hearing for Indian bishop: The Church of England Newspaper, January 6, 2012, p 7. January 10, 2012

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Bishop Christopher Asir

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A bishop of the Church of South India (CSI) and an Indian government minister are set to appear before tax authorities this week to answer charges that they defrauded the Diocese of Madurai-Ramnad of £925,000 by selling church land and pocketing the proceeds.

Bishop Christopher Asir and Mr. M.K. Alagiri – the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers – have been called to appear before the District Collector of Madurai, Mr. U. Sagayam, on 4 Jan 2012.  The summons follows an investigation by the revenue divisional officer in Madurai in October to respond to questions over the bishop’s stewardship of church lands.

The investigation began on 28 Jan 2011 Justice V. Kuruppiah of the Madras High Court directed the police to investigate Bishop Asir on charges brought by lay members of the diocese.  The bishop was accused of defrauding the diocese by selling church land at below market prices in return for a kickback from the buyer.  The investigation was subsequently turned over to the federal tax authorities for investigation.

The transaction under investigation concerned land given to the CSI in 1947.   An American missionary society assigned 46.71 acres of land belonging to the Lucy Perry Noble Institute for Women to the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA). The terms of the transfer required the CSITA to hold the land in perpetuity on behalf of the church and rent the property, using the income to support women’s ministries in the church.

However, Bishop Asir in collusion Mr. Alagiri and Pauline Sathyamurthy, the former treasurer of the CSI who is currently being sought by police in connection with the theft of funds donated by Episcopal Relief and Development to assist survivors of the 2004 tsunami, sold 6.74 acres of land for £2.2 million, pocketing £925,000 of the proceeds.  A prima facie case of malfeasance was found to have occurred by the district officer and the case passed to his superiors for investigation.

A second legal headache for Bishop Asir has been resolved in his favour, however.  On 23 Nov 2011 the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court dismissed a sexual harassment complaint brought against the bishop by a former staffer, Magdalene Nesakumari.

Ms. Nesakumari alleged she had been sexually harassed by the bishop and denied promotion after she rebuffed his sexual advances.  In dismissing petition Justice V Periya Karuppiah said the complaint had been improperly filed and should be first directed to a judicial magistrate for investigation and adjudication.

Bishop arrested in anti-nuclear protests in India: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2011 p 6. November 29, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders are among those arrested by police in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu in a crackdown against activists protesting the construction of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Tuticorn along with clergy from the Church of South India’s (CSI) diocese of Thoothukudi-Nazareth were booked by police on charges of unlawful assembly, creating a public nuisance, “spreading rumours” and blocking civil servants from the lawful performance of their duties.  They have been released on bail pending hearing and a formal investigation.

Construction has slowed to halt at the power station in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the Russian state corporation Atomstroyexport are building two 1 Gigawatt reactors at a projected cost of £2.2 billion. When completed the water cooled reactors will be the largest atomic power plant in India.

However, local residents have opposed the programme and for three months have blocked access to the site to construction traffic and have stated hunger strikes to halt the building.

In September the CSI General Synod issued a statement expressing “her deep solidarity” with the protestors and warned it was a mistake to build a nuclear reactor in a “tsunami-prone and quake-prone area,”

The risk of ecological damage was great, the CSI stated. “We fear that the reactor effluents would kill the fish and further, that the other life inside the sea would be affected by the water discharged from the nuclear reactor into the Bay of Bengal.”

On 27 Oct 2011, the CSI Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth joined protestors outside the plant and pledged his solidarity in stopping construction.  However, local government leaders have charged the bishops with crossing the line between religion and politics.

The indictment charges the protestors with having used places of worship to organize political protests – a practice forbidden by Indian law.  Police have also begun an investigation of the churches’ bank accounts to see if they were funding the protests.

A police spokesman told the Indian press the churches’ involvement in the protests was bad for local businesses.  “Some are asking the people to revolt against the government and against the plant. This is unfair. The shops are closed, the life is not normal…this cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely,” the spokesman told the New Indian Express.

Church ‘no’ to nuclear power in India: The Church of England Newspaper, November 11, 2011 November 12, 2011

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Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India staged a one-day hunger strike to protest against the construction of the Koodankulam nuclear power station, saying the Russian-built plant is a danger to the community.

On 27 October 2011 the Bishop in Thoothukudi-Nazareth, the Rt Rev JAD Jebachandran and approximately 100 clergy from his diocese joined activists outside the construction site who were in the 10th day of a hunger strike. The Indian press reported the bishop told the gathering the church was there to extend its moral support to the protesters.

Construction has slowed to halt at the power station in Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the Russian state corporation Atomstroyexport are building two 1 Gigawatt reactors at a projected cost of £2.2 billion. When completed the water-cooled reactors will be the largest atomic power plant in India.

However, local residents have opposed the programme blocking highways to construction traffic and staging hunger strikes to halt the building. In September the Church of South India’s (CSI) General Synod issued a statement expressing “her deep solidarity” with the protestors.

The CSI charged that the “proper rules were not followed in the construction of the Reactor, in a place where the population density is too high.

“We fear that the reactor effluents would kill the fish and further, that the other life inside the sea would be affected by the water discharged from the nuclear reactor into the Bay of Bengal,” the CSI said.

The site chosen for the reactor was in a “tsunami-prone and quake-prone area,” they said, adding that the “huge radioactive accumulations at the plant site could become the principal causes of environmental and health hazards.”

The CSI joined with the local “struggling communities” around the plant and called upon the government to “hold a democratic and transparent national consultation on nuclear power projects in the country with proper assessment of economic, environmental and human cost of such expansion.

“It is true that energy can neither be created nor destroyed,” the CSI said, “but let us not forget that energy can destroy us.”

Indian bishop accused of swindling diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 7, 2011 p 6. October 7, 2011

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Bishop Christopher Asir

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Tax authorities in India have questioned the Church of South India’s (CSI) former moderator, investigating allegations he illegally sold church land and pocketed the proceeds.

On Sept 23 the Revenue Divisional Officer in Madurai issued a summons to the Bishop in Madarui-Ramnad ordering him to a hearing at his office on Oct 3 to answer questions over his stewardship of church lands.

The tax investigation follows a Jan 28 order by Justice V. Kuruppiah of the Madras High Court directing police to investigate Bishop Asir for defrauding the diocese by selling church land at below market prices in return for a kickback from the buyer.

The tax and criminal investigations are reviewing a 2008 sale of land. Upon the creation of the CSI in 1947 an American missionary society assigned 46.71 acres of land belonging to the Lucy Perry Noble Institute for Women to the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA). The terms of the transfer required the CSITA to hold the land in perpetuity on behalf of the church and rent the property, using the income to support women’s ministries in the church.

However, Bishop Asir in collusion with Pauline Sathyamurthy, the former treasurer of the CSI who is currently being sought by police in connection with the theft of funds donated by Episcopal Relief and Development to assist survivors of the 2004 tsunami, sold 6.74 acres of land for £2.2 million, pocketing £925,000 of the proceeds.

Though several complaints have been filed by members of the diocese over the alienation of the church’s land, no action has been taken so far by the police. In his Sept 23 petition to the RDO, a lay member of the diocese, Mr. J.M. Bhaskar, has asked the tax authorities to cancel the sale and return the land to the church.

Indian bishop hits back against accusers: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 7, 2011 p 6. October 7, 2011

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Bishop Manickam Dorai

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The battle between the suspended Bishop in Coimbatore and the Church of South India’s (CSI) standing committee took a new turn last week, after charges of fraud were leveled against the bishop’s accusers.

The Hindu newspaper reported that a court has ordered police to investigate charges of fraud leveled against the moderator of the CSI, Bishop S. Vasanthakumar, the acting bishop in Coimbatore, and the general secretary and treasurer of the CSI general synod along with six other church officials by supporter of Bishop Manickam Dorai.

According to a complaint filed in the Madras High Court by Arul Prabhu, the moderator and his confederates misappropriated 1 million rupees (approximately £13,000) from the accounts of the CSI Engineering College in Ketti.

Last year the Bishop Dorai was suspended by the CSI synod while he stood trial on criminal charges of embezzling funds from the college.  The synod appointed Dr. Paul Vasantha Kumar, Bishop in Tiruchy-Thanjavur, as acting bishop for the diocese and assumed management of its financial affairs.

Mr. Prabhu alleges the church leaders withdrew the funds from the operating accounts of the college to underwrite the costs of the World Classical Tamil Conference held in Coimbatore last year.  However, an inquiry found the funds were not paid over to the conference.

When he brought this discrepancy to the attention of the CSI moderator, Bishop Vasanthakumar took no action.  Last month he brought the matter to the attention of the Madras court, which directed the police to conduct a probe and register a case, if a cognizable offence was made out in the inquiry.

Church leaders did not respond to requests for clarification, but the anti-corruption watchdog the CCC (Christ Centered Coalition) told CEN they were encouraged by the investigation.

“This is a welcome sign that the the long existing pact among thieving bishops in the CSI not to squeal on each other is falling apart. Disgraced Bishop Dorai of Coimbatore, who is facing a battery of criminal cases and blames the Moderator and his fellow office bearers for his plight, has found a way to hit back … by getting one of his followers Mr Arul Prabhu to file the case against the CSI top brass.”

Moderator’s suspension quashed: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2011 p 6. July 28, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Bishop S. Vasanthakumar

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Indian appeals court has thrown out a Madras civil court order suspending the moderator of the Church of South India (CSI).

On 15 July the court voided a 28 June order that suspended Bishop S Vasanthakumar from exercising the office of moderator, and further ordered a return to the status quo of the administration of the CSI pending a final adjudication of the dispute.

Last month Judge Thiru Chandrasekaran suspended the powers of all “office-bearers” of the church elected at the 17 January, 2010 general synod, including the moderator, deputy moderator, treasurer and general secretary in response to a lawsuit filed by a lay member of the synod from the Diocese of Madras who argued the elections were fraudulent.

The court found that a prima facie case could be made that the elections were voidable. On 25 February, 2010 the court issued an order suspending the elections that was subsequently overturned. On 28 June the court issued a second order suspending the elections, which was also overturned.

The church anti-corruption campaign group, the CCC noted the order suspending the moderator had “huge negative implications for the CSI and [put] into jeopardy several major policy and administrative decisions including the recent appointment of some bishops.”

The matter has now been set down for adjudication.

Cash for admissions scandal rocks Church of South India: The Church of England Newspaper, July 22, 2011 p 5. July 24, 2011

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The Bishop-elect in South Kerala, the Rev. A. Dharmaraj Rasalam

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Officials of the Diocese of South Kerala have been accused by an Indian television network of selling admissions to a church-affiliated medical school.  The scandal over the sale of admissions has prompted a walkout of the opposition in the Kerala Assembly and appears to have implicated leaders of the Church of South India (CSI) in another corruption scandal.

Last week the Asianet broadcasting network reported that it obtained a list of 50 students admitted to the church-affiliated Dr Somervell Memorial Medical College located on the grounds of the London Missionary Society (LMS) hospital in Karakonam.  However, the admissions list was drawn up two days before students sat for their entrance exams.

A reporter for Asianet, posing as an official of the Church of South India (CSI), contacted the students on the list and learned that each had made cash payments of up to Rs 50 lakh (£70,000) for a place in the college.  However, the payments were not considered tuition payments and were “off the books.”

Asianet reported that “All those who spoke to us admitted the money was accepted by the CSI management without providing any receipt.”

The funds were collected by “the treasurer of CSI located at the CSI headquarters at LMS in cash. The applicants were clearly told the amount was just a token and annual fees should be paid in extra,” the broadcast said.

After the story was aired, reporters descended upon the LMS compound.  An Asianet reporter and cameraman were allegedly assaulted and had their cameras smashed.  The attack prompted other journalists to visit the hospital, and in the ensuing mêlée police beat a reporter for India Vision TV.

On July 15, the leftist members of the Kerela Assembly walked out in protest.   The Leader of Opposition and former chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan told the state’s Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, the scandal “should should have been more seriously viewed by you and you failed to come out with any strong measures.

In response to the allegations made in the Asianet broadcast and in the subsequent fracas, Mr. Chandy said his government would investigate the affair.

The cash for admissions scandal comes at a difficult time for the diocese, which is currently without a bishop.  In December, Bishop J.W. Gladstone retired as Bishop in South Kerala and Moderator of the CSI.  The principal of the Kerala United Seminary, the Rev. Dr. G. Sobhanam—who was also vice-chairman of the medical school’s board, was subsequently elected by the diocesan synod and confirmed by the CSI’s general synod as the new bishop.  However, Bishop-elect Sobhanam died on March 26, 2011.

The runner up in the election, the Rev. Dharmaraj Rasalam, was appointed bishop of the diocese last month in place of Dr. Sobhanam, and will be consecrated on July 23.  Anti-corruption activists are hopeful the new bishop will clean up the diocese.

The lay-led anti-corruption group, the CCC stated this latest scandal is “an unprecedented opportunity to clean up the massive corruption in medical admissions and boost the finances of the diocese should he choose to do so. The big question is whether he has both the motivation and the ability to take on such a challenge.”

The CCC stated that “selling seats in educational institutions is a major source of corruption within the CSI. It not only weakens the moral fibre of the church and those who administer it but also deprives the institution of crores of rupees that would have otherwise come to it every year.”

CSI moderator suspended: The Church of England Newspaper, July 21, 2011. July 22, 2011

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Bishop S Vasanthakumar

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A civil court in Madras has suspended Bishop S. Vasanthakumar from exercising the office of moderator of the Church of South India (CSI).

On June 28, Judge Thiru Chandrasekaran suspending the powers of all “office-bearers” of the church elected at the January 17, 2010 general synod, while the City Civil Court in Chennai reviews the legality of the elections.  The court heard an emergency motion from the CSI on July 6 seeking to vacate the order, but Judge Chandrasekaran declined to modify the injunction and has set the matter down for hearing on July 15.

On Jan 17, 2010 the 32nd session of the CSI general synod met in Courtallam in Tamil Nadu and elected a moderator, deputy moderator, general secretary and treasurer.  Before the election was held, however, a court in Karnataka issued an injunction disqualifying Bishop Vasanthakumar from attending the meeting and standing for election.

However, a judge in Madras issued a second order permitting Bishop Vasanthakumar to attend.  The synod Reference Committee agreed to allow him to attend the meeting, but withheld his right to vote.  The bishop contested the election for moderator and was subsequently elected.

Immediately after the election, synod member Albert Jeyaraj brought suit asking the election be voided as it did not conform to the CSI’s constitution.  Mr. Jeyaraj, a lay member of synod from the Diocese of Madras, stated the election was improper as votes for proxy were allowed—though forbidden by the CSI constitution.  He also alleged that those exercising the proxy votes, allegedly on behalf of Bishop Vasanthakumar, were amongst those facing criminal indictment for defrauding the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund of aid money sent to India in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

On Feb 25, 2010 the court granted an injunction suspending the election, but the CSI succeeded in overturning the first order.  The second injunction, however, makes voidable all of the CSI senior management’s civil actions.

The church anti-corruption campaign group, the CCC welcomed the decision, noting the “ruling has huge negative implications for the CSI and puts into jeopardy several major policy and administrative decisions including the recent appointment of some bishops.”

Indian bishops to adopt code of conduct: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2011 p 8. July 3, 2011

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Bishop S. Vasanthakumar, Moderator of the CSI

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Moderator of the Church of South India has called for the creation of a code of conduct to govern bishops.

Speaking at the National Consultation on Ecclesiology held at the Ecumenical Christian Centre in Bangalore on from June 14, Bishop S. Vasanthakumar stated the Church of South India “needs to establish a system of governance which is fair, transparent and accountable. In order to meet this challenge the Bishops have taken a decision to bring out a ‘Code of Conduct’ for both the Bishops in active service and the Bishops who have retired.”

Bishop Vasanthakumar announced he had appointed four bishops: Dr. Surya Prakash, Dr. J.S. Sadananda,  K.G. Daniel and Paul Vasanthakumar to prepare a draft code for discussion at the next meeting of the House of Bishops.

“Serious discussion is underway” within the House of Bishops to create a “cell for redressal of grievances” independent of the current church court structure, Bishop Vasanthakumar said.

The court of grievances was needed, he said, as “one of the severest criticism leveled against the church [was] that there is no mechanism available in the church for the redressal of grievances” against bishops.

Questions about the priest’s conduct could be brought to the attention of his bishop, but allegations of misconduct by a bishop were subject to an unwieldy canonical process, he said.

Anti-corruption activists welcomed the moderator’s call for a mechanism to keep bishops honest.  However, the CCC, the Christ-Centered Coalition—a leading anti-corruption lay association in the CSI, urged the bishops to give lay leaders a voice in the creation of the code of conduct.

The asked the bishops to “include respected lay CSI members and those who have been advocating good governance in the church in drafting both the code of conduct and the redressal mechanism.”

The warrant for lay involvement in clergy discipline was Biblical, they said.  “The church that Jesus added people to at the beginning was a ‘called out’ or ‘gathered’ church where no clergy-laity distinction existed,” the CCC said.

Abuse of office has been an on-going problem in the CSI for the past decade from the arrest and imprisonment of Bishop M. I. Kesari of the Diocese of Kannyakumari in 2000 for corruption and contempt after he defied a court order not to declare the outcome of an election allegedly rigged by his supporters to the recent theft of disaster relief funds by the former CSI Secretary General Dr. Pauline Sathiamurthy following the Indian Ocean Tsunami.  Half a dozen corruption cases are pending against sitting bishops in the CSI, including one against Bishop Vasanthakumar.

Bishop denies corruption allegations over hospital sale: The Church of England Newspaper, June 3, 2011 p 8. June 5, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Bishop P.J. Lawrence celebrating the St Werbergh's deal in Nandyal

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop in Nandyal has denied accusations leveled by the General Secretary of the Church of South India that he had abused his authority by granting a 40 year lease on a church hospital.

In a spirited exchange of letters, Bishop P.J. Lawrence said he was “shocked” by the rush to judgment made by the General Secretary, while the General Secretary Mr. M.M. Philip said he was “really shocked” the bishop would have signed the deal without the approval of the Synod.

On March 31, the CCC, a lay led advocacy group that has led the charge against corruption in the Church of South India, released a statement implicating Bishop Lawrence in a sweetheart deal that “virtually gifted” St. Werburgh’s Hospital to a foreign controlled “private limited company.”

Bishop Lawrence was accused of granting a 30 year lease on the hospital, built in 1931 by the SPG and valued at £8.5 million, in exchange for payments of “15 per cent of net surplus” from the operations or a minimum of Rs 25,000 (£350) per year.

The CCC claimed that “no payments to the CSI are likely to  materialize” from the deal as “sole control over accounting” was given to the firm acquiring the hospital, which also had the right to deduct from its payments “any outstanding liabilities” at the time of the takeover.

On April 8, Mr. Philip wrote Bishop Lawrence stated he was surprised by the deal and ordered the bishop to “cancel the agreement.”

The bishop replied on April 22.  St. Wergurgh’s was a “dying mission hospital” that was a drain on the limited resources available to his “poor rural diocese,” he said, adding that he had emailed a copy of the proposed lease to the CSI headquarters in Madras in September.  Having had no reply, he “took it for granted there is no objection from the CSI Synod.”

The bishop stated he was willing to re-negotiate the deal if the CSI Synod was unhappy with the terms Bishop Lawrence was able to obtain, but “there was no question of cancelling the agreement.”

Bishop Lawrence also denounced the tone and tenor of General Secretary’s letter.  “Your one unilateral letter has destroyed my unblemished reputation of 40 years ordained ministry and five years of episcopal ministry,” he said.

In a letter dated April 27 in reply, Mr. Philip said he was “very sorry for the inconvenience” caused by the dispute, but held fast in his demand the bishop cancel the agreement, or produce new terms acceptable to the CSI’s property management committee.

In a statement released on May 7, the CCC urged the CSI synod not to be swayed by the bishop’s blandishments as there was “a more sinister design involved than meets the eye.”

Criminal indictment handed down against Bishop Dorai: The Church of England Newspaper, June 3, 2011 p 8. June 4, 2011

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Bishop Dorai (centre) after his release on bail last year

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Crime Branch-CID of the Tamil Nadu Police has filed a 500 page charge sheet with the Chief Magistrate in Coimbatore, stating the Bishop in Coimbatore of the Church of South India, the Rt. Rev. Manickam Dorai, his two brothers, and four other accomplices with defrauding his diocese of over £500,000.

The May 17 indictment of Bishop Dorai, follows upon an Oct 2010 report by an auditing team led by retired Karnataka High Court Justice Michael Saldhana, former Karnataka Director General of Police A J Anandan and bank auditor C E Sarasam that found substantial evidence of criminal behavior by the bishop.

It said Bishop Dorai had pledged diocesan bank accounts, trust funds and pension funds as collateral for personal loans, sold admissions to diocesan schools, took kickbacks on building contracts and diverted diocesan funds for his personal use.  They found the bishop had authorized the sale of diocesan property to real estate developers at approximately 20 per cent of their market value, in return for what the committee believes were kickbacks from the real estate developers.

“These transactions are not a mere case of mismanagement but point to rank dishonesty and criminality,” the committee said.

At its Nov 30 meeting of the Executive Committee of the CSI Synod declined to take disciplinary action against the Bishop in Coimbatore.  The bishop remained suspended from office, but the synod voted to allow the criminal case to guide the proceedings of any ecclesiastical trial.

Church push for pesticide ban in India: The Church of England Newspaper, May 13, 2011 p 8. May 15, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Environment.
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Bishop Thomas K Oommen of Central Kerala

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India have called upon the government to ban the pesticide Endosulfan, saying its health hazards far outweigh its benefits to farming.

However, India’s agriculture ministry — which manufactures the pesticide via the government-owned Hindustan Insecticides Ltd — claims there is no scientific evidence the chemical agent is harmful to humans, and has so far resisted local and international pressure to stop production.

In a 20April statement Bishop Thomas K Oommen of Central Kerala, the chairman of the Church of South India’s Ecological Concerns Committee, urged the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests to ban Endosulfan.

While the pesticide is still used in India and China, over 80 countries, including the EU, Australia and New Zealand, have banned its manufacture and use in response to concerns over potential for accumulation in the soil its acute toxicity.

In 2001, aerial spraying of Endosulfan was suspected in a rash of birth defects in Kerala. The state government banned the use of the substance, but under pressure from industry the ban was rescinded. In 2006, the state government paid compensation of Rs 50,000 (£700) to the next of kin of 135 people identified as having died from Endosulfan exposure in Kerala. In December 2010 the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommended banning the chemical, but the agriculture ministry declined to act.

However on 29 April, the agriculture ministry expressed its inability to clamp down on the pesticide to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at a high-level meeting. The NHRC had recommended its ban in December 2010.

The Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants agreed to a ban on Endosulfan to take effect by mid 2012. In 2006 India signed the global environmental treaty and is bound by last week’s decision. However, certain uses of the chemical have been granted an exemption for five years, and enforcement of the ban is problematic.

In a letter read out to churches across his diocese on Easter Sunday, Bishop Oommen asked Christians to join him in implementing as 12-point programme of environmental stewardship.

He outlined a plan for rainwater harvesting projects for Church schools and institutions, the planting of vetiver grasses around church properties to control soil erosion and water loss, a ban on plastic cups and bags at all church functions, the encouragement of “eco-clubs” among school children, and encouraging farmers in the diocese to end the use of pesticides and hormones and switch to organic farming.

Bishop denies ‘sweetheart deal’ to defraud diocese: The Church of England Newspaper, April 15, 2011 p 8. April 16, 2011

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Bishop Lawrence on the way to inauguration of the 4B St Werbugh CSI Hospital in Nandyal

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop of Nandyal in the Church of South India has denied accusations of misconduct put forward by an anti-corruption watchdog group.  The claims put forward by the Christ Centered Campaign (CCC) that he was defrauding the diocese by “gifting” a church owned hospital to a private company were untrue, Bishop PJ Lawrence tells The Church of England Newspaper.

On March 31, the CCC, a lay led advocacy group that has led the charge against corruption in the Church of South India, released a statement accusing Bishop Lawrence of having “virtually gifted away the CSI-owned St. Werburgh’s “ Hospital “in the heart of Nandyal” to a foreign controlled “private limited company.”

On March 8, 2011 the bishop granted 4B Healthcare a 30 year lease to operate and manage St Werburgh’s Hospital.  Built in 1931 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to serve the city’s poor, the CCC said the hospital’s land, clinics and rental properties have a market value of £8.5 million.

In return for the lease, the Diocese of Nandyal is to receive “15 per cent of net surplus” from the operations or a minimum of Rs 25,000 (£350).  The CCC claims that “no payments to the CSI are likely to  materialize” as 4B Healthcare is given “sole control over accounting” in the contract, and has the right to deduct from its payments “any outstanding liabilities” for the hospital at the time of the takeover.

The CCC notes the contract gives 4B Healthcare the right to “develop the entire property by modifying, demolishing or putting up new buildings, equipment and facilities” and at the end of the lease “should the CSI want to get back the property it will have to first pay 4B for all the developments done on it.”

The anti-corruption watchdog also questioned the credentials of the buyer, noting that it had been formed in January 2010 by an American entrepreneur, who “a mere three days after the deal between 4B and the Nandyal Diocese was inked,” sold a 99 per cent interest in the company to Opportunity International Australia (OIA).

The CCC urged the CSI to “consider legally challenging the transfer of the Nandyal Hospital to a private company on terms that virtually ensure the hospital and its vast land bank are lost to CSI members forever.”

“This deal sets a very unhealthy precedent as it can be used to justify similar ‘virtual sales’ of valuable CSI property elsewhere,” the CCC said, adding that “for the many corrupt bishops who dominate the CSI this novel model shown by 4B could just be the answer they are seeking to circumvent the challenges a vigilant laity is throwing at them” to stop the stripping of the church’s assets.

Asked about the allegations, Bishop Lawrence told CEN he wished the CCC had “checked with me the fact before circulating such information” as “there is no truth in what they are saying.”

The 4B Healthcare deal was “done with the approval of the executive committee of our diocese for the good of the hospital,” the bishop said, and it was unfortunate that “a hand full of disgruntled people” were raising objections.

Bishop Lawrence added that the “so-called CCC is focusing on dissidents in every diocese to malign the bishops.”

The bishop stated that “anyone, including the CCC is welcome” to visit Nandyal “and get the facts.”

Contempt citation handed down by court in Indian church corruption trial: The Church of England Newspaper, April 1, 2011 p 8. April 5, 2011

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Bishop Vasanthakumar

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Karnataka high court has issued a contempt notice to the Bangalore police after they failed to carry out a judge’s order to investigate fraud and corruption charges leveled against the Moderator of the Church of South India (CSI).

On Dec 9, Justice Mohan Shantanagoudar asked the police to complete their investigations “as soon as possible, but not later than the outer limit of two months” into a criminal compaling filed against the CSI Moderator, Bishop Suputhrappa Vasanthakumar, his wife Nirmala, daughter Aparna, and personal secretary Patricia Job.

On April 30, 2010 Mr. I Sounder Raj, a member of St. Peter’s parish in Kolar Gold Fields filed a complaint in the Bangalore magistrate’s court alleging the bishop and his wife had embezzled diocesan funds.  The thefts had been on-going since April 2002, Mr. Raj said, and involved theft, forgery, fraud, and the sale of admissions to church schools.

Prosecutors told the court last year that the police had investigated similar accusations lodged against Bishop Vasanthakumar and had filed a ‘B’ report—a police form that states a case could not be made against the accused.

The Raj complaint, however, was brought after the B report was filed, attorneys told the court.  Judge Shantanagoudar ordered the police to complete their review of the case and report their findings by the end of February.  The police have so far declined to act on the judge’s order, prompting the contempt notice from the court.

Tax investigation launched into Indian church finances: The Church of England Newspaper, March 25, 2011 p 8. March 25, 2011

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Former CSI General Secretary Pauline Sathiamurthy: Photo from the World Council of Churches website

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An investigation into the misappropriation of Tsunami relief funds by the Church of South India (CSI) has been launched by India’s income tax authority.

On Dec 16, 2010, the Deputy Director of the Income Tax Department in Madras sent a formal notice to Bennett Abraham, the treasurer of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA), asking for an accounting of foreign donations, including cash collected for the “Tsunami Relief Fund” managed by the church.

The CSI was also asked to account for the proceeds from the sale of church properties including the American College in Kodaidanal, provide a listing of bank accounts maintained by the synod and dioceses, account for funds donated to the “Gujarat Earthquake Relief Fund”, and account for the proceeds of commercial property rents collected by the Karnataka North Diocese, the Deccan Chronicle reported.

The CSI treasurer’s office was asked to furnish the information within five days.  However, two extensions of time have been granted to the church to gather the requested information.

Corruption has become a major issue within the life of the CSI as fraud and misconduct charges have been leveled against several bishops over the past year, with one bishop, Manickam Doria, under criminal investigation for fraud.  In October 2009, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the former General Secretary of the CSI, Dr. Pauline Sathiamurthy, accusing her of stealing almost £1 million of the tsunami relief funds donated to the CSI by the Episcopal Church.

Christians march for justice in India: The Church of England Newspaper, March 11, 2011 March 10, 2011

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Christians from 45 denominations rallied in Mangalore against persecution on Feb 27

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders joined an estimated 100,000 Christians for a silent march through the Indian city of Mangalore last week, demanding government action in the face of attacks on churches by extremist Hindu groups in Karnataka.

Waving black flags, protesters dressed in black or wore black clothes around their necks in protest to a Jan 28 report by the state’s interior ministry that found no evidence of an organized campaign by Hindu radicals against Christians in the Southern Indian state.

Roman Catholic Bishop Aloysius D’Souza of Mangalore told the rally “we have assembled in thousands in this ground in the centre of this city asking for justice. We have gathered here to protest against injustice done to us and to demand justice.”

The bishop, joined by the moderator of the Church of South India and other CSI bishops, said India’s Christians would not be cowed. “If anyone thinks that minorities can be subdued by attacks or be taken for a ride by giving false reports, we would like to tell such people that they are mistaken. The culprits might have attacked the churches, broken the crucifix and desecrated the Holy Communion but they cannot destroy our faith in Jesus. We are pained by the attacks but not threatened.”

The rally called upon the Indian Federal government’s Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation of the persecution of Christians in Karnataka.

The state investigation reported there were 57 attacks on Christians in 2008 in Karnataka, but Bishop D’Souza said over 100 had been reported to the police in that period.  Christians had no confidence in the report, the bishop said

The Somashekara Commission “was constituted to investigate these events and to tell us as to who carried out all these attacks,” he said, noting it failed “to identify the people and the organizations responsible for these attacks. Hence we reject this report.”

Indian Synod rejects bishops plea for more power: The Church of England Newspaper, March 4, 2011 p 8 March 3, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

In what is being hailed as a victory for lay control of the church, delegates to a special meeting of the General Synod of the Church of South India (CSI) have rejected an amendment to the church’s constitution that would make the diocesan bishop the ex-officio chairman of all diocesan related boards and committees in his diocese.

Meeting at the CSI Centre in Madras on Feb 19, the 350 delegates to synod reviewed five pages of revisions to the church’s constitution.  However lay activists balked at adopting a revision to Page 72 Section 10 of the constitution governing the powers of the bishop.

Under the current constitution, the bishop “shall be the President of the Executive Committee, Ministerial Committee, Finance Committee and Property Committee.”  The chairmen of all other diocesan boards or committees, however, are appointed by the diocesan Executive Committee—a mixed clergy/lay board elected by the diocesan synod.

The proposed amendment would have made the bishop the “ex officio Chair person of the Executive Committee and all other Committees/Boards.”

Lay activists objected to the centralization of power in the hands of the bishop, noting the Diocesan Executive Committees would be “stripped” of their oversight of the diocesan-affiliated medical, educational, and child care organizations.

The CCC group, the Christ Centred Campaign—a lay-led anti-corruption organization in the CSI, urged synod delegates to block the amendment, noting that even though “they do not head the medical and education committees in their dioceses, bishops misuse their position and interfere in the functioning of these potentially money-spinning bodies.”

The CCC stated that the investigation of the Diocese of Coimbatore found that Bishop Manickam Dorai had used his powers over the education committee in that diocese to sell places at diocesan run colleges.

After heated debate, the synod rejected most of the proposed constitutional revisions and turned down the amendment strengthening the bishops’ authority over committee appointments.

In an email to supporters, the CCC claimed the vote was a victory for lay-control of the church, and stated the “Moderator and his cohorts were made to eat humble pie.”

Fraud allegations levelled against ex-Deputy Moderator of the CSI: The Church of England Newspaper, Feb 18, 2011 p 7. February 19, 2011

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Bishop Christopher Asir

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Indian court has ordered the Tamil Nadu police to investigate the Church of South India’s former Deputy Moderator for fraud.

On Jan 28, Justice V. Kuruppiah of the Madras High Court signed an order directing the state’s CID to investigate the Rt. Rev. Christopher Asir, the Bishop in Madurai-Ramnad, for his alleged role in defrauding the diocese by selling church land at below market prices in return for a kickback from the buyer.

On Aug 2, Mr. Christopher Salmond, a lay member of the diocese, filed a complaint with the police over the sale of land given to the diocese by an American missionary society upon the creation of the Church of South India in 1947.

Mr. Salmond alleged the land had been given to the diocese with the legal stipulation that it not be sold and could be used only for mission purposes, however, Bishop Asir allegedly sold the land in collusion with Pauline Sathyamurthy, the former treasurer of the CSI who is currently being sought by police in connection with the theft of funds donated by Episcopal Relief and Development to assist survivors of the 2004 tsunami.  He further alleged the bishop had committed five other instances of “conspiracy, cheating and forgery” in defrauding the church.

The case was brought to the Madras High Court in December after the police failed to take action on the allegations.  After a review of the evidence, Justice Kuruppiah ordered the police to investigate the allegations brought by Mr. Salmond.

Corruption charges laid against the Bishop in North Kerala: The Church of England Newspaper, Jan 28, 2011 p 8. January 29, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Bishop K P Kuruvilla of North Kerala

The Church of South India (CSI)’s synod has taken charge of the administration of the Diocese of North Kerala after its Bishop, the Rt. Rev. K P Kuruvilla failed to convene the diocesan council.

North Kerala has been the scene of heated debates between its bishop and lay leaders.  In a letter to the moderator of the CSI dated Jan 21, the CSI North Kerala Diocesan Laity Fellowship accused the bishop of pocketing school funds.

They alleged that since June 2010 the bishop had collected approximately Rs. 85 million rupees (£1.2 million) “through the appointment of thirty two teachers in four of the newly sanctioned higher secondary schools” in the diocese.

At a meeting of the diocesan executive committee held on Oct 20, questions about the disposition of the funds were raise.  The diocesan treasurer “admitted to have received only Rs. 15 million (£207,000). When asked about rest of the amount, bishop responded that the amount received cannot be divulged and the executive committee members [would] have to just trust him on this matter,” the complaint said.

A new diocesan council that included critics of the bishop was elected at the end of October, but the bishop did not convene the council.  Critics have charged the bishop with seeking to derail the new council so as to avoid an inquiry into diocesan finances.

Under the CSI’s constitution, if a diocesan council is not convened within 90 days of its election, its administrative responsibilities pass to the synod.  On Jan 24 the synod appointed an interim council that included Bishop Kuruvilla and directed that a new council be elected and installed by May.

A number of CSI dioceses have witnessed conflicts between their bishop and clergy and lay groups.  In May 2010 six clergy and a lay member of the Diocese of Rayalaseema staged a protest before the diocesan offices, calling for the ouster of Bishop K.B. Yesuvaraprasad.

A lay member of the diocese, Dr. Y.S. Thomas Reddy, had distributed tracts accusing the bishop of misusing diocesan funds and called for a protest at his residence on May 25.  Bishop Yesuvaraprasad requested police protection, and when the protesters arrived they were arrested for a breach of the peace when they did not disperse.

Allegations of misconduct have also been leveled against the moderator of the CSI, while a criminal investigation is underway into the finances of the Bishop in Coimbatore, the Rt. Rev. Manickam Dorai.  Last year the CSI synod dissolved the diocesan council and suspended Bishop Dorai pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings.

Two other CSI dioceses are currently under the administrative oversight of the CSI synod.  In the Diocese of Madhya Kerala the Bishop in East Kerala has been given temporary charge of the diocese following the retirement of the Rt. Rev. Thomas Samuel on Jan 24.  In November the Diocesan Council nominated the Rev. Thomas Oommen and Dr. Oommen George to stand for election at the Jan 18 meeting of the diocesan synod.  However, a dispute over the balloting has postponed the election pending a review by the provincial ecclesiastical court.

On Dec 25 the former moderator of the CSI, Bishop John Gladstone retired as Bishop in South Kerala.  The Synod has appointed the Bishop in Kanyakumair to oversee the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

Indian church land swindle investigated: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 17, 2010 p 8. December 22, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Indian Orthodox, Property Litigation.
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Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios, Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram

Police in the southern Indian state of Kerala are investigating the fraudulent sale of church land allegedly committed by a former archbishop.

While Anglicans in North America have resorted to litigation in recent decades to resolve disputes over church property, the Christian churches of India have been in the courts for over 100 years seeking a resolution to property disputes tied to doctrinal divisions.

On March 31, 2010 Archbishop Gheevarghese Mar Dioscorus, the former bishop of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church’s Diocese of  Thiruvananthapuram-Kollam appeared at a land registry office in the state capital and executed deeds transferring the sale of land registered in his name on behalf of the church to a third party.

The sale was duly recorded and the archbishop’s signature and identity confirmed by the registration officials.

However last week, Jacob Punnoose, director general of police in the southern Indian state, said he has a registered a case and ordered the probe after receiving a complaint from the late prelate’s successor, Archbishop Gabriel Mar Gregorios.

The archbishop informed the police the diocese had no knowledge of the transaction and did not know the alleged buyer, and also pointed out that Archbishop Gheevarghese had been dead for eleven years.

An initial police inquiry, the UCAnews reported, found that the commissioner for oaths who recorded the sale retired on the same day as the transaction allegedly took place.

Speaking to IANS, Archbishop Gabriel said the “fraud has come to our notice. According to the late bishop’s will and as per the tradition of our church, all his property belongs to the church. Now that this has surfaced, we will be meeting the home minister and the registration minister to see that the fraud is unearthed.”

Traditionally established by St. Thomas the Apostle in 52 AD, the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church is an autocephalous Oriental Orthodox church headed by the autonomous Catholicos of the East.

In the Nineteenth century the Indian Orthodox church entered into close relations with the CMS and a schism split the church.  One group entered the Church of England and are now part of the Church of South India.

A second group which accepted the teachings of the fourth ecumenical council but kept a reformed version of the Syrian liturgy established the Mar Thoma Syrian Orthodox Church—a church in full communion with the Anglican Communion—while those who maintained the traditional Syrian liturgy and Alexandrian Christology formed the Syrian Orthodox Church.

The Syrian Orthodox church split again into a faction that recognized the Patriarch of Antioch as its primate (the Jacobites) and a faction that recognized the Catholicos (the Malankara) as its leader

The two Orthodox factions jointly own 1,026 churches across Kerala.  Since the split the factions have been engaged in litigation for control of church properties, which has sometimes led to violence and street battles between the two groups.

On May 8, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation arrested a Jacobite priest in a murder for hire scheme. Fr Varghese Thekkekara of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church was charged with arranging the 2002 murder Malankara Varghese, a member of the management committee of the Malankara Orthodox Church.

According to the complaint filed with the Kochi magistrate’s office, Mr. Varghese was involved in an assault on a Jacobite that arose over a church land dispute.  While fleeing from the scene, Mr. Varghese allegedly struck and killed a young man from the Jacobite faction.  This death allegedly prompted Fr. Thekkekara to hire gangsters to kill Mr. Varghese.  Police have arrested 18 people in connection with the murder, and the case is presently before the courts.

Police investigate CSI moderator for fraud: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 17, 2010 p 8. December 18, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Bishop S. Vasanthakumar of Karnataka Central

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Karnataka High Court has directed the Bangalore Police to complete the corruption and fraud investigation of the Moderator of the Church of South India (CSI) and present their findings to the court.

On Dec 9, Justice Mohan Shantanagoudar asked the police to complete their investigations “as soon as possible, but not later than the outer limit of two months” into allegations that the Bishop in Central Karnataka, the Rt. Rev. Suputhrappa Vasanthakumar, his wife Nirmala, daughter Aparna, and his personal secretary Patricia Job stole church funds.

On April 30, Mr. I Sounder Raj, a member of St. Peter’s parish in Kolar Gold Fields filed a complaint in the Bangalore magistrate’s court alleging the bishop and his wife had embezzled diocesan funds.  The thefts had been on-going since April 2002, Mr. Raj said, and involved theft, forgery, fraud, and the sale of admissions to church schools.

Prosecutors told the court that the police had investigated similar accusations lodged against Bishop Vasanthakumar and had filed a ‘B’ report—a police form that states a case could not be made against the accused.

The complaint against the bishop, however, was brought after the B report was filed.  Mr. Raj, alleged the investigation was incomplete and asked the court to supervise the investigation.  The judge took notice of the earlier police findings, but directed them to investigate the complaint.

The bishops of the CSI have been immersed in a series of lawsuits in recent years.  Suits are pending against Bishop Vasanthakumar alleging his election as moderator was fraudulently procured while the Bishop in Madras and the CSI are in court over whether he can be compelled to retire.  Criminal investigations are also pending against the Bishop in Coimbatore and Bishop Vasanthakumar.

While the CSI Synod’s income rose by 50.5 per cent from fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2009, due to an increase in the diocesan assessments, expenses have risen even faster, the synod’s financial statements seen by The Church of England Newspaper show.

“Legal fees and Professional Expenses” rose 10-fold in one year, from Rs 3.3 lakhs to Rs 34.1 lakhs (£4600 to £48,000) auditors Gopal & Murthi reported.  Programme expenses for activities such as Youth Work, Sunday Schools and outreach, now consume a smaller share of the synod budget than legal expenses critics note, with only 2.4 per cent spent on programme in 2009 compared to 13.8 per cent of the budget spent on legal fees.

CSI takes no action against Bishop Dorai: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 10, 2010 p 7. December 13, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Bishop Dorai (centre) following his release on bail earlier this year

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Executive Committee of the Church of South India (CSI) Synod has declined to take disciplinary action against the Bishop in Coimbatore for theft and fraud.

At their Nov 29-30 meeting in Madras, the committee voted to take no action after one of the three members of the fact finding committee appointed to investigate Bishop Manickam Dorai had offered a dissenting opinion to the report that found the bishop had abused his office for personal financial gain.  However, Bishop Dorai remains suspended from office and remains free on bail as he awaits criminal trial on multiple counts of theft and fraud.

The decision not to act against Bishop Dorai has provoked strong criticism from anti-corruption activists in the CSI.  The CCC (Christ Centered Campaign), whose representatives met with Dr Rowan Williams during his trip to India to share their concerns about church corruption, accused the Moderator of the CSI, Bishop S. Vasanthakumar of “burying” the report and putting the investigative committee in “cold storage.”

If allowed to continue its investigations if Bishop Dorai, the CCC alleged, it would have “opened a Pandora’s box of similar demands for action against other corrupt CSI bishops.”

In its 32 page report, the fact finding committee led by retired Karnataka High Court Justice Michael Saldhana, former Karnataka Director General of Police A J Anandan and bank auditor C E Sarasam, reported it had been hindered in its investigation as many of the documents were in police custody, and Bishop Dorai and his supporters had refused to cooperate.

However, the committee found substantial evidence of criminal behavior by the bishop.  It said Bishop Dorai had pledged diocesan bank accounts, trust funds and pension funds as collateral for personal loans, sold admissions to diocesan schools, took kickbacks on building contracts and diverted diocesan funds for his personal use.  They found the bishop had authorized the sale of diocesan property to real estate developers at approximately 20 per cent of their market value, in return for what the committee believes were kickbacks from the real estate developers.

“These transactions are not a mere case of mismanagement but point to rank dishonesty and criminality,” the committee said.

The bishop’s family was also involved in the looting of the diocese the committee found.  The bishop’s brother, Murthy, as head of the diocese’s Erode Womens Christian College “bled this institution” of funds by setting up a parallel teacher’s training college to which he diverted diocesan assets and encumbered college assets with loans of over £240,000 which he allegedly kept for his personal use..

“Virtually every expenditure and every facility of the CSI institutions right down to the vehicles and computers were diverted from the CSI institutions to Murthy’s personal institute which is run by his wife. Not only is this unethical and a clear case of misappropriation of funds and property running into lakhs of rupees, but it is downright dishonest and unethical,” the committee found.

In his dissenting opinion Mr Sarasam stated that while there was evidence of wrong doing, the bishop had not had an opportunity to defend himself.  He also stated that all of the frauds could not be blamed upon the bishop.  “While the truth is in the open, we attempt to find facts groping in the dark,” he said.

As the executive committee met to hear the report, protesters picketed the building in support of Bishop Dorai.  The bishop also obtained a court order barring any disciplinary action against him until after Christmas.  A supporter of the bishop had filed suit in Erode claiming the suspension of Bishop Doria had deprived him of pastoral care, and asked the court to reinstate the bishop.

The CCC accused the synod of moral cowardice for not acting upon the findings of the investigatory committee.  “The Moderator and his fellow bishops had no stomach for acting” on the report’s findings as this would lead to the question why were similar committees “not appointed to probe serious allegations, some resulting in criminal cases, against themselves.”

“No action, they decided, is the best action for the safety and security of their own positions,” the CCC charged.

Church panel accuses bishop of fraud: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 29, 2010 p 6. October 30, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Corruption.
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Dr Williams being handed a petition by anti-corruption activists in Madras

A Church of South India (CSI) panel has concluded that a prima facie case for fraud can be laid against the Bishop in Coimbatore.

In interim report prepared by an investigatory panel given to the CSI executive committee last month concluded Bishop Manickam Dorai was likely to have committed fraud and theft of church funds.  A final report will be presented to the executive committee in December, but the interim findings determined there was probable cause to dismiss Bishop Dorai, the panel concluded.

On July 2, the executive committee of the CSI’s General Synod placed Bishop Dorai on an indefinite leave of absence and dissolved the diocese’s executive council.  The bishop and his cronies are accused of embezzling diocesan funds and taking kickbacks on construction projects amounting to over £500,000.

On May 8, a warrant was also issued for the bishop’s arrest after he failed to appear before a magistrate to answer charges he threatened bodily harm to one of the priests in his diocese.  Bishop Dorai was granted bail on the menacing charge.

The four man fact finding team, composed of retired Justice Michael Saldanha of the Karnataka High Court, the Moderator of the CSI Bishop S. Vasanthakumar, former Karnataka Director General of Police A J Anandan and bank auditor C E Sarasam were hampered in their investigation as the diocese’s financial records were in the hands of the police, and they were unable to interrogate the bishop’s alleged conspirators: his wife and two brothers.

However, their inquiries at church-run schools and colleges found ample evidence of fraud. Evidence was unearthed that the bishop had sold admissions places to students at the church’s Ketti Engineering College, that the bishop had sold diocesan assets at 20 per cent of their market value to confederates, and had diverted church funds into his private accounts.

Quoting the report, the Express newspaper stated Judge Saldanha believed the evidence was so conclusive as to guilt that it would “sustain a straight conviction in a criminal court.”

On Oct 17, the Archbishop of Canterbury told members of the Indian press in Madras the CSI was seeking to reform its canons to tackle cases of corruption in high places.  “We know there are some reported cases of corruption, which are pending in the court, and the Moderators of the churches are working to constitute a self-regulatory mechanism to look into the issue,” Dr. Williams said to the press after a ceremony celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Diocese of Madras at St. George’s Cathedral.

Dr. Williams also met with lay activists from groups seeking to root out corruption in the church.  In an hour long meeting, representatives from the Prophetic Forum, the CSITA Beneficiaries Association, the Laity Association of the Diocese of Madras, and the CHRIST Centered Campaign urged Dr. Williams to use his influence to reform the scandal plagued church.

A 12-point plan was given to Dr. Williams by the anti-corruption activists, who shared with him examples of illegal sales of church land, selling admissions to church-run schools, taking kickbacks on construction projects, leasing out church properties at below market rents in exchange for bribes, and simony among the clergy.

In a statement released after their meeting, the lay activists said Dr. Williams was sympathetic to their concerns and “touched on topics like the nature of the office of the bishop, his concerns over the present electoral system, and the need for dialogue.”

“Suffice to say the Archbishop came across as someone who is genuinely working to get a dialogue going within the CSI on the much needed process of reform. In this effort he will doubtless appreciate the prayers and good wishes of all 4.5 million CSI members,” the anti-corruption activists said.

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