With infighting and mismanagement of church assets by bishops and priests becoming the order of the day, maybe it’s time to enact the Church Act and transfer the power to control the assets to trusts which in turn will report to a commissioner who will be appointed by the government.
Priests and bishops have started fighting for land and wealth donated by believers who, in turn, are completely perplexed and without any control over the money donated to the church. The Kerala Christian Church Properties and Institutions Trust Bill which was drafted in 2009 by the Kerala Law Reforms Committee will bring an end to the infighting for money and land to a great extent.
Bishops and priests who are now hankering for power, position and money will have to engage in full-time in spiritual work if the proposed Act is passed in the Assembly. There will be a three-tier structure to control all the assets – parish level, diocesan level and state level – of the church. Trustees elected from believers will manage the affairs with Managing Trustee to oversee the affairs at the three levels. Bishops won’t have any individual power over assets of the church.
While the proposed Bill doesn't mention about individual congregations like CMI or Jesuits, even their assets should be under the Trusts -- fourth level -- with laity having a say in their affairs.
However, no government has presented it to the state legislative house or the parliament. The result: bishops and dioceses are acting at their whims and fancies. They are busy building super hospitals, medical colleges, shopping malls and engineering colleges. There’s no transparency in their activities at the diocesan level and no one knows where and how the money is coming from and going.
Several laity groups had recently protested against the claim by Cardinal Alencherry, head of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church -- in connection with the multi-crore land scam under the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese -- that the Church properties come under the ownership of the Pope and not the public. The core issue of corruption and the present mess in the church rests with canon law, which allows concentration of all powers — judicial, legislative and executive — with the bishops, giving them absolute powers even in temporal matters. Shady land deals have been reported in Kozhikode, Kollam and Wayanad districts where Church properties were sold without the knowledge of believers as well as priests.
The proposed Church Act will require lot of modifications in the current format. There will be stiff opposition from the church against the Act. Govt needs to initiate discussions with the church to arrive at a mutually agreeable structure.
WHAT THE ACT SAYS
The proposed Act (Kerala Christian Church Properties and Institutions Trust Bill) recommends three tiers of Trusts – at the parish level, diocese level and state level.
Parish level: On the basis of the number of families in the parish, seven Trustees including the Managing Trustee for a parish Trust Assembly having families within a hundred number, and thereafter three more Trustees for each additional hundred families and part thereof should be elected.
Diocese level: The Diocese Trust Assembly should elect the Diocesan Managing Trustee and the Trustees and three Internal Auditors. 25 Trustees should be elected in the Diocesan Trust.
State level: Three internal auditors and 101 Trustees should be elected in the Trust of the State Trust Level. The State level Christian Charitable Trust should consist of the Major Archbishop or Head of the Church as its chairman and 10 members elected by each of the Diocese Trust.
The Act says Christian Charitable Trusts should manage all the assets and properties of the Trust and collect and receive all income therefrom, all money received by the Trusts by way of contributions from the parishioners and donations to the church, sums of money realized by way of loans, sale, exchange etc., of immovable and movable properties.
Trusts should manage any other sum received by or on behalf of the church from any person or persons. The Trustee Committee should defray all reasonable expenses in relation to the management and administration of the Trust.
There should be a Church Commissioner for supervising the functions of the various Trust Committees constituted under this Act and the implementation of the provisions of this Act. The Church Commissioner should be an officer not below the rank of a Secretary to the Government appointed by the Government. The Parish, the Diocese Trustee Committees and the State Trustee Committee should submit their annual statements of accounts to the Church Commissioner.