A group of lay Catholics has moved India’s top court pleading for a democratic system of governance for managing the temporal properties of the Catholic Church.
The Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement (KCRM), which has been active as a corrective force in the Church since the 1990s, has questioned the powers of bishops to alienate Church properties
The KCRM has moved an application before the Supreme Court seeking to be made a party to two appeals filed by Catholic bishops to challenge an August 2021 order of the state’s high court restricting their administrative powers.
The top court has agreed to hear the matter in detail at its next hearing on Sept. 7.
The KCRM wants legislation to manage Church properties saying that in the absence of such legislation, "the Catholic population is subjected to clerical authoritarianism based on some obsolete provisions of Canon Law.”
The Kerala High Court in its order had held that Catholic bishops, notwithstanding the Canon Law, had no powers to alienate landed assets of their dioceses because their “powers are confined to religious and spiritual matters.”
It had dismissed an appeal filed by Cardinal Mar George Alencherry seeking favorable direction in seven criminal cases filed against him in connection with the dubious sale of Church land in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.
Anto Mamkoottam, secretary of KCRM, told UCA News on Aug. 18 that any move to reverse the Kerala High Court order will have an adverse impact on the Catholic community.
He said the bishops claim they are the real owners of church properties and assets and have the right to alienate them under the provisions of the Canon Law while the bylaws of Catholic churches are drafted and framed by the clergy themselves.
“The provisions contained in these bylaws are undemocratic and against basic principles of law and natural justice, and empower the clergy to administer the assets and properties according to the whims and fancies,” Mamkoottam added.
The KCRM in its application stated that the “canon laws were implemented with a hidden agenda of finding a shortcut to subvert the traditional democratic system into an imperial system of the Roman church, which would enable the bishops to establish their unquestionable autocratic supremacy in the church properties and their governance.”
Mamkoottan said the majority of faithful and laity organizations in both the eastern rite Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches want a democratic system of governance for managing church properties.
The KCRM application also accused the Catholic clergy of putting pressure on the provincial government in Kerala against passing a law governing church properties as suggested by a reforms commission in 2009.