KOCHI, India — A top court in the southern Indian state of Kerala has dismissed an appeal by Cardinal George Alencherry, who sought an exemption from appearing in a district court in cases related to his alleged involvement in the sale of church lands.
The Nov. 9 decision of the Kerala High Court effectively means the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church will have to appear in a court in connection with the criminal cases pending against him, reported ucanews.com.
Alencherry had pleaded that he is “a senior citizen aged 77 years and the head of the Syro-Malabar Church,” with duties like “performing religious ceremonies, rituals, including the ordination of bishops, priests, the consecration of churches” among other things. Ucanews.com reported that cardinal asked that the presence of his legal counsel be treated as his presence in court.
The prelate further submitted that he had to supervise administrative functions across 35 dioceses, including 18 outside of Kerala and four outside of India. He is also president of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council and a member of the College of Cardinals, which requires him to attend meetings in Rome.
Justice Ziyad Rahman dismissed the cardinal’s pleas as “untenable,” saying the charges against him were serious and “punishable with imprisonment for seven years or more.”
The judge also said if the cardinal attends meetings across the globe, including in Rome, then he is not under any physical difficulty that could prevent him from appearing in court, which is about 2 miles from his official residence.
“Moreover, granting an exemption to the petitioner for the first appearance, in this case, would send a wrong message to society as well,” Rahman added.
The judge said the cardinal is not “entitled to any special privileges when he is brought before a court of law as an accused.”
The cardinal is facing 14 criminal cases in connection with land deals executed in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese since his appointment as its head in May 2011.
Those accusing him of alleged corruption in the sale of church lands claim a loss of about $10 million to the archdiocese.
The allegations forced the Vatican to curtail Alencherry’s administrative powers and appoint an apostolic administrator in June 2018.
However, the Vatican allowed him to continue as the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Hundreds of Catholics in Kochi staged a protest in front of the archbishop’s house, demanding the prelate’s resignation as the major archbishop in wake of the court order, ucanews.com reported.
The protesters said the prelate had brought shame to the entire Syro-Malabar Church and the Christian community in India.