MUMBAI, India – A cardinal in India who has been involved in a controversial land deal had much of his administrative power removed after Pope Francis appointed an Apostolic Administrator for the mother diocese of the Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Last year, Cardinal George Alencherry of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly was accused along with two senior priests and a real estate agent of selling several plots of land illegally, leading to a loss of over $10 million.

Critics said the deal violated both canon and civil law, since the land was sold for well below market value – a case against the cardinal was dismissed by the High Court of India’s Kerala state last month.

On Friday, the Vatican announced Bishop Jacob Manathodath of the Syro-Malabar Diocese was appointed Apostolic Administrator “Sede Plena” of the archdiocese.

“Cardinal Alencherry has not been replaced, an administrator has been appointed. Cardinal Alencherry will not be entering into ‘administrative matters’ [for the archdiocese],” Father Paul Thelakkat, the former spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar synod, told Crux.

The cardinal had appointed a six-member committee to probe the land deals conducted between April 1, 2015 and November 30, 2017. The committee found that Alencherry had “fully known” and was “involved” in the alienation of the property.

Thelakkat said the appointment of an Apostolic Administrator “may be linked” to the land deals but pointed out no such reason was mentioned in the letter announcing the decision.

“None of the cardinal’s powers are curtailed, he still remains Major Archbishop of Ernakulum. Only the cardinal will not be entering into administrative matters,” he reiterated.

The Syro-Malabar Church is the largest Eastern Rite Catholic Church in India, and has over 30 dioceses in the country, and four others around the globe, with over five million members.