Catholic dioceses appeal bishop’s right to sell property

dioceses appeal Supreme Court

Two Catholic dioceses in the Indian state of Kerala have made an appeal to the Supreme Court (pictured) over the state’s High Court judgment that held Bishops have no authority over diocesan properties unless linked with spiritual matters.

The Catholic Diocese of Thamarassery and Eparchy of Bathery filed the Special Leave Petitions challenging the remarks made by the Kerala High Court in the judgment delivered in August 2021.

The ruling refused to quash the criminal cases against Cardinal Mar George Alencherry over the sale of properties belonging to the Ernakulam-Angamalay Archdiocese.

Thamarassery Diocese is a part of the Syro-Malabar Church, while Bathery Diocese belongs to Syro-Malankara Church. They both follow the Eastern rites.

The two dioceses contended that the observations made by the high court would adversely impact the administration of all diocesan properties across all Churches.

Cardinal Alencherry had sought a direction to quash a set of criminal cases that accused him of illegally selling properties under the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese. But the judge dismissed his petition and ordered him to face trial while maintaining that canon law cannot supplant the country’s civil laws.

The Kerala High Court observed that “the religious supremacy vested with the Bishop or apostolic succession should be understood (to be) confined to religious matters, both temporal and spiritual, governed by ecclesiastical law, viz. the Canon law”.

A single bench of Justice P Somarajan observed the powers of the Bishop will not include the right to alienate the property vested in the endowment.

The dioceses, in their appeal, argued that the high court order and observations were based on an “erroneous understanding of canon law”.

A church official, who did not want to be named, told UCA News: “A Catholic bishop does not sell diocesan properties in his individual capacity. He only follows the advice of his council of priests and others empowered to do so.”

The court order also gives the impression that diocesan bishops own church properties just as individuals own properties and sell them off at their will and fancy. “That’s not true. It is essential to correct this wrong impression. That is why the appeals were made before the Supreme Court,” the church official added.


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