INDIA: Churches concerned about clerics' alleged involvement in crimes

May 19, 2010

Church leaders in south India say the alleged involvement of a number of clerics in criminal activities shows corruption needs urgent attention in the church.

"We are making wrong headlines. This is not how our leaders should be known," the Rev. Mohan Labeer, a pastor and former principal of Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, told Ecumenical News International on May 14.

Labeer was reacting to the arrest of Church of South India Bishop Manikiam Dorai of Coimbatore a week earlier in connection with the assault on a priest of the diocese for joining a street protest by church members against alleged corruption by the bishop.

The district court on May 8 ordered the arrest of Dorai, who has been on leave for two months from April after he failed to appear in court despite a summons.

"Such embarrassing incidents show the urgent need for reforms in the church," noted Labeer, who completed two terms as the principal of the Tamil Nadu Theological College based at Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu state.

"Our structures need to be more transparent without too much power being concentrated in one post," he noted.

When contacted by ENI, Mani Philip, the Church of South India general secretary, said that the church had set up an inquiry team to probe the developments in Coimbatore and will act when the committee submits its report.

Meanwhile in neighboring Kerala state, the federal crime investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, on May 7 named the Rev. Verghese Thekkekara of the Jacobite faction of the Orthodox church as the prime accused in the 2002 murder of Malankara Varghese, who was hacked to death.

Varghese was a member of the managing committee of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian church while his assailants were alleged to be members of a rival faction, the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox church. The two groups have been involved in a bitter feud for decades.

The Jacobite faction suspended the priest from church duties after he was named as the main accused in the murder. However, in a May 12 statement it accused the rival Orthodox faction of discrediting it while reiterating that no priest of the church would be party to a murder conspiracy.

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