The Great Betrayal

(An open letter to the moderator of Church of South India, the Most Rev. Vasanthakumar)
Dear Bishop Vasanthakumar,

I am sure that you are very well aware of the increasing allegations of corruption and mismanagement of CSI church properties and institutions, financial misappropriation, alienation of valuable assets and the civil and criminal litigations associated with them, which mar the image of CSI and blunt the Christian witness of the church.

Of course some of it can be brushed aside as concocted to defame the Bishops and the church. But, some of the damaging judgements of the various courts cannot just be ignored. Actual experience of many of us who have stumbled upon some of the instances of sale of church properties and fraudulent registration of sale deeds and the connivance of the CSITA in all these lend us to believe that much of the allegations are not without substance.

Those who go to court cases spending money from their own pockets will not resort to such measures unless they are convinced of the legitimacy of their suits. But the church leadership do not have such compulsions; they are spending mind boggling sums from the Diocesan coffers, funds of CSITA, contributed in good faith by the faithful to defend themselves in criminal and civil suits pending against them, which they could have most often settled out of court, if they were particular to maintain a sheep-shepherd relationship.
Can the Bishops, who are envisaged by the CSI constitution to be “good shepherds”, not find a way of resolving some of these issues amicably and out of court, if there is no factual basis for these allegations and court cases, convincing the opponents rather than resorting to such drastic means of summarily removing them from the full privileged membership of the Church- a nice rhetorical twist for excommunication? I don’t have to labour much to drive home the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of the episcopate in the church of CSI and the irresponsible behaviour of the CSITA- misappropriation of Tsunami Funds of American Episcopal Church and the consequent arrest or disappearance of key former officials of the CSI, arrest of the bishop of the Coimbattoor Diocese, Manickka Durai on misappropriation of church funds and not complying with court summons, strong strictures against the Bishop of Madras Diocese, pending cases against you in Bangalore courts on the alleged transfer of funds from Bishop Cotton Schools to your personal account and the many indictments of the courts in AP against the former moderator of CSI, Bishop Suganthar, which would shame anybody with a basic sense of decency.

Now, a series of court cases, two of them for criminal investigation, have been initiated against Bishop Kuruvilla of the North Kerala Diocese. A Scheme petition has also been filed against the CSITA, pained by the reality of how Bishops, particularly Bishop Kuruvilla, alienate valuable church properties in prime locations, bequeathed to us by missionaries for evangelistic purposes, for a pittance causing heavy loss to CSITA and the silent and irresponsible and often active connivance of CSITA in all these land dealings. Before the dark and stinking inside of these “white-washed tombs” is uncovered, it is important to highlight the root causes of this malaise which is corroding the vitals of our church leaving it an empty shell devoid of Christian witness and mission.

1. Episcopacy has gone out of control and has accrued to itself powers and privileges it should not have as per the constitution and against the understanding and convictions of those who had laboured for the union- the miracle of CSI. What makes the CSI such a unique event in the ecumenical movement is the fact that it is a union of non-Episcopal denominations represented by the SIUC and the Episcopal denomination- the Anglican Church. The worst fears of the non-Episcopal faction of the negotiators was that of the Episcopacy becoming a “monarchical Episcopacy” given the realities of an authoritarian, feudal and caste ridden social and cultural milieu. Those fears have come true and we face the consequence of it. Democracy and constitution have been reduced to a sham and a mafia group in the Church, in connivance with the bishops, alienates valuable church properties through fraudulent land transactions, leases them out for long periods for a paltry sum, rigs and manipulates elections, and makes a mockery of all democratic processes by threats, inducements, and social, political, and economic power.
The Bishops shamelessly and arbitrarily exercise their authority, without any regard for the constitution of the CSI and the procedures stipulated in them, excommunicate those who oppose and resist their nefarious designs. Under a mystic of sacred power, and also using their social and economic clout, they subjugate and silence the majority of the congregation and “lord over the sheep” that was given to their care. Bishoprics are today a lucrative position; the hotly contested elections for Bishopric and the changing hands of big money during the election for bishopric and synod offices and the wheeling and dealing associated with them all attest this shameful side of what takes place in the precincts of what is considered to be holy.

2. This is further promoted by a rising middle class, fed on a diet of personal piety and prosperity gospel, who are insensitive to moral questions of justice and fair play, and are only interested in remaining in the good books of the powers that be and take maximum advantage of the available material opportunities within the church for the advancement of their parochial and selfish interests. They turn a blind eye to the realities around them and refuse to rock the boat. CSI today lacks the kind leadership, that is theologically informed, upright, educated, intelligent and with good social standing, characteristic of our lay leadership in the high offices of our church, in the yester years. This, while showing a general degeneration in values of our society across the board and a rising religiosity that has nothing to do with moral living and only interested in making available God’s “power” for one’s own self-aggrandizement, is particularly reflective of the kind of low level pastoral care, Christian education and lack of Christian nurture and our failure to attract independent thinking young people into the fold of the church. The low level of interest in the length and breadth of the laity in the affairs of the church is leading to a situation where the management of the church is left to a scum of goons and profiteers who play second fiddle to the Bishops.

3. There is a general lack of knowledge of the unique history of our church, particularly its reformed and protestant history and the unique characteristics of democratic form of church polity, “priesthood of the laity” and the commitment for re-ordering of our social and economic life according to kingdom values and of the constitution of the church of South India and its management of church properties through the instrumentalities of CSITA. CSI is a church that represents the unique histories of protest against a hierarchically ordered, exploitative and oppressive priesthood and the associated reforms not only of church but also the then existing society. Hence, democratic form of administration, respecting the voices of dissent and protest and putting up with associated delay is germane to our church polity.
Moreover, while CSI church is an amorphous reality, every subscribing member of CSI is acknowledged as a member of the CSITA, a company registered under the company’s Act, and as such, he or she has certain rights and privileges of knowing how the board of trustees manage the properties he or she has entrusted to them in good faith. That is, the members of CSI cannot be just treated as objects of mercy of the bishops and presbyters but rather they are the rightful owners and subjects, who should be treated with appropriate dignity and honour that rightly belongs to them. But it is sad that the laity should remind the bishops of Jesus’ injunction as to how those who regard as greatest should conduct themselves:
“The Kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” (Luke 22. 25-26)

4. The CSI has failed miserably to continue its missionary legacy and protect the institutions and properties bequeathed to us by the missionaries. Unlike the indigenous Christian Community in India, the Syrian Christians, who traces their history back to AD 52, and remained an exclusive community, we trace our history to the missionaries of the 18th century and their reaching out to the most vulnerable sections of Indian society with the gospel message of liberation and their efforts to spread God’s love through an inclusive and humanistic educational medium. This was also reflected in their efforts to integrate people divided across caste lines and turn mission compounds into model communities where gospel values were lived out. They also invested their energy in finding a means of livelihood for them through industrial establishments, with imported technology from Germany and Britain. Their contribution to the literature and culture of their respective areas of mission are admired even today by secular historians.
The early Indian leadership of the union negotiations and the nascent church were people with extra-ordinary ability and commitment who shared this concern for mission. The World Missionary Conference of Edinburgh 1910, the centenary of which was celebrated recently, was a watershed in the history of the union of Church of South India, providing it with a sense of urgency and obligation. The spirit of the Conference was driven by the watchword of the Protestant Christian Missionary community at the time: "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation." A call to unity for mission expressed by the conference had its echo in the Indian Christian leadership like late Bishop V.S. Azariah and it was their committed and tireless striving for unity for mission that morphed into the church of South India in 1947. That sense of mission has become today a thing of the past; and in its place what we witness is a total neglect of our rural congregations, lack of any mission outreach, neglect of the large number of educational institutions which were considered ones the main agency for evangelization, and starting of new money spinning self-financing medical, engineering, dental, nursing, B. Ed and such other colleges. These self-financing institutions, where money changes hands illegally as capitation fee, provide a climate conducive for large scale corruption and politician-priest-mafia nexus and their criminal arrogation of money and power. The Church of South India has become irretrievably part of this moral corruption.

5. Each diocese is a fiefdom which functions without accountability to a larger whole. There is nobody from below or above that can make a bishop accountable. Opposition or criticism from the clergy or anybody working in any of the church institution will be met with transfer and disciplinary proceedings. There is no legitimate and credible system of grievance redress mechanism. In a system where the bishop, who is charged with corruption, sits in judgement over the poor lay person who represented it, what justice can be credibly expected? What meaning is there in seeking internal remedy? Does the moderator has any power or will he ever exercise it against a bishop? Is there a history of any proceedings against a bishop? What if the moderator himself is the culprit?
A few years ago, a former moderator of CSI, the Most Rev. K. J. Samuel, and another bishop who later became the moderator of CSI, the Most Rev. J. W. Gladstone, laid their hands on a layman, and consecrated him a bishop, against all the procedures clearly laid down in our constitution. What happened to them? The Rt. Rev. J. W. Gladstone later became the moderator. But if a poor soul takes a second baptism, he is excommunicated from the church. In recent history, the Former General Secretary, Pauline Sathyamurthi, her husband, her daughter and a relative were charged with the misuse of Tsunami funds donated by the American Episcopal Church to the tune 7 crores. This could not have happened without the criminal collusion of other officers of the Synod. The present synod leadership is understood to be involved in a cover up to protect the culprits.

6. “Church of South India Trust Association” (CSITA) was created in the year of 1947 to manage the properties of the churches which have joined to become “The Church of South India”. However, regret to say that the CSITA has not been protecting the properties but has liberally and deliberately been giving post approvals for the illegal sale of large scale properties in various places. It is acting in criminal collusion with the other actors in the drama of alienating CSI church properties. What is happening today is that the officers of the synod, who collaborate in corrupt practices, transform themselves into the CSITA Managing Committee and legitimize and ratify many of the illegal and fraudulent land transactions. This sort of CSITA cannot be trusted with our valuable property. Umpteen examples can be sighted to substantiate this. Let me reproduce something that has already been shared in the web: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/church-of-south-india-properties.html and involving none other than the former moderator of CSI and the Chairman of the CSITA.

The Hon’ble judge at Siddipet City Civil Court observed in I.A. No 133/1993 in OS No.32/1993 as follows:
“Thus when the Respondent No.1 (Rev. B.P.Sugandhar) as Presbyter had resorted to wholesale such financial irregularities entrusting him with job of Bishop and asking him to manage the entire diocese of Medak where crores of rupees of property to be managed by him, there is every possibility of the church properties being squandered in the hands of Respondent No.1 as Bishop. In Christianity the Bishop is spiritual head of the Diocese and he should be an ideal for the community people. If he himself is not a person of virtues and had proven record of unchaste behaviour and questionable character and having doubtful integrity, he should not be permitted to hold office for a day”.
This case is still pending in Secunderabad City Civil Court. This observation has not been set-a-side by any higher Court. The City Criminal Court Nampally, Hyderabad in a case No. Crl.M.P.No. 1436/95 in S.R.No.1735/1995 against Rev.B.P.Sugandhar and others has observed as follows in regard to illegally appointments of Staff.

“The grievance of the Complaint as well as his witnesses is that by committing illegal acts the Accused No.1 (Rev. B.P. Sugandhar) and Accused No. 2 tarnished the image of high office of Bishop and also Christian Community. I am of the opinion that the complainant should have approached the church authorities or Forums which have elected Accused-1 (Rev.B.P Sugandhar) and Accused -2 their respective offices for their REMOVAL”.

This observation has not been challenged by the Accused (B.P Sugandhar) and the case was dismissed for want of jurisdiction. Regarding Dichpally lands, it was gifted by B.P. Sugandhar to a society of which he is himself the Chairman. Thus the donor and the Donee is the same. Vide gift deed No.3135/1999.
Recently, the CSITA Managing Committee has ratified a land transaction entered into by Bishop Kuruvilla of the North Kerala Diocese without power of attorney, without any decision by the Property Committee or the Executive Committee, and without following the norms given in the CSITA manual and against the very explicit directive from the then deputy secretary of the CSITA that the land should not be alienated. The Bishop Kuruvilla is also a party in the same transaction to creating a forged land deed in which, while the total sale amount is 2.73 crores, the amount shown in the stamp paper is only 95 lakhs. If he can cheat the state exchequer to the mutual benefit of the parties involved in this land deal, he can also cheat the CSITA. Criminal proceedings have been initiated in this matter.
All these realities leave us with no choice except to take up the whip and cleanse the “temple” of those who buy and sell, the money changers, and those exploit the credulity of people for pecuniary benefit, to recover the witness and mission of the church. CSITA should be dissolved and a more democratic, autonomous, accountable and legal trusteeship arrangement should be formed to protect our properties and manage our institutions free of corruption and malpractice. Ultimately, this is to recover the essence of our being the true followers of Jesus Christ, transcending middle class respectability and hypocrisy and to commit ourselves to a costly following of Jesus Christ.
If any conscience is left in you, and if it has not been hardened to the point of total moral degradation, then, you can act on the following:
• You can call your fellow bishops, the episcopal hierarchy to repentance and restore the episcopate within a constitutional frame work.
• You can reconstitute and restructure the CSITA, with due consultation with eminent company lawyers, so that it functions as true trustees and not as “thieves”.
• You can call a moratorium to all land deals and such transactions and developmental activities on church lands till such legitimate trusteeship arrangements are made
• You can dust old reports from several reform commissions and find ways to reform the constitution and life the CSI in the light of our experience over the past 6 decades.
• You can constitute viable, just and autonomous structures for seeking internal remedy that would ensure that the justice is meted out to the church members and its employees. You can remind yourselves, as shepherds, to follow the Great Shepherd, who left the 99 and seek after the one that was lost and even gave his life for the sheep.
• You can also call a meeting of all those “disgruntled elements”, who are a head ache to you and give them a patient hearing and then, find a way to sort out their grievances in a manner that will restore the mission and witness of the church.

So, you can at this time rise to the occasion and show that you are a “good shepherd” and show true statesmanship or you can continue to be arrogant and cantankerous and unrepentant. We know that the moderator and the bishops of CSI can employ the costliest advocates in the bar. They can spend enormous sum in protracted legal battle. They can pretend that they have not seen or heard any of the protests. They can take cudgels against many souls in the name of not seeking “internal remedy” and “excommunicate” them from full privilege membership and make mockery of CSI constitution. You can escape behind the mystic of divine power and hood wink the gullible for some time. You can use money and muscle power to silence the voice of dissent. You can buy politicians and bureaucrats of all hues. But we the people claim that we are the true brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, “those who do the will of Jesus’ heavenly father.” We are the church of Jesus Christ, whatever may be the name that one attributes. And we remind you: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt.16: 18)
Hoping that right sense will prevail
With regards,

T J John & Tharian Chacko
Ph: 9446506468;
Ph: 9446014044
SAVE CSI Initiative

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

These are a list of damning accusations and Court Rulings. The middle class must see through the illusions of "piety" of ruthless persons in White uniforms. There is a pressing need to wake up to the personal profiting of our Bishops aided and abetted by their selfish goons. Wake up ! Church members of India wake up.
Let us return to a democratic, responsive body that helps individual churches. Not a "holy master" who loots and sells.

Anonymous said...

When Moderator Vasant Kumar himself is involved in several corruption issue no open letter will touch them.

To save CSI Church the Bishops should be separated from the properties. What CSI must do is they should form a society or a Board to Manage the total property. If should run like a company and professionals should be brought to work as CEOs and Managers who will manage the property. The Bishops should be only the spiritual leader of the Church. They should be only responsible for the spiritual growth of its members.

Otherwise I dont think we will be able to save CSI Church.

Anonymous said...

no use to call himself the moderator or the bishop, shame on you

Anonymous said...

The madhya kerala Bishop election is around the corner. Will a true devout person become the bishop or someone promoted by people who are abusing the positions already.Our moderator who himself is corrupt(pending cases against you in Bangalore courts on the alleged transfer of funds from Bishop Cotton Schools to your personal account) how much will he take in as bribe in appointing the bishop. There many who will fund this transaction. These priests and bishops will improve only when people rise against them and strip of their positions. Each church and its property should belong to people of that area where it is situated.
we laymen should pray that Fear of the Almightly will be instilled in their hearts and they will change their ways

Anonymous said...

The words of Ezekiel have a contemporary ring to it:


Ezekiel 34: 1-6 God's Message came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherd-leaders of Israel. Yes, prophesy! Tell those shepherds, 'God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren't shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don't feed the sheep. You don't build up the weak ones, don't heal the sick, don't doctor the injured, don't go after the strays, don't look for the lost. You bully and badger them. Scattered—my sheep! - exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!
This website is for all those who would like to be part of this remnant who, by their costly and responsible action, would like to be the light, salt and leaven of this world and strive to be the church that truly is an extension of Christ’s body that is broken for the redemption of the world.

Anonymous said...

its time people understood what these people are doing.
Our corrupt moderator how much money is he going to take for upcoming election of Bishop of Madhya kerala. Rumuors are rife with this already. We members must pray that our community is saved from these morally corrupt people.

Anonymous said...

its time people understood what these people are doing.
Our corrupt moderator how much money is he going to take for upcoming election of Bishop of Madhya kerala. Rumuors are rife with this already. We members must pray that our community is saved from these morally corrupt people.

Anonymous said...

All devotees and Leaders of CSI are the followers of Prosperity Gospel, and forgetting God' presence and his mission and the intention of our forefathers and founders of CSI. How pathetic the present status of CSI? No stern administration, no efficient leadership, but everybody have one intention - money, power and travel around the world,no intention to lead the church to the right path in this critical crisis. May God Almighty do something to save this Church!!

Anonymous said...

No use in talking better change yourself.
My experience there is a parrallel church like CSI called The Anglican Church of South India.Refer website www.anglicanchurchofsouthindia.in

Post a Comment