Open Letter to Rt. Rev Dr P. Surya Prakash, President, United Theological College (UTC) Society.

9th July 2010

Rt. Rev Dr P. Surya Prakash
United Theological College Society

Dear Rt. Rev Dr Surya Prakash,

The Bishop Boycott Campaign would like to congratulate you and those at the UTC on the institution completing 100 years.

We were  in the audience yesterday (8th July 2010)  when the Governor of Karnataka His Excellency H.R. Bharadwaj addressed the concluding function of your centenary celebrations at the UTC. Our apologies for gatecrashing the event without an invitation. But we could not resist seeing for ourselves how the Governor would react to being seated next to the Moderator of the CSI  and Bishop of Karnataka Central Diocese S.Vasanthakumar. After all it was only two weeks earlier His Excellency had received a delegation in the Raj Bhavan bearing a petition seeking the arrest of Vasanthakumar and his family members  in the criminal case that a Bangalore court had ordered a police investigation on.

In the event it was most encouraging to see His Excellency avoiding making eye contact with Vasanthakumar during the entire function. In fact after the function was over and before he walked off the stage the Governor actually turned to you and your principal to chat leaving Vasanthakumar looking  like a security guard standing behind him. If the CSI head  missed the message from the body language of His Excellency we are sure many in the audience did not.

Poor Advertisement
It was interesting how in his address as Chairperson of the UTC’s Centennial Celebration Committee, Vasanthakumar noted that “next to my parents and my primary school teacher it was UTC that shaped my destiny and my values.” While the poor sod meant that as a compliment to his alma mater, we are sure most UTC wellwishers would have cringed on hearing these words. There can be no worse advertisement for the UTC than to have Vasanthakumar as your ex-student and, worse, for him to advertise that his values were shaped by the UTC . Of course since he dipped into CSI school funds and gave you Rs 1.5 crore, to put up a building in honour of his principal the late Russell Chandran, one supposes you really had no choice but to make this eminent crook  the entirely ceremonial chairman of your centennial celebration committee.

What must be even more disturbing for UTC wellwishers was Vasanthakumar’s statement that  currently 15 of the 22 bishops in the CSI are ex-UTC students. While again the poor sod meant that as a compliment, he only caused embarrassment to the UTC as many of these15 are involved in various crimes. The CSI Rogue’s Gallery in fact is headed by none other than Vasanthakumar himself. Then there is the Chennai Bishop Devasahayam (who has gone to the Supreme Court to try and ensure  the chair that he has glued to his bottom for the last 10 years is not prised away), the Coimbatore Bishop Dorai (who recently spent a stint in jail) the North Kerala Diocese Bishop Kuruvilla (who is busy making money from selling church property) ……the list is long as are the crimes of those in it.

In fact the Bishop boycott campaign was witness to the amusing sight of  Bishop Kuruvilla,buttonholing Vasanthakumar immediately after the function yesterday and seeking his advice on how to handle the recent court orders slapped on him. After all who better to give advice to a crook than a fellow crook! More power to our friends at who have systematically exposed Kuruvilla’s many crimes. For his part Vasanthakumar lamented to Kuruvilla how both their names had figured in the many emails exposing corruption that had gone out to foreign donors leading to a  choking off of overseas funding to the church.

Curriculum Shortcomings
The Bishop Boycott Campaign recently went through the curriculum of your courses in the UTC (as contained in your college handbook 2009-10) and found that while you offer, as part of the Bachelor of Divinity programme,  everything from Advanced English to  Skill Development in Communication and A Critique of Development and Modernisation there is virtually nothing on what ails the church today.  In fact while much  of the curriculum is outward looking (as indeed it should be) there is a virtual exclusion of anything looking inward at the burning problems in the church today.  What your students  should be critiquing is not the ills of modern development but plain old fashioned corruption that is going on unchecked within many churches – all while acting in the name of our  Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ of course!

The Bishop Boycott Campaign would like to suggest that you introduce a course on “Corruption in the Church”  We recommend (tongue firmly in cheek of course) that you use a case study approach to  this course  where students are encouraged to study corruption as it has manifested itself in the Church -- whether in the forgery techniques employed by Vasanthakumar to prepare false documents or Bishop Dorai’s modus operandi in stealing Rs 3 crore of diocesan funds. Unless future pastors are familiarized with these methods of committing crimes they probably will not recognize it when they see it being done by their bishop!

One of your illustrious predecessors as the UTC head the late Vasanth  P. Dandin (who gave the CSI the “gift” of Vasanthakumar as bishop) was no less a master in this art of making a fast buck. He used to insist on being paid airfare to travel between Dharwad (where he was Bishop) and Bangalore when he came for meetings. The small problem of there being no air service between the two cities did not deter him. First class rail fare was just not good enough for him and the unhappy compromise had to be settling for the higher taxi fare for a journey where no taxi was involved. There was of course the other problem of his arranging three different meetings in Bangalore on a single visit and taking travel benefits from all three, a problem that has not entirely gone away we understand.

The Bishop Boycott Campaign's challenge to the UTC
The Bishop Boycott Campaign calls on the UTC to issue public letters to all bishops who are its ex-students and whose criminal deeds have been published in newspapers to offer an explanation for their misdeeds. If there is no response, the UTC should write to the Income Tax authorities to have these ex-students and their bank accounts investigated. Further the Bishop Boycott Campaign urges the UTC to hold a public hearing along the lines of the jan sunwai made famous by the MKSS in Rajasthan, where  church members having evidence of the wrongdoings of bishops present the same before an independent jury. The accused Bishops should also be invited to defend themselves. The Bishop Boycott Campaign will more than happily participate publicly in this cleansing process.

Since apart from the CSI, the UTC has several other denominations represented in its midst, there will be no shortage of corruption cases to study. We will even recommend that you influence  Vasanthakumar to institute an endowment  for the “Study of Corruption in the Church” and invite him to be on the guest faculty along with his fellow bishops from Chennai, Coimbatore, North Kerala, etc. It could well turn out to be the most popular course you have ever run in the UTC’s 100-year history.

On a more serious note, the Bishop Boycott Campaign understands that your major problem in the UTC today is dependence on diocesan funds to finance the activities of the institution. With the drying up of Mission funds, the UTC is at the mercy of the Bishops, corrupt or otherwise, for its sustenance. This means you are handicapped in fighting the injustice being perpetrated on the church by those who are meant to be its chief guardians.  But taken beyond a point, this problem of funding can also become a justification  for inaction. What efforts has the UTC made to reduce its dependence on diocesan funds?  The Christian community in India (many members of which are extremely well placed in life) can provide the funds the UTC needs to free itself of the diocesan stranglehold.  Unfortunately tapping into this ready source would require  having both vision and leadership of the kind that is missing in the UTC of today.

Quality of Students
Finally we want to offer some advice on improving the quality of students you currently get at the UTC. As we all know, to a large extent, the quality of the output is pre-determined by the quality of the initial input. We also know that the best and brightest do not want to become priests. In fact finding a first class graduate wanting to join a B.D. programme would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But we believe this problem is also because of the inadequate appreciation among the public at large of the benefits of becoming a priest.

With government jobs shrinking thanks to liberalization, the church offers some of the few remaining  assured lifetime employment opportunities with benefits that are hard to find anywhere else. As any CSI pastor in Bangalore can testify, these benefits include getting a job for the wife in a CSI school (even if she is not adequately qualified for it)  free tuition for the children in CSI schools, medical insurance cover of Rs 2 lakhs,   a residence free of rent, vehicle with fuel and a starting salary of around Rs 15,000. There are also the thousands to be made each month from covers that grateful parishioners slip quietly for officiating at marriages, baptisms, etc. Even in retirement such covers provide a steady stream of undisclosed income apart from the official pension.

Above all, there is the unmatched respect that the priesthood commands. Most people would give an arm and a leg to have others kowtowing to them in public and, hey, priests don’t even have to stand in queues to get their food at say a marriage reception! For the venal-minded clergy of course, there is lakhs to be made from mediating school admissions, selling church property for personal gain, negotiating below market rentals for  church property, etc. Who said priesthood is an unattractive proposition? Perhaps the UTC should advertise the legitimate benefits of priesthood to attract good fee paying students to join the institution. Currently virtually all your students are financed by the dioceses (which also means you have little control over who joins).

If some of our criticism of the UTC seems unduly harsh, our regret is that it is not harsher. The UTC is largely seen by the lay person today, and rightly so,  as an ossified institution reluctant to address the many ills that plague the  wider Christian church. And  by continuing to remain silent on the widespread and open corruption that exists at the highest echelons of the CSI church (the second largest in terms of membership after the Roman Catholic church in India),  you offer little hope for a better future for Christians everywhere. But that does not stop us from wishing the UTC all the very best for its second century.

Yours in Christ

The Bishop Boycott Campaign

P.S. The Bishop Boycott Campaign understands your ex-student Bishop Dorai, who has virtually been driven out of Coimbatore by the church faithful, is to be given refuge in the UTC by getting a house to stay on the premises. Why is it that the UTC has to become the last refuge of scoundrels? On a more positive note, you may have found the ideal person to lead the suggested "corruption in the church" course! 

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sarin said...

where are there these bishops heading to?

Anonymous said...

The name should be changed from united theological college to united theives college. UTC is another Sodom Gomorrah in the earth.It is better to close this institution as soon as possible otherwise it will spoil the entire Christian community.One of the professor has already expelled for involving in sexual scandal.

Anonymous said...

Dear Brother,
You have written so many letters to different people, have you got any reply from them?

Anonymous said...

Is there any forum / group that is fighting against the corruption in CNI? I am staying in North India and would like to be a part of that group. These days even foreign missionaries have become crook and are misappropriating the funds both from abroad and India. Churches becoming 'den of thieves' - Its high time for every one to stand up in unity and fight against the corruption in high places.

E S Thomas

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