Dear readers, Here I present a research article entitled “Looting The Lord: How Corrupt CSI Bishops BecomeCrorepatis” that appeared in the Special Issue of the Journal ‘CHRIST Centered Campaign (CCC)’; Newsletter No 18; dated March 14, 2011. The CSI Bishops in recent times are involved in so many crimes. They loot the church property to swell their own wealth. In this process they try to ‘illegally acquire’ more property to gain more out of it. The DMR CSI Bishop Christopher Asir’s attempt on taking over The American College is one such example. It is quite unfortunate that they have become greedy and rotten criminals. Such criminal CSI bishops are the only lot among Christians who are atheists and they strongly believe the non-existence of God or truth. The Christians and the government should view the ‘criminalization of church by bishops’ very seriously and should not only take punitive steps against such erroneous bishops, but also bring about legal changes to protect church property so that the money can be used for many charitable causes and ultimately the entire Christian community is benefited out of it.
Looting The Lord: How Corrupt CSI Bishops Become Crorepatis
Over the last 17 issues of this newsletter, the CCC has highlighted numerous instances of CSI bishops shamelessly looting the very church they are mandated to protect. Though not all the 22 bishops may be corrupt, it is fair to say that the majority of them are hopelessly so. Here we summarise the main methods employed by CSI bishops to defraud the Church of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are doing this hoping the 350-member CSI Synod will find the evidence below compelling enough to convene in a special session. This to decide on urgent actions, including setting up of a High Powered Special Committee to recommend strong measures to stem the rot. Clearly many CSI Bishops have shown that they prefer to forgo the future treasures in heaven the Bible speaks of for the immediate riches they can enjoy here on earth. Here are the “Top 10” methods CSI Bishops’ employ to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of the Church.
1) Selling church property for a pittance: Given the vast property holdings of the CSI across the four southern states, the potential illegal gain from this route is massive and very tempting. Recently Bishop Christopher Asir of Madurai-Ramnad Diocese sold a seven acre property causing a loss of Rs 9.76 crore to the CSI. See http://www.deccanherald.com/content/132919/register-case-against-bishop-cognizable.html In North Kerala, Bishop K.P. Kuruvilla sold a prime 2.5 acre church property for Rs 2.7 crore when the market value was around Rs 9 crore. See
http://www.savecsi.net/2010/06/open-letter-to-bishop-rt-rev-dr-k-p.html Almost all dioceses have seen such grossly undervalued property sales. Though such sales represent a huge loss for the CSI, they are a win-win proposition for both the buyer and the seller. The buyer gets prime property at well below its market price while the seller (the Bishop) gets to salt away crores in black money. Part of this money is then used to purchase the loyalty of key aides and the silence of public (and in some cases even church) officials when they raise questions about the Bishop’s misdeeds.
2) Overpricing building contracts: With so much property at the CSI’s command, construction is an ongoing activity at most dioceses. This could include putting up new buildings, renovating old ones or adding new blocks/extensions to existing buildings. Bishops make a killing by doling out building contracts that are grossly overpriced and often done without seeking competitive bids. Disgraced Coimbatore Bishop Manickam Dorai swindled Rs 2.5 crore by overpricing the construction of a new block at the CSI Engineering College in Ketti. See http://geoconger.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/new-charges-laid-against-indian-bishop-the-church-of-england-newspaper-june-4-2010-p-7/ In Bangalore, over Rs 5 crore was paid out by the Bishop Vasanthakumar-headed Karnataka Central Diocese to a contractor building a three-star hotel for the diocese on the site of the erstwhile Fuller Hostel. But any independent assessment will show that the site excavation and basement level construction (where the work has been stuck for over two years now) would have cost no more than Rs 2-3 crore. Last year the Karnataka Inter-diocesan Adminstrative Finance and Property Board chose a contractor known to be close to the Moderator to construct a shopping complex in Mysore even though his quotation was around 50% higher than that of the best bidder. In all such cases of overpricing of building contracts, there are massive kickbacks involved for the powers that be.
3) Underpricing rentals and not accounting the same: Another major property-related scandal across the various dioceses involves renting out valuable church property for a fraction of its market rental. This happens in many cases because when the lease comes up for renewal, the Bishop opts to receive cash under the table in return for not hiking the rent or doing so only marginally. A report dated Aug 19, 2010 submitted by the Administrative Committee appointed to manage the Rayalseema Diocese where BishopYesuvaraprasad has committed gross irregularities found it “very shocking to see how rentals are being collected in this diocese.” It highlighted the case of one Mr Samuel Babu who pays a monthly rental of Rs 300 for a “big church property” occupied by him in Kadapa for the last 24 years. The report also inter alia noted:
a)“There are over 100 illegal occupants in the diocesan compound
b)The rentals are collected by several divisional chairmen of respective areas and the same has not been remitted to the diocese regularly.
c)For the mission compound houses, rentals are collected at the rate of 50-100 Rs per month for several years
d)No agreements have been entered into with any of the tenants in the entire diocesan property
e) The diocesan authorities receive rents from the tenants by issuing receipts which are not in the serial numbers followed by the diocese. The proof for the same is enclosed in which the receipt is filled up by the Bishop and signed by the Treasurer and the amount is not been accounted in the diocese. Mr Y.M. Johnson, the then Treasurer admitted with the financial administrator that these receipt books are signed by him and left with the bishop”
In Bangalore’s CSI-owned Unity Buildings, many properties earn the church a rent of 25% or less than the going rate. And low rentals are not the only problem. In Cotton Complex, for example, in Bangalore there are lakhs of rupees in back rentals due from at least one prominent tenant against whom no legal action has been initiated. In Madhya Kerala the report of an officially sanctioned investigation into various irregularities found that rooms in a shopping complex belonging to the diocese were “rented out to 36 persons without obtaining a security deposit.”Given the vast amount of church property that is on rent, the CCC estimates the leakage/loss in the CSI’s rental income on account of widespread malpractices to be in excess of Rs 100 crore a year.
4) Profiting from church property purchases: With an increasing number of CSI property sales attracting legal challenges from laity groups, some bishops have found purchase of property to set up new churches a less controversial route to make money. In Bangalore eyebrows have been raised over the Rs 60 lakh paid by the Karnataka Central Diocese to purchase a litigated property for a new church in Byapannahalli and another similarly large sum spent to acquire land near Magadi Road. Although the money to buy land to build new churches is often raised from member churches (the Byappanahalli church land was entirely financed by St.Mark’s Cathedral) the contributing church has no say in negotiating the commercials. Rather the donor church is simply required to hand over the entire sum to the diocese where, despite the existence of a property committee, it is the Bishop (as the chairman of the property committee) who calls the shots on the commercials of the transaction.
5) Demanding “donations” for admissions: This is a widespread problem across many of the 2000 schools and 130 or so colleges run by the CSI. While one can understand donations taken officially for which receipts are issued, the scandal is of bishops and their henchmen taking lakhs in cash as “donations” (read: bribes) from new students every year for favouring them with admissions. In Bangalore, admissions to the two prestigious Bishop Cotton Schools result in crores changing hands illegally every year. The Synod-appointed Fact Finding Committee headed by Justice Michael Saldhana, former Judge of the Karnataka High Court, that went into the allegations against Bishop Dorai of Coimbatore, found that in the case of the CSI Engineering College in Ketti, “every year an amount averaging Rs 2.00 Lakhs per student has been collected “IN CASH” [capital lettering in original report] personally by Bishop Dorai and that these massive amounts of money were transported in bags and boxes all the way from Ketti in the Nilgiris to CBE by the Bishop’s agents… The aggregate amount of money involved in these transactions would be around Rs 14 crores.”(See CCC Newsletter No 3: Plumbing the Depths of Moral Depravity)
6) Taking bribes for providing jobs: Given the great diversity of activities CSI dioceses are engaged in, from running schools and colleges to hospitals, vocational training institutes and rural development projects, there are a lot of potentially revenue-earning appointments available on tap for a corrupt bishop. The latest scandal that has been doing the rounds is of Bishop Kuruvilla in North Kerala Diocese allegedly collecting Rs 8.5 crore to appoint 32 teachers in four of the newly sanctioned higher secondary schools. Seehttp://geoconger.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/corruption-charges-laid-against-the-bishop-in-north-kerala-the-church-of-england-newspaper-jan-28-2011-p-8/ The other big scandal in relation to jobs is that of rank nepotism with many bishops securing jobs in diocesan institutions not only for their immediate family members but for various other relatives and those from the same village/town they hail from.
7) Diverting foreign aid into personal pockets: This is yet another major racket across various dioceses. There are many shelters for orphans, street children, women in distress, etc run by the CSI which attract foreign assistance on a regular basis. These usually come from foreign parishes or from church-related donor institutions. Sometimes visiting foreigners hand over wads of currency for the institution they visited to the bishop or his wife assuming this to be a safe practice and not seeking any receipt. Unfortunately, in many cases, this foreign currency received is kept by the bishops’ wives for their personal shopping sprees when they travel abroad. Even money received from abroad to establish new churches gets diverted. The Rayalseema report refered to above exposes how grants received from PROK and PCK Churches in Korea for the “construction of several rural churches…. are diverted and not given for the construction. The recipient churches confess that unless certain % is given the amount given by the Korean churches do not reach them.”The biggest diversion of foreign aid into individual pockets in the CSI happens immediately after natural disasters when a large volume of relief money suddenly flows in. Even though former CSI General Secretary Pauline Satyamurthy is the main accused in stealing Rs 7.5 crore from a Rs 17 crore grant given by the US-based Episcopal Relief & Development for the victims of the 2004 tsunami, it is well known that she doled out some of this windfall to several CSI bishops. Separately, a detailed police complaint was filed by the Laity Association of CSI Madras Diocese against their Bishop V. Devasahayam and two others for allegedly misappropriating Rs 4.82 crore received from various US and European donors towards providing tsunami relief. Even funds raised from Indian churchgoers for emergency relief gets misused. The Madhya Kerala report mentioned earlier records how “no money from the Rs 19 lakhs collected from the people for Gujarat Earthquake Relief Fund was spent for that purpose.”
8) Stealing/Squandering Church Assets: The official investigation into the malpractices engaged in by Bishop Dorai of Coimbatore revealed how the Bishop’s brother had taken away computers, vehicles and other equipment from a CSI-run teacher training institution to start a private institute of his own. Similarly the report on the problems in the Rayalseema Diocese reveals that the ”Safari vehicle which was used by the previous Bishop was given to Mr Vimal, s/o previous Moderator Sugandhar without any consideration. The demand for the loan repayable comes to the diocese. No explanation.”
9) Misappropriating Church Funds: Last year, a police complaint was filed against Bishop Devakadasham of Kanyakumari diocese for misappropriating diocesan funds through fake accounting. The allegation was that the Bishop, who is also deputy moderator of the CSI, and his treasurer had shown in diocesan accounts a sum of Rs 10.5 lakhs as payment to the Medical Council of India (MCI) in September 2009 towards seeking permission for starting a medical college. Nine months later an RTI enquiry generated an official response from the MCI that it had not received any DDs towards starting of any medical college in Kanyakumari. In Bangalore, a criminal case filed against Bishop and current CSI Moderator S. Vasanthakumar alleges he opened a fake Bishop’s Discretionary Fund (BDF) account to divert funds that were meant to go into the official diocese-maintained BDF account. The Bishop, his official correspondence shows, ordered church-run schools to transfer lakhs of rupees into the fake BDF account, money that was then used for meeting the personal expenses of his family members. See http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report_bishop-accused-of-embezzlement-bangalore-police-investigate_1480096 . In the Thoothukudi-Nazareth Diocese Bishop J.A.B Jebachandran initiated legal proceedings against the Synod after it directed him to produce accounts of the diocese following serious allegations of misappropriation (See CCC Newsletter No 14 article: A diocese that is a law unto itself). A common tactic used across many dioceses to loot church money is to raise fake bills towards products and services not availed of or done so in far lesser quantities than what is billed for.
10) Foisting Personal Liability on the Church: In Coimbatore Diocese where the Bishop’s brother took a personal loan of Rs 1.7 crore from a money lender, the Fact Finding Committee found that the surety offered was four blank cheques from the diocese. When these cheques bounced, the moneylender got a court order attaching church property. Again, one of the reasons it has been difficult for the laity to rein in such heinous crimes committed by corrupt bishops has been their liberal use of church funds to fight their legal battles. Senior lawyers have been hired, sometimes for as high as Rs 5 lakh for a single appearance, for fighting charges that clearly stem from criminal misconduct on the part of the bishop personally. In fact the Synod should actively consider vesting with its Executive Committee the power to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if a particular Bishop shall be permitted to use official diocesan funds to fight charges of criminal impropriety that may be leveled against him.
The CCC finds it deeply troubling that a handful of corrupt bishops have for years now successfully held to ransom a church of 4 million strong believers. This is all the more shocking considering that the CSI constitution mandates (in page 78) that the 350-member CSI Synod is the “supreme governing and legislative body of the Church of South India and thefinal authority (emphasis added) in all matters pertaining to the Church.” The Constitution also confers the Synod with the power to “frame its own rules of debate and of procedure” (page 81) and to appoint “Special Committees or Boards” (page 84) as it may deem necessary. Although convening a Special Meeting of the Synod (apart from the Ordinary Meeting that is held once every two years) would need to be done by the Synod Executive Committee — a body that tends to be dominated by the Bishops and their cronies — this is not as difficult a task as it may appear. All it requires is a strong commitment on the part of at least one third of all Synod members (the quorum required to hold a Synod meeting) to demand such a meeting and rescue this great church from the clutches of corrupt leaders who are looting it.
Enroll as a CCC Supporter
The CHRIST Centered Campaign has the objective of reforming the CSI church to make it what the Lord would want it to be — Clean, Holy, Reconciled, Informed, Steadfast in its mission and Transparent or CHRIST for short. If you share these goals and are a member of the CSI then you can enroll as a supporter of the CHRIST Centred Campaign (CCC). Kindly send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a one line statement “Yes, I share the objective of the CCC and would like to enroll as a supporter. I am a member of the CSI.” Please provide your name and the name of your church and city where you are a member. If you have already enrolled and sent us an email to this effect, thank you for doing so and we will revert to you on how you could get more involved. Meanwhile please forward this mail to any other CSI member you know who may be interested to enroll as a supporter.
ABOUT THE CCC
The CHRIST Centered Campaign (CCC) to Save the CSI seeks to be an independent voice for reform within the CSI. Its goals are drawn from the very name of our Lord and Saviour as enunciated below.
C = A clean church free of corruption
H = A holy church
R = A church that promotes reconciliation both within and outside.
I = An informed church responsive to the challenges of a changing world
S = A church that remains steadfast in its mission
T = A transparent and accountable church which becomes a model to the rest of society.
The CCC welcomes all those independent-minded CSI members who share the above ideals to become active participants in this journey of change. Write in email@example.com and tell us how you would like to participate and/or your thoughts on how to take this campaign forward.
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Previous CCC Newsletters in the Series
CCC Newsletter 1: Archbishop Rowan Williams engages with advocates of CSI reform. October 18, 2010.
CCC Newsletter 2: “Charges Against CSI Bishop True,” October 24, 2010
CCC Newsletter 3: Plumbing the Depths of Moral Depravity, November 9, 2010
CCC Newsletter 4: CSI Synod Spends like there is no Tomorrow, November 18, 2010
CCC Newsletter 5: Synod Paralysed by Fear of Acting Against Dorai, December 2, 2010
CCC Newsletter 6: Why St. Mark’s Cathedral Laity Must Act, December 11, 2010
CCC Newsletter 7: It’s Raining X’mas Bonuses in the KCD, December 21, 2010
CCC Newsletter 8: Tackling Church Corruption is God’s Problem! January 2, 2011
CCC Newsletter 9: “Where nefarious activities go on, the top man is a clergyman,” January 10, 2011
CCC Newsletter 10: Special Synod to further Strengthen Power of Bishops January 15, 2011