RECENT ALLEGATIONS LEVELED AGAINST THE ARCHBISHOP AND THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOMBAY
It has been brought to our attention that there are a number of emails, SMSes and WhatsApp messages doing the rounds, attacking the Archdiocese, Archbishop’s House and, in recent times, even Cardinal Gracias, on a range of issues. Most of these allegations refer to property matters and/or individual priests.
At the outset we would like to place before our viewers that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, since the time he took over as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Bombay, has not sold any Church land, nor has he given his consent for the sale of any property belonging to the Archdiocese of Bombay, unless due process of law concerning alienation of land was followed and there was a clear disadvantage to the Church in retaining it.
It would be important to know that, already in the year 2011, Cardinal Gracias had announced a moratorium on sale of Church land unless there was a clear disadvantage to the Church in retaining it, i.e., danger of encroachment, being overrun by slums, big outgoings, etc. Besides, he had also clarified the Archdiocesan policy and procedures regarding this in The Examiner dated July 16, 2011, page 6.
We give below, the process to be followed for the sale of Church property, which appeared in the said Examiner, for your ready reference:
Sale of Church Property
Since there have been some reports about the sale of Church property, I think it is necessary to clarify Archdiocesan policy and procedures regarding this. As a policy, in the Archdiocese of Bombay, no Archdiocesan property is to be sold, unless there is a clear disadvantage to the Church in retaining these, i.e. danger of encroachment, being overrun by slums, big outgoings, etc. Besides, the following procedures are followed:
- 1 If a Parish Priest feels that a particular piece of property is to be alienated, he must first get the consent of the Parish Finance Committee. The proposed sale is informed to the parishioners: either through the Parish Council or by an announcement on the Notice Board.
- 2 The Parish Priest then refers the matter to Archbishop’s Office: here the matter is first studied by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee, (a body of experts in finance, law, engineering and administration), whose consent is obtained for the alienation; after this is obtained, or while the matter is being studied by the Archdiocesan Finance Committee, the matter is referred to the College of Consultors, a body of senior priests, who look into the pastoral aspects of the sale. Prior to this, a valuation by a Government-approved valuer is obtained, and the alienation is advertised in the newspapers, inviting offers.
- 3 After the consent of both these bodies has been obtained, the matter comes to the Archbishop who may then give his permission. If the value of the property is above the limit set by the Episcopal Conference (presently Rs. 1 Crore), the matter is referred to the Holy See for its approval as well.
- 4 After all the above approvals have been obtained, as required by Canon Law and the Archdiocesan praxis, the matter is referred to the Charity Commissioner for his permission
Hence, there are many steps to be gone through before any sale is permitted. The Trustee/Parish Priest’s role is limited to initiating this process, and later seeing to the execution after the required permissions have been obtained.
The funds received from the sale are to be put in the Corpus of the Trust, and are not to be used for any running expenditure. If any amount is to be spent from the Corpus, specific permission has to be obtained for this, both from the Archbishop and the Charity Commissioner.
– S/d. Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, July 12, 2011]
In view of the misinformation that is being shared to a wider audience through emails, SMSes and WhatsApp messages, which has no reference point to authenticate the messages received, this clarification is being made available so as to give the Catholic Community the actual facts.
Case I: Allegation regarding the missing jewels gifted for the Statue of Our Lady at Sacred Heart Church, Santacruz
The jewels were donated by a donor. The jewels went missing. This was discovered in the year 2003. Later, since various allegations were being floated around regarding the missing jewels, a full enquiry was conducted by the Archdiocese and statements obtained from concerned persons to ascertain the facts of the case. All these facts were communicated to the original donor of the jewels who, in turn, has issued a statement confirming that ‘the issue of the jewels is a closed chapter and should not be brought up again’.
Case II: Allegation that the Church was responsible for the eviction of one Mr. Valeriano Fernandes
- 1 The fact of the matter is as follows: Mr. Valeriano and others are tenants of Mr. Verissimo Pereira, lessee of the property from Kalina Church since 20th March 1950 when Fr. Alexis Gomes was the Parish Priest.
- 2 The said Mr. Verissimo Pereira had constructed rooms and sublet them to the tenants (complainants) who paid rent to him.
- 3 The sons of Mr. Verissimo Pereira filed eviction suits against the tenants in 2007. Apparently, they succeeded in the suits and an Eviction decree has been passed against the tenants. The Church is in no way involved with or party to the suit.
Regarding the sale of land to Mr. Verissimo Pereira, the following points might be noted:
- There are stringent procedures, both civil and canonical, for alienation of any property and these are followed. The decision to alienate any land or not, is that of the local church.
- If a Parish Priest feels that there is a clear disadvantage to the Church in retaining a plot of land belonging to the Church Trust and wishes to alienate it, he must first get the consent of the Parish Finance Committee.
- It is only after obtaining consent from the Parish Finance Committee does the Parish Priest apply to the Archbishop to seek his permission.
- This is an issue which occurred between June 1990 and May 1996.
- Hence, Cardinal Oswald Gracias is in no way involved as he took canonical possession of the Archdiocese only on December 14, 2006.
- On March 25, 1950, Fr. Alexis Gomes leased the property to Mr. Verissimo Pereira for 12 years. As Mr. Pereira did not pay the rent, Fr. Marques Gonsalves filed a suit in 1971.
- In 1976, Mr. Verissimo Pereira applied for purchase of the property and an agreement was executed between the Church and Mrs. Ismailia, the widow of Mr. Verissimo Pereira. However, since she failed to pay the consideration amount, the Church cancelled the agreement in 1985.
- In February 1990, Mrs. Pereira made a fresh offer to purchase the land for a higher price. An agreement was entered into with the Church in June 1991 following due process of law, which included obtaining permission from the Charity Commissioner.
- The consideration received from the sale has been deposited in the church account and receipts have been issued accordingly. (This was confirmed by the then incumbent Parish Priest)
- Taking into account all the facts, it is clear that the complainants (Mr. Valeriano Fernandes and others) have no locus standi to raise any dispute with Kalina Church in respect of sale of the church land to Mr. Verissimo. They are tenants of Mr. Verissimo Pereira and his heirs. The eviction suit was filed by the heirs of Mr. Verissimo Pereira against Mr. Valeriano Fernandes and others. The Church does not come into the picture at all and has nothing to do with the eviction order.
- The only remedy available to the said Mr. Valeriano Fernandes and others was to pursue their rights as tenants for protection against the landlords (E. A. Pereira and others), in the appropriate Court. This was communicated to Mr. Valeriano Fernandes by the then Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Fr. Savio Fernandes on the 24th of May 2012 by way of a letter.
- Mr. Valeriano Fernandes (as sub tenant) was advised to seek legal redress against Mr. Verissimo and his legal heirs as the matter is between him and Mr. Verissimo. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, Mr. Valeriano acted against the advice to file a legal case in the Rent court. The matter rests there.
Case III: Alleged irregularities regarding land at Our Lady of Mercy Church, Pokhran, Thane.
The Vartak Nagar Police Station, Pokhran informed the Archdiocese that a complaint was filed by some people from Thane against the Cardinal and an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Mumbai. On receiving our reply and on making further investigations, the Police were satisfied that the complaints made against the Cardinal and the Bishop were false and hence did not proceed further with the matter.
The complaints raised were with regards to four points, which have been circulated through the electronic /digital media. The issues raised are:
- 1 That the Church has sold land bearing survey numbers 188, 189/2A and 193/3A at Pokhran Road no 2, Revenue Village, Majiwada.
- 2 That the Church/ Archdiocese is seeking to demolish an ancient Church and use the stones for a new church.
- 3 That the Church/ Archdiocese is demolishing the School cum Church at Pokhran.
- 4 That false statements have been made to the Charity Commissioner to obtain permission for the sale of these plots.
The facts of the case are as follows, given in serial order:
- 1 The plots under reference are reserved by the TMC for a playground. Being reserved for a playground, the land is not buildable and the only benefit which the landlord can get is TDR. Experience has shown that getting the TDR is a cumbersome process as the TDR certificate is given only after the reserved land is transferred by the owner in the name of the Municipal Corporation both legally and in the Revenue records, and takes years. The Conveyance executed by St. John the Baptist Trust, Thane, which is the legal owner of the plots, is for FSI of these plots which the buyer, will transfer as TDR for buildings he is putting up elsewhere. The sale of the TDR went to the highest bidder.
- 2 The Church/Archdiocese is not seeking to demolish an ancient Church. The structure under reference is on plot no 184/4 and was under litigation. To the best of our knowledge this plot is with the Court Receiver. Plot 189/4 is not reflected in the agreement at all. The ancient Church that currently stands on this plot 189/4 is in ruins and we foresee it will eventually come down or be demolished by the civic authorities as a result of decay. In the event of such a possibility, the Church would wish to preserve the stones of this ancient structure rather than let its memory be totally obliterated. This is also in keeping with tradition.
- 3 The Little Flower School, attached to the Church, is in a dilapidated state and poses a danger to the children. The hope of the Archdiocese is to build a new structure with continued facilities including worship. Plans for this new structure have been filed with the Thane Municipal Corporation.
- 4 A charge has been made before the Charity Commissioner that sale of FSI was obtained on the basis of false statements by the then Trustee of St. John the Baptist Trust, Thane. The Charity Commissioner’s office, by its order dated 27/1/2014, has issued an Interim Injunction Order till the charge can be investigated. The matter is pending in court.
Case IV: Regarding Marinagar
- 1 St. Michael’s Church, Mahim owns a plot of land near Mahim station, Marinagar. On this plot there were 16 small ground floor structures and 5 buildings put up by St. Michael’s Church for Catholics from the low income category. Through an Agreement entered into by St. Michael’s Church and a Developerin 1991, the Developer was given the right to develop this plot and use all the FSI available minus the FSI of 5 existing buildings. The Developer was required to demolish 16 ground floor structures and re-house the existing tenants/occupants of the said structures by providing them with permanent alternate accommodation. He was entitled to use the rest of the FSI for his own benefit. For this he was required to pay St. Michael’s Rs. 601/- per sq. foot for the FSI consumed up to 44000 sq. feet. Above that, the payment was Rs. 841/-per sq. foot.
- 2 Around the year 2008, the Developer found a way of getting extra FSI. Accordingly, he filed plans for utilising the extra FSI. He wanted to carry out this development at the 1991 rate of Rs. 841/- on the grounds that the 1991 Agreement gave it the right to develop all the existing FSI. The Church refused to accept this and after much negotiation got the price raised to Rs. 2000/- per sq. foot. A claim has been made that the Church has sold land at Rs. 2000/- per sq. foot which is not really the case. Rather, after much negotiation, it succeeded in raising the 1991 rate from Rs. 841/- to Rs. 2000/- per sq. foot.
- 3 Also, people residing in the 5 existing structures were made to believe that their FSI had been swallowed by the Developer and hence when the time would come to re-develop their 5 buildings, there would be no FSI left for re-development. On checking with some architects of repute we were informed that the FSI of the 5 structures remains intact. And so, plans are afoot to redevelop the five Buildings. However, there has been a slight delay in view of the proposed enhanced FSI by the Government
Case V: Case of the lock-breaking priest
There is an ancestral house in Bandra belonging to four brothers; each of the brothers has a 2/3 bedroom flat in the ancestral house. The gate to the building was always open. A lock was put by someone, which blocked access to the Building. One of the brothers, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Army, who owns one of the flats got the lock broken. He was present on the occasion. This is surely a family matter which does not involve the Church. One of the brothers is a member of the hierarchy and asked a priest to help. Even if a priest is asked to help and he was present when the lock was broken, it remains a family matter and should be resolved by the family members.
Archdiocese of Bombay
May 27th 2015