Clergy’s elevation in Kerala sparks row

The elevation of Father Varghese Thekkekkara as the Cor Episcopa in the Ernakulam-based Jacobite Syrian Christian Church has raised eyebrows in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

By T K Devasia

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Published: Mon 16 Sep 2013, 11:25 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:39 PM

The coronation of the new Cor Episcopa, which is a post next below the bishop with powers to appoint vicars in the parishes, by Baselios Thomas 1, head of the Kerala-based church, has rattled the faithful as he is an accused in a murder case being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

He is the prime accused in the case related to the murder of T M Varghese (65), a member of the Malankara Orthodox Church, which is locked in a longstanding feud with the Jacobite Church over the division of churches and their properties following the split over allegiance to the Syria-based Patriarch.

Varghese, who is also known as Malankara Varghese, was hacked to death by a gang outside a car workshop at Perumbavoor on December 5, 2002.

The Kerala police that investigated the case initially believed the murder to be the result of business rivalry, but the relatives of the deceased alleged involvement of members of the rival Church in the crime.

The CBI, which took over the probe in November 2007 on the order of the high court, charged Father Varghese with conspiracy in the murder. Their investigation found that the criminals were hired to eliminate Varghese to avenge the death of a follower of the Jacobite Church in a motor accident a month ago. The Jacobite church alleged that the members of the Malankara Church had run over a car deliberately on their follower. They believed Varghese, who was a member of the managing committee of the church and a prominent businessman, was behind the death.

The role of Father Varghese behind the murder of Malankara Varghese came to light following the arrest of one Joy Varghese, who confessed that he had hired the gang that committed the murder. The CBI found that the money for the criminals was paid from the accounts of the parish headed by Father Varghese.

The CBI subsequently named the priest as the first accused in the case. However, they did not arrest him saying that he was fully cooperating with the investigation. They also feared that the arrest may fan religious sentiments.

However, a section of the Church did not agree with the CBI. The Laity Association of the Church felt the move to spare the priest would send wrong signals at a time when crimes in the name of religion are rising. They took up the matter with Ignatius Zakka 1, the Patriarch of the Church based at Antioch in Syria, saying that it would lower the image of the Church.

The Church leadership did not pay any heed to the laity and elevated the priest to the key position. They claimed that the case against the priest was deliberately cooked up by the rival Church. They said Father Varghese could not be found guilty until a court established the charge against him.

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