The Church of South India is being Raped by Corruption
By Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
May 16, 2016
Two important messages of May 12, 2016, caught my attention. The first one is from the Anti-Corruption Summit, 2016, that was hosted by the British Prime Minister in London on 12 May, 2016. The summit was preceded by a Conference on anti-corruption and both were attended by heads of governments, world leaders and various representatives from civil societies around the world. They did not pretend to discuss whether there is corruption in the affairs and dealings between various individuals and systems of governance in the world. They were not acting hypocritically, claiming that there are no significant corrupt practices in the world today and even if there were any, the defensive voice saying, ‘they are only aberrations seen only sporadically’. There was no guiding notion that corruption is extremely common and that some forms of corruptions are necessary. They humbly recognised and courageously acknowledged the existence of corrupt practices both in developed and developing countries that deny huge amount of resources to the people. The object of the Anti-Corruption Summit was ‘to step up global action to expose, punish and drive out corruption in all walks of life’.
The Communique issued by the Summit has 34 vital points exposing, tackling and extinguishing activities of corruption in all its forms. The salient features are:
i) ‘We see tackling corruption as a top priority, at home and abroad’ and ‘we will do this by promoting integrity, transparency and accountability’
ii) ‘Entrenched corruption should be targeted, wherever it occurs.’ ‘We will take steps to eliminate loopholes that allow corruption’
iii) ‘Anyone who launders the proceeds of corruption should be brought to justice in full accordance with applicable law.
iv) ‘We call on all countries to regulate and effectively supervise the legal, accounting, property, trust and company services’
v) ‘People should be able to report alleged corruption without fear of reprisal and with confidence that credible information will be acted on. We commit to make it easier for people to report suspected acts of corruption, to protect “whistle blowers” from discriminatory and retaliatory actions, and to promote action including by law enforcement agencies where credible information is provided.’
vi) ‘The corrupt should be brought to justice’
vii) ‘The proceeds of corruption should be identified, seized, confiscated and returned’
viii) ‘We want to send a clear signal to the corrupt that they will face consequences internationally’
ix) ‘We will encourage and support international organisations to increase their focus on fighting corruption’
How do we translate these ideals, actions and goals into the ecclesiastical realm of Christian life? Should not we consider them as something challenging our own definitions of spirituality and churchmanship? The churches are summoned to join in this sacred endeavour ‘to take forward and build upon the Summit outcomes’. ‘It needs an unprecedented, courageous commitment from world leaders,’ said David Cameron. The same thing is required urgently from the leaders of the Church too.
THE CHURCH OF SOUTH INDIA
What is happening in the CSI? The CSI, is the only movement in the Twentieth Century which organically brought together four denominational traditions; Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational. It has turned out to be, after half a century, one of the corruption-ridden churches in the world.
The CSI is reeling over the effects of not just bribery and embezzlement, but dishonest, illegal, anti-people and unconstitutional practices that fester through all the ranks of authority. A corrupt bureaucrat can get laws changed even if there’s no public consensus to do so. This is exactly what happened with the 38-page Amendments and new Bylaws compiled at the behest of the CSI Moderator and imposed on the present Constitution – the fruit and labours of pioneers of union members of three generations. The Moderator (which is not an equivalent of an Archbishop) gave church members no time to read, reflect or discuss the full contents of the report; instead, he flouted and subverted the constitutional process by getting the approval of the Synod – the supreme legislative body of the CSI.
Decisions are normally made by casting votes on the Amendments, but some of the bishops refused to do this in their councils despite members demanding such through the ballot box. Some of those bishops simply obeyed the instructions they got from their superiors and manufactured minutes contrary to the decision that was made and not-made at the Councils.
This type of political corruption has struck a heavy blow to the institutional capacity and vitality to the CSI, causing irreparable structural damage.
A new enemy with one name and many forms, namely Corruption, has arrived in The CSI, and has taken a seat at the altar of the Church. Episcopacy is being held captivity to it. No knowledgeable CSI member can dispute that fact.
Democracy, Constitution and people’s participation have become laughable words. Charges of kleptocracy have set in. The church is controlled and run for the benefit of an individual, or a small group, who at times utilize their power to transfer a proportion of the Church’s resources and wealth to benefit themselves. These identifying colours of kleptocracy are visible everywhere and in everything. It is quite disturbing to the consciences of many to observe that the corruption environment found in the Church, has created a fertile soil for career-builders, cronies, flatterers, and position-seekers.
A majority of the 22 episcopates are embroiled in scandals, court cases including criminal ones. Many are soaked in graft, corruption and bribery in order for the few to attain episcopal power and then cling on to these positions by hook or by crook. Lies, mammon and authoritarianism are the marks of democracy in the CSI.
The seat of the Episcopate has been bought in the CSI; Church resources are siphoned off for the sake of individual aspirants to win elections and land, and properties have become easily coveted targets. The Synod hierarchy has for many decades set themselves up as the automatic ex-officio members of the Trust Association of the CSI which manages the properties of the CSI. The bishops in each diocese operate as their own power of attorneys and directly involve themselves in initiating and executing sale proceedings.
These practices are disallowed by the Companies Act of India, 2013, but CSITA has breached the rules of the Companies Act and is presently waiting for the Serious Fraud Investigation to be conducted (This is permitted by the Prime Minister’s office on 12 April 2016). A number of government agencies have already filed several criminal cases and law-suits against members of the CSI Trust Association for ‘huge financial irregularities and non-compliance of various laws’. (The Letter from the Registrar of Companies to the Secretary of the Government of India dated 8 March 2016). Another communique states after an inspection on the CSITA, ‘It appears that the business of the Company is carried on for a fraudulent/unlawful purpose’ (The letter written by the Joint Director to the Secretary of India dated 2 Feb. 2016).
Corruption is at the very centre of the ecclesiastical management of the Church. Bishop Dyvasirvadam demands total obedience, and derives pleasure that he is being obeyed. He is viewed by his supporters and benefit-seekers, who are docile and gullible, and who have no strong convictions of their own, as a stormy demi-god who can accomplish almost anything on earth.
F. A. Hayek. An Austrian and British economist and philosopher, in his book The
Road to Serfdom (1944) describes the profile of a totalitarian leader in the chapter ‘Why the Worst Get on Top’ thus: “…he must himself be prepared actively to break every moral rule he has ever known if this seems necessary to achieve the end set for him. Since it is the supreme leader who alone determines the ends, his instruments must have no moral convictions of their own. They must, above all, be unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of everything. They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realise, no ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader.” (pp. 154-55)
Moderator and Bishop, Govada Dyvasirvadam, regards himself as the bishop of the whole of the CSI made up of 22 dioceses of nearly 4 million Christians, and believes he has the inalienable right to interfere in the decisions of diocesan councils. Each bishop is treated as a mere official or a functionary of the Moderator, and hence they act as instruments serving to spread his interests and extend his power. It is the only certified path for survival for most of the bishops so they can remain in office and for operating as power of attorney for the Moderator. The administration under the leadership of the last two Moderators failed to ensure accountability, openness, consultation and transparent management. Minutes of the meetings are not made available for public reference. The selling of properties is a closed door business and the people of the church have no knowledge of the deals. The CSI official magazine, Church Life, carries no information on these legal and administrative details, nor any differing views on constitutional changes and resulting court cases.
It is public perception and experience that people are convinced that money from the sale of properties go into the pockets of some of the bishops, their coteries and even relatives. One reports says, “Corruption among the bishops of the Church of South India has plagued the church over the past decade. Two former bishops have been convicted of fraud, and the trials of several bishops for theft are on-going.” The present bishop of the Diocese of Vellore is charged by Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-corruption for taking bribes to the tune of 80 lakhs (about $130,000 US) at the time of the appointment of many assistant professors in Voorhees College in Vellore. In such instances, monies thus earned are regarded as “recovery money” for an elected bishop, who must pump in an amount of money between half a million to one million dollars to be given as bribes to voters, voting agents, selection board members of the Synod and to those who are at the top of the pyramidal structure who normally influence these selections. If you get the seat of the bishopric for less money, or less and less money, it is more by luck or God’s grace.
AN APPEAL TO THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
The Anglican Communion should take a firm stand against the sins of bribery, corruption and other fraudulent activities in our church. It cannot continue to give the red-carpet treatment to men in episcopal dress who have done this to our Church. My passionate appeal is added to the voices of some former Anglican members of the CSI, to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Anglican Communion on 12 May 2016. This is the second message, and it comes from India, a jewel in the British crown.
This corruption violates the basic principles of Christianity and, therefore, the Communion. We must fight corruption anew and combat the vicious manifestations of corruption in our church life and governance. Let me close with the memorable remarks made by Lord Acton in his letter to Bishop Creighton in 1887, which have the famous quote, ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. But the most significant words are: ‘There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’
This brief article is speaking the truth in love, the opposite of which, according to St. Paul, is a teaching with cunning, craftiness and deceitful scheming (Eph. 4: 14-15).
The Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj is Professor in New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore, India