Do bishops have the power to alienate Church property? Catholic Dioceses Move Supreme Court Against Kerala High Court Remarks
Two Catholic dioceses in Kerala have gone to the Supreme Court against a Kerala High Court judgment which ruled that bishops do not have the power to alienate church property and that their powers are limited to religious matters and spiritual.
The Catholic Diocese of Thamarassery and the Eparchy of Bathery filed the applications for special leave challenging the remarks made by a single bench of the Kerala High Court in the August 2021 judgment which refused to quash the criminal charges against Cardinal Mar George Alencherry for the sale of properties belonging to the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamalay.
A bench comprising Judges Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose Friday (March 25) marked the petition filed by the Diocese of Thamarassery with the petition filed by the Eparchy of Bathery. The petition filed by the Eparchy of Bathery had been adjourned for two weeks on March 21.
The High Court of Kerala, in its judgment rendered on August 12, 2021, observed that “the religious supremacy conferred on the bishop or the apostolic succession should be understood as limited to religious matters both temporal and spiritual governed by law ecclesiastical, namely canon law”. A single bank of Justice P. Somarajan points out that these powers of the bishop will not include the right to dispose of the property vested in the endowment.
The dioceses raised objections to these remarks made by the High Court and argued that they were based on a misunderstanding of canon law. The petitioners argue that the erroneous remarks made by the High Court will negatively affect all dioceses.
In the judgment, the High Court had also observed that canon law cannot supplant general civil law and underlined the need for legislation to regulate church endowments.
“It is so regrettable that no endowment legislation has so far been enacted to resolve the various issues relating to the legal status of ecclesiastical authorities insofar as property which is not held within the scope of their creeds nuns, their faith or their observances and even deal with the legal status of a charitable institution managed by ecclesiastical authorities”had observed the High Court.
Cases: Catholic Diocese of Thamarassery v State of Kerala and others, SLP(Crl) Journal No.7364/2022, Eparchy of Bathery v State of Kerala and others, SLP(Crl) No.1487/2022
Orders here and here