Wednesday, June 20, 2012
More Regulator Trouble for the CSI
More Regulator Trouble for the CSI
Leslie Nathaniel Makes a Second Bid for Bishop
Priceless Wisdom on Church Governance
Even as the recent investigation by the Registrar of Companies (RoC) into the affairs of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA) has opened a can of worms (see CCC Newsletter No 69), a second RoC investigation threatens more trouble for the church. This time the problem concerns the Tirunelveli Diocesan Trust Association (TDTA) which was registered in 1919 under the Companies Act of 1913 to hold all the moveable and immovable assets of the undivided Tirunelveli diocese. Even after the CSITA came into existence in 1947 and the assets of all other CSI dioceses (except Jaffna) came under its control, the schools, colleges, hospitals, etc in Tirunelveli diocese remained under the control of the TDTA.
In 2003 when the Tirunelveli diocese was bifurcated and the new Thoothukudi-Nazareth diocese created, the executive committee of the parent diocese and the CSI Synod passed resolutions to split up the assets held by the TDTA between the two dioceses. But the laid down procedure for this involving a scheme of arrangement/demerger to be carried out under the supervision of the High Court was not followed. Instead cash of Rs 4.48 crore and properties lying within the boundaries of the Thoothukudi – Nazareth diocese were simply transferred to the new diocese and these assets brought under the control of the CSITA.
Contending that such transfers were illegal and a fraud perpetrated on the TDTA and that there had been illegal sale of properties, the Secretary of its Employees Welfare Association A. Earnest Balasingh filed a complaint with the Registrar of Companies. Following a court battle, he forced the RoC to investigate (see RoC letter to Balasingh in Annexure 1) the matter and also followed up with a detailed complaint to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (see Annexure 2). In his complaint, Mr Balasingh has provided documentary proof of how the officials of the two dioceses filed misleading affidavits and effectively defrauded the TDTA and the government. He has requested for a thorough probe and criminal action to be initiated against the bishops and other office bearers of the two dioceses.
This case again illustrates the utterly cavalier and unprofessional approach of the CSI leadership to an issue which, if handled as per law, should have left no room for controversy at all. The CSITA Management Committee Minutes of 18thJuly 2011 (quoted in the complaint letter) virtually acknowledges this fact by stating that a refund could have been sought from the Tamilnadu Government even for the nominal registration fee that may have had to be paid to operationalise the legal bifurcation of assets between the TDTA and the CSITA. That this was never done illustrates the sheer incompetence and stupidity of successive Synod administrations.
While the report of the RoC investigation into the TDTA carried out from April 10, 2012 onwards is awaited, Mr Balasingh has further raised the stakes by taking the matter to the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. The Joint Director in the SFIO in New Delhi has forwarded his complaint, along with a bunch of others, to the Secretary of the Ministry to“kindly take necessary action as deemed appropriate” (see Annexure 3 & 3.1) Should the ministry find there is a case to activate a Serious Fraud probe, the implications for the two bishops and other officials can be a lot more serious as it could even lead to arrests and imprisonment.
The Diocese of Nandyal last month elected a panel of four candidates for the office of bishop with one of them to be selected by the Synod to succeed the incumbent P.J. Lawrence when he retires in August. The two front runners for the post are Rev Theodore Jacob, a former Deanery Chairman, who has the backing of Deputy Moderator of the CSI. G. Dyvasirvadam, and Rev Dr. Leslie Nathaniel who is currently European Secretary of the Church of England. Both of them made it to the panel on the second ballot. Nathaniel, a Tamil by birth, served as the Financial Administrator of the Nandyal Diocese in the late 1980s and early 1990s before being ordained a deacon in the same diocese in 2001 and a presbyter the following year. Though he was a front runner for the bishop’s post in the 2006 elections, Nathaniel lost out to Lawrence -- who was fourth on the panel of candidates in terms of the number of votes secured -- due to money changing hands.
Unlike Rev Theodore Jacob and third contender Rev Z. Yesurathnam who both have several well founded corruption allegations against their names, Nathaniel has a clean and successful track record for the period he served as Financial Administrator. That he does not speak Telugu (though he understands it) may hurt his candidature. On the other hand his election as bishop in a diocese where he is genuinely liked may just be what the CSI requires to refurbish its badly tarnished image among churches in Europe. This is important at a time when corruption scandals galore have reduced the flow of European church aid to the CSI to a trickle. And taking over a bishop of one of the poorest dioceses of the CSI will also be a test of Nathaniel's commitment as it will entail some sacrifice for him and his family (his wife is a foreigner) in terms of relocating from European environs to what is essentially a rural diocese.
To be God’s People – Challenges and Responses. Dr. R. Jayakaran Isaac. Abundant Life Publications. February 2012. Price Rs 150
The tragedy of the CSI over the last two decades has not only been the corruption of its top leaders but their rank incompetence as well (refer first story above for proof). This was not for want of good men and women in the CSI as is brought home to anyone who reads the collection of articles/papers on church policy and practice presented by Dr. Jayakaran Isaac. Dr Isaac, a PhD in Applied Mathematics from the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and former principal of Voorhees College, Vellore, brings precision and academic rigour to his analysis of developments in the CSI spanning four decades.
As Secretary of Vellore Diocese off-and-on for a total of 12 years and as a former member of the Executive Committee of the Synod, Dr Isaac is eminently qualified to hold forth on the numerous topics he discusses. These range from mission of the church in the Indian context to role of the laity in the church, tips to renew worship and liturgy, the problems of theological education and the Constitution of the CSI. Many of these topics formed the subject matter of seminars he helped organise as founder president of the Abundant Life Movement that has the laudable objective of equipping the laity in effective witness and service. The chapters on rediscovering the importance of the local congregation and how to bring about transparency and accountability in church administration at all levels are particularly relevant in the context of the current crisis of credibility the CSI faces. Those interested to obtain a copy of the book may email Dr Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org
CCC Prayer: Dear Lord every day brings with it a new crisis for your church. And each crisis only further exposes the depth of incompetence and corruption of those who hold the reins of power. We pray that these crises will pave the way for a radical overhaul of how your church is governed, particularly the establishment of mechanisms that ensure transparency and accountability. We pray that you will open the hearts and minds of those in power to seek the help of qualified and highly reputed professionals among the laity who will be able to put in place the systems necessary to run the church with discipline and efficiency. In your most precious name we ask. Amen.