Friday, March 29, 2013

Corruption Stalks Church of South India- Special Report

CHENNAI, India: Corruption Stalks Church of South India 
Fifteen out of 21 Anglican bishops said to be corrupt according to Central Intelligence Authorities
Nearly two million dollars given for Tsunami victims by The Episcopal Church that were siphoned off reveal tip of financial corruption

Corruption Stalks Church of South India 
By David W. Virtue in Chennai 
March 27, 2013

Nearly two million dollars given by Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), the social service arm of The Episcopal Church, for victims of the 2004 Tsunami never got to those for whom it was intended. A Church of South India General Secretary diverted a third of the money to a private clinic run by her medical daughter, a Dr. Beneta.

The money was supposed to have gone to fishermen who lost their boats following giant earthquake driven Tsunami waves that killed 155,000 people and decimated the fishing industry. Money was given to rebuild their homes and to buy new fishing boats destroyed by the 50 foot waves. They received minimal sums of money for boats but nothing for reconstructing their lives and homes.

This is just one of numerous stories of a decades-long history of corruption in the Church of South India that has left Christians cynical that change is possible and good order can ever be restored to the biggest Protestant Church in India. One Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) detective (the equivalent of the FBI) says that the problem remains so widespread in the Church of South India that as many as 15 of the church's 21 bishops have been tainted by corruption over the years.

Major J. Victor, an Anglican lay activist, General Secretary, Laity Association of CSI and whistle blower who has railed against corruption of the Church of South India for years, sat down with VIRTUEONLINE in Chennai. He told the story of corruption that has riddled his Church, resulting not only in fines and jail time for crooked bishops, but a weakened witness for the gospel while bishops grew fat on money from Anglican agencies abroad including The Episcopal Church.

"What has been going on here for at least a decade is unconscionable, unbiblical and has undermined the gospel enterprise. The Anglican Church has not grown because of the corruption, while Assemblies of God, Pentecostal churches and other denominations have flourished." According to Victor, many members of CSI pay a nominal sum to keep their membership in the church for the sake of baptism, marriages and burial while they attend other churches on a weekly basis and give their tithing to them.

Corruption has emanated from the highest levels of the church - its bishops - with charges of tax fraud, cronyism, nepotism, money hijacked from land deals, hospital fraud, stolen Tsunami funds, vote buying, and much more.

Despite new and ongoing revelations, corruption remains endemic in the Indian church, Victor charges. One state investigator alleges that 15 of the CSI's 21 bishops are tainted by corruption. "At one point in 2010, I told Suzanne Parks, an assistant to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, about the corruption in the CSI but nothing was done. This was a shocking abdication of responsibility," added Victor.

The whistle blower showed VOL hundreds of pages of documents and files detailing decades of corruption. Some of it led to legal action with charges and arrests brought against bishops resulting in protracted law suits, court battles with the bishops slipping through the legal system owing to corrupt judges bribed by the bishops. "There is not one case the bishops have won in the law courts, what they have succeeded in doing is delaying the legal process by years to prevent final judgment," said Victor.

"Over the years, I estimate that as much as $4 million dollars has been stolen by bishops who then purchased expensive new foreign cars, built multi-level homes and lined their own pockets," Victor told VOL.

Most of the bishops come from the despised Dalit classes, India's poorest who suffer from poor self esteem. Christianity has brought them wealth from old colonial British days via money left in properties that the bishops now hold in trust and can dispose of without any accountability. It is their ticket out of poverty. Psychologically, many are still trapped in deep feelings of inferiority. For the Dalit class, money is a way to climb out of the deep personal self-judgment they feel. Dalits are not respected like Brahmins, India's ruling class. When judgment in the courts or by police looks like it is going against them, they play the Dalit card, said Victor.

"That is no excuse for taking money and misusing it for personal reasons. It goes against the gospel and it results in widening ripples of corruption that never gets fully resolved and only weakens evangelistic efforts of the church," said Victor.


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