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Catholics want law to govern church properties

india Updated: Jul 29, 2009 10:47 IST

IANS
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Amidst increasing clamour among the Catholic laity over the lack of transparency in the management of assets owned by the church, intellectuals from across the country have now begun demanding a law to govern properties owned and managed by the church.

Speaking during a lecture on "Should there be a law to protect the properties of the Church", organised here Tuesday by the All India Catholic Union (AICU), former Supreme Court justice K.T. Thomas said that the Roman Catholic church's unwillingness to enact a law for administering their properties "was on account of a fear that a provision for judicial scrutiny is likely to expose the expenses and the magnitude of wealth of the denomination".

Thomas also said that in a republic like India, where Constitution was the highest, religious denominations should welcome enactment of laws to administer their properties.

"I would say that those who resist any such law being enacted could have the sinister motive of misusing the funds and wealth of the religious denominations," he said, imploring different denominations of the church to demand such a law.

Former union minister of state for external affairs and commissioner of the Goa NRI cell Eduardo Faleiro went a step ahead, saying that the Goa legislative assembly was empowered to enact the much needed legislation, which would enable greater transparency in the administrative and monetary matters of the church.

"The legislative assembly is competent to enact a new law as it is within the legislative power granted to it by the concurrent list in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian constitution," Faleiro said, adding that the new law could be worked out in consultation with the Roman Catholic church in Goa.

Remy Denis, president of the AICU -- which represents the Catholic laity of India through 120 Diocesan units nationwide -- said that questions were beginning to be asked about the church's management of its estates.

"We all revere the bishop as our guide on matters of faith and morals, but not in matters of property," Denis said, specifying that his views should not be construed as representative of the AICU.

He added that the Roman Catholic church in India was "suffering from aplenty".

"At the moment the Roman Catholic church in India has five times the number of priests as compared to the rest of the world, its budget is equivalent to that of the Indian Navy and it is the second largest employer after the government of India," Denis said.

The demand for a law to govern the properties of the church assumes significance in face of recent public criticism in the media and by the Roman Catholic laity here, who have accused the Goan church of stonewalling queries about high value coastal properties in its care, which have been have allegedly been sold off to real estate developers.