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WE WANT BARABBAS -- A Destructive Episcopal Trend in the Anglican Communion

WE WANT BARABBAS -- A Destructive Episcopal Trend in the Anglican Communion
Church of South India (CSI) is being vandalised and torn apart by corruption at the highest levels of the Church

By Joseph G. Muthuraj
April 16, 2017

The Episcopacy in the Church of South India (CSI) is being vandalised and torn apart by alleged corruption and criminalities that has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of movable and immovable properties disappear over the years and into the hands of corrupt bishops and their family members.

Who put Jesus to death? -- a question relevant for this passion week. Pope Benedict XVI answered the question thus: The real group of accusers are the current Temple authorities, joined in the context of the Passover amnesty by the "crowd" of Barabbas' supporters. Geza Vermes agreed with the Pope: the guilt lies, he declared, with the temple aristocracy and the pro-Barabbas mob.

Eloquent insult when the temple authorities and pro-Barabbas group shouted, "Away with this man, give us Barabbas. The fact remains in the present generation too that the people and bishops prefer Barabbas and they have a heart for him. In short, there is an accepted trend to be drawn to the side in favour of Barabbas than on to the side of Jesus the Christ. It happened 2000 years ago and it is happening even now.

The Rt. Rev. Devakadasham, a former Moderator of the Church of South India (2009-2013) recently visited the home of Mrs. Sasikala, a political Supremo in the state of Tamilnadu, South India in February 2017 in order to bless her and to obtain illegal favours.

Sasikala is a notorious criminal and has already been arrested twice on various charges of corruption and fraud and she has served jail time. She began her career as a servant-maid, a helper of the Chief Minister of the Indian State of Tamilnadu, Miss. Jayalalitha, one of the most powerful rulers in the political history of South India. Sasikala later became a close friend and key confidante of the Chief Minister. Through her relatives Sasikala controlled the government and its activities both directly and indirectly almost like a bandit queen. A woman who could not own a bicycle now became a multi-millionaire!

Sasikala was subsequently arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a money-laundering case under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and served 10 months in jail, and in April 1997. She was again sent to prison in December 2011 for a month. Following both releases, she returned with increased power and more political influence. The pecuniary resources and properties registered in their names were overwhelmingly disproportionate to their known sources of income and judged to be criminal misconduct punishable under the Anti-Corruption Act of 1988.

On her death on December 5, 2016 Miss. Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister, escaped prison. Sasikala went on to serve a prison sentence of four years from 14 February 2017, heavily fined and her ill-gotten properties were ordered confiscated.

When Bishop Kadasham of Kannyakumari diocese, the bishop of Madurai-Ramnad and Vellore dioceses (not in this picture) sought an audience with Mrs. Sasikala, it kindled sorrow and brought forth tears to the eyes of the right-thinking and faithful CSI Christians. Abandoning his role as a shepherd of 200,000 Christians in Kannyakumari diocese, Bishop Kadasham sought shelter under the power and influence from the famous Sasikala. Her 'rags to riches' story was appealing to him as a model pursuit in the episcopal life full of politics of power and authority.

Realizing their guilt and possible imprisonment for their own financial irregularities, the bishops searched for hope and salvation from Sasikala and during the course of a meeting with her a couple of months ago they administered blessing to her. However, their dreams of pardon were shattered when Sasikala was sentenced to a four-year imprisonmentfor her own corrupt behaviour.

The episcopal culture of CSI has deviated far from the teachings of our Lord and those who were his servant-disciples. They are driven by the instincts of Barabbas than by the spirit of Jesus.

The Barabbas character seems to pervert the central image of episcopacy in the CSI. A number of Criminal Revision Cases against the Rt. Rev. Devakadasham were disposed of on March 2, 2017 by the High Court of Judicature in Madras where he and several other church officials were ordered to pay fines to the court. The amount of fines was quite nominal but the fact that the court fined a bishop brings ill-repute to episcopacy.

These cases are still ongoing and have been referred back to the Economic Offence Court with an instruction to deal with them expeditiously. Similar judgements were passed on February 21, 2017 against another former CSI Moderator of this century, the Rt. Rev. B. P. Sugandhar.

The Church of South India (CSI) public have been made aware of the fact that there are currently not less than seven First Investigation Reports (FIRs) standing against the Rt. Rev. Devakadasham on charges of theft of millions of dollars, the illegal sale of church properties, forgery, cheating, abuse of power, and more. It is learnt that it is about 10 FIRs against Bishop Dyva to date!

Why did Kadasham who is carrying the weight of all the court cases and FIRs against him and with no ability to counter lawfully the rising opposition to his leadership in the Kannyakumari diocese, want to introduce himself to a known indicted and a criminal leader called Sasikala! According to him, she has the charisma to protect him and choosing Christ would become a fatal mistake and a liability.

More news broke between the months of January and March 2017 in the CSI when it was learned that on 26 February 2017 a First Investigation Report had been filed by the Police against a former Moderator Bishop Dyvairvadam on charges of instigating sexual molestation of a pastor's wife. The Bishop also has another FIR registered on 25 May 2014 with similar charges this time involving himself with an alleged molestation of the same woman. The enquiry is on despite so many adjournments to delay it!

A First Investigated Report was filed by the Police in South India on February 22, 2017 against a list of persons in the Diocese of Coimbatore in which its bishop, Timothy Ravinder, faces charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust by a clerk or servant and for cheating and dishonesty. The investigation is ongoing.

It was reported in a local daily Newspaper March 17, 2017 that an arrest warrant was issued against the bishop M. Joseph of Madurai-Ramnad diocese for illegally withholding the post-retirements benefits of a woman teacher. It is reported that the bishop went for a quick settlement to avoid arrest and imprisonment.

The Serious Fraud Investigation Office, appointed by the Indian Government to investigate the alleged financial misdeeds of the CSI Trust Association from 8 July 2016, could not perform its task as the CSI Synod hierarchy has stalled its proceedings by obtaining a stay from the court. Some members of CSI are fighting hard at the court to lift the stay so that the Investigation can resume and the corrupt and fraud deeds are officially exposed. The man in the foreground blocking the investigation is the son of the former Moderator, Bishop B. P. Sugandhar well supported by bishop Dyva. There are several examples of the bishops and Moderators' children and relatives wielding enormous power and control fighting to protect the money and properties taken over from the church. Leaders and their generations worship money and power and Christ is crucified by them.

Bishop Dyvasirvadam, the bishop of Krishna-Godavari diocese, is managing the affairs of the educational institutions of his diocese under a different Trust run by him, his wife and some relatives and faithful friends who will never deflect. Accordingly, most of the financial proceeds from the educational institutions of the diocese will end up in the accounts managed by his Trust. The properties of the schools and colleges may be owned by the diocese on paper (for no one knows for how long) but the profits from them will not reach the diocesan accounts!

In "historic episcopate locally adapted" the historical precedent that works is not the first and second century episcopoi but the not-too-distant human predecessors who have left track records of corruption and irresponsible leadership. It will take long years to break and undo the trail of destructive characteristics that are imprinted on episcopacy. The episcopal duties hover around building assets disproportionate to bishops' known income, property acquisitions for themselves, making avenues for family members and relatives to earn enough money for generations through ill-management of church resources, attempting to mask bank exchanges, vast track of church lands being sold for pittance with the unofficial portion of the sale proceeds shared between the ruling elites etc. For them, Barabbas is the best bet compared to Jesus.

Christ can be easily de-selected by the lust of world power, robbery and other criminal activities. Barabbas, the robber's actions and values are more embraceable than Jesus' whose ideals would not permit committing corrupt actions and then feigning ignorance. The bishops queued up to meet the tried, convicted, officially declared guilty person Sasikala, not to tell her about Christ and His call for holiness and salvation but to betray Christ. They do not want a man in whom no fault was found.

Corruption is noticeable in another interesting area. It is a part of the episcopal culture to purchase from somewhere a honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity so that episcopacy looks to be set in a high pedestal of scholastic achievement. Bishops think that it is their privilege to have an honorary doctoral degree granted to them by fake and unrecognised institutions/organisations. Almost all the CSI bishops possess honorary doctoral degrees and many either grabbed it or received it soon after their consecration. One or two have earned doctoral degrees for their academic achievement. The Rt. Rev. Devakadasham was honoured with a DD by the Senate of Serampore University which is the responsible academic organisation for protestant theological education in India founded by the famous missionary William Carey and the Serampore Trio. Please note that committing plagiarism to a certain level is officially permissible in the Senate Serampore academic system! The honorary theological DDs are gifted away to bishops so that mediocre leaders will look highly qualified and with that they could demand high honour and respect in a society like India. This cannot neutralise the hard earned degrees of the theologians and their true service to the Church.

The Bishop Rt. Rev. A. C. Solomon Raj, the current bishop of the Medak Diocese, Hyderabad who is known for his drinking and financial mismanagement and who barely managed to secure his Bachelor of Divinity degree (was also made bishop by disputable decisions by the former Moderator Dyva) was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Divinity by the Andhra Christian Theological College, Hyderabad. Bishop Dyva one of the most corrupt leaders that CSI has ever produced is the Chairman of the Governing Body of the ACTC. All he had to do was to pass a resolution at the Governing Council and then ask his most faithful disciple A. C. Solomon Raj to receive the degree in a ceremony.

In similar fashion, Bishop Dyva has been instrumental in granting DDs to the Rt. Rev. Pushpa Lalitha, Bishop of Nandyal diocese, a close friend of bishop Dyva and also to his dear wife Mrs. Ramani Dyvasirvadam. All of them spent weeks and months celebrating publicly in their dioceses their achievement of securing DD degrees.

The episcopal culture of CSI has deviated from Jesus (the Son of the Father) to another Jesus the Barabbas (the son of the father). The nature and character symbolised by Barabbas seems to be the most-sought-after ideal in the Church today. Isn't it blasphemy? Remember, it is these kind of bishops who are going to be sitting in the front row at the Lambeth Conference, 2020!

Rev. Dr. Joseph G Muthuraj, is former Professor of New Testament at the United Theological College, Bengaluru, South India

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