Cardinal targets corruption in church educational institutions
Jun 12, 2007
Lay leaders and others have welcomed Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil's move to weed out corruption from church educational institutions.
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India (UCAN, 6/12/2007) – Cardinal Vithayathil has asked schools and colleges under his Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese not to accept money for student admissions or teacher appointments.
"If any educational institution has violated the directive of the church and accepted money for admissions and appointments of teachers, it will be returned," the cardinal said on June 9 while opening the archdiocesan pastoral council meeting.
The cardinal is based in Kochi, the commercial hub of Kerala state, 2,595 kilometers (1,610 miles) south of New Delhi.
Cardinal Vithayathil also announced regulatory commissions to monitor admissions and appointment irregularities in archdiocesan educational institutions. This will ensure transparency, he said.
The cardinal heads the Syro-Malabar Church, one of the two Oriental churches that together with the Latin-rite church form the Indian Catholic Church. However, his order applies only to institutions under his archdiocese: seven colleges, 13 higher secondary schools, 55 high schools, 71 upper primary schools and 102 lower primary schools.
A lower primary school conducts classes up to fourth grade, and upper primary to seventh grade. High schools go up to 10th grade, and higher secondary schools comprise 11th and 12th grades. Colleges conduct bachelor's and master's degree courses.
The cardinal circulated his directive among all the archdiocese's educational institutions. He said institutions managed by religious congregations should follow it too.
Several lay leaders told UCA News the move would bring social justice and help ensure quality education.
"It's a revolutionary decision that will help the church improve its image among the poor," said Charlie Paul, a pastoral council member. The cardinal has "proven that he wishes to practice what he preaches," he added.
The layman acknowledged some priests are not happy. Already the cardinal has asked two priests who manage schools to return money taken for appointments. Parish council members informed him about the transactions after his speech.
"I find many priests are not happy with the cardinal's statements. They feel that without taking money for appointments and admissions, the church will not be able to run its institutions," Paul said.
Laypeople fear priests and rich people will scuttle the cardinal's effort.
Mathew Joseph, a retired Catholic teacher in Kochi, said church educational institutions have bred corruption.
"Many priests have minted money on appointments and admissions. As those deals were done under the carpet, nobody knows the volume of money involved," he said. The new rule, he added, will improve church-run institutions' educational quality.
Joseph alleged church personnel auctioned jobs in its institutions to the highest bidder. Some charged between 1 million rupees ($25,000 USD) and 1.5 million rupees for a higher secondary school teaching post.
"So only the rich could buy those posts. Such people won't be good teachers," Joseph said, lamenting that "merit or service to the church were never considered."
Nonetheless, some people warn the cardinal's stand will lead to parish tension. Alex Thomas, a church school trustee, pointed out that many archdiocesan parishes manage schools and colleges.
"They need large amounts of money for maintenance. If they can't take money for appointments and admissions, how will they run their institutions?" he asked.
P.D. Joseph, who taught in a church-run college, rejects this view as an excuse to block the cardinal's "great strides." The 74-year-old layman said the church can find sufficient funds for maintenance if it stops "lavish and unproductive spending" on saints' feast celebrations.
Even Kerala's communist leaders have welcomed the move. Pinarayi Vijayan, state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told UCA News the cardinal's initiative, if implemented properly, will bring "revolutionary change." His party heads Kerala's coalition government.
Vijayan said the church has opposed government efforts to ensure social justice in privately owned educational institutions.
"But now the cardinal has stated that he will not allow corrupt practices in educational institutions. It's certainly a good sign," the politician added.