The judgment pronounced by the District Court Ernakulam on 16th August 2011 about the administration of the St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church, Kolenchery was the verdict on an Original Suit filed by the Patriarchal group in 2007 (OS 43/2007) for obtaining the following relief.
1. For obtaining a declaration that the Kolenchery church and its assets are liable to be administered only in accordance with the terms of an Udampady registered in 1913 and not in accordance with the 1934 constitution.
2. To settle a scheme for administering the church and its assets and its institutions.
3. For getting an order from the court to appoint a receiver who may prepare a voters list of all the parishioners and conduct fresh elections to the managing committee.
4. To issue an injunction prohibiting the handing over of keys of the church to Fr. Jacob Kurian, the vicar appointed by H. G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severios.
The court after considering the various issues passed a verdict on these crucial issues as follows.
1. Whether a declaration that the church is administered by the 1913 Udampady is allowable?
The patriarch’s party’s main contention was that 1934 constitution was not accepted by the Kolenchery church. The judgment says that the Supreme Court (SC) judgment 1995 upholds the 1934 constitution and there is no mention that each parish should accept this constitution by convening a general body of the parishioners. This means that each parish of the Church is bound by the SC judgment to accept the 1934 constitution. No special decision of the parishioners is necessary for this. The SC verdict is applicable to the Kolenchery church even if the church was not a party to those suits. So the verdict clearly says the Patriarch’s group even cannot contend that the 1934 constitution is not valid and not applicable to the Kolenchery church. So it cannot be declared that the church should be governed by the 1913 Udampady.
2. Whether a scheme of administration has to be settled?
The Patriarch’s party claimed that after 1972 elections were not held to the managing committee of the parish and the governing body of its institutions. The Orthodox Church argued that elections were held regularly according to the 1934 constitution, and such elections were recognized by the metropolitan. Evidences of such elections were produced before the court. The verdict says that the stand of the Patriarch’s group cannot be accepted as it is against the SC finding. “First of all they have to accept and recognize 1934 constitution and then only their prayer for conducting election to committees can be considered. There is no question at all to frame a scheme (for administration) when 1934 constitution is in existence and when it is held valid and applicable to the 1st defendant (Kolenchery church)”. Thus the court dismissed their prayer to settle a scheme of
administration. The judgment further says that “the parish members in the church has right to decide regarding the administration of the properties and the educational institutions under it. But as stated earlier, only when the plaintiffs (Patriarch’s group) or other members in the Patriarch faction accept and recognize 1934 constitution, their contention can be entertained”. So the point is answered against the Patriarch’s group.
3. The court also considered whether election to managing committee has to be conducted by a receiver. The finding of the question in No. 2 does not allow for such an action and thus it was not allowed.
4. The plaintiffs prayed for an injunction to restrain Fr. Jacob Kurian and his agents from receiving the keys of the church. No such injunction was allowed.
The court dismissed all the prayers of the plaintiffs (Patriarch’s group) and confirmed that Fr. Jacob Kurian is entitled to get the keys of the church – the keys were already in his possession as per the interim order in IA 3984/2010
This order is very important for the future litigation of the Church. It upholds the SC verdict and affirms that the 1934 constitution is binding on the parish churches. The basic contention of the Patriarch’s group that the SC judgment is not binding to the parishes is quashed. The verdict says that those who do not accept the 1934 constitution do not have any claim on the administration of the church and its properties. By asking to hand over the keys to Fr. Jacob Kurian the court has recognized the authority of the bishop (H. G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severios) who appointed him over the administration of the church and its properties.
A Brief History of the Present Litigation
The original suite (OS) which culminated in the present judgment was filed by the Patriarch’s party in 2007. During the pendency of the OS both parties (The Patriarch’s party as well as the Orthodox Church) filed IAs seeking interim relief. Both the IAs was heard together by the District Court and an order was given in 2 – 12 – 2010. According to this the court ordered that the church be opened. The Orthodox Church can celebrate Qurbana on two Sundays and the patriarch’s party may be given freedom to celebrate Qurbana on every third Sunday. The keys were to be given to Fr. Jacob Kurian who was recognized as the rightful vicar of the parish and the administration has to be carried out by the existing managing committee which was elected by the Orthodox Church according to the 1934 constitution. This arrangement was fixed till the disposal of the OS.
According to this order the Kolenchery church was opened once again in 2 – 12 – 2010 and we took possession of the church and its properties. The maintenance work of the church was initiated. The patriarch’s party had no other right except to celebrate liturgy every third Sunday. The patriarch’s party filed an appeal in the High Court challenging this interim order. But the High Court did not give them any additional relief but directed the district court to dispose off the OS within 2 months. Thus the District court took up the matter and issued the judgment on 16th August 2011 and H. G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severios Metropolitan celebrated Holy Qurbana at Kolenchery church on 17th August 2011.
The Patriarch’s party approached the same court for a stay order. On 18th August the same District court stayed the operation of the judgment for 15 days in order to get reasonable time to file appeal. The parties are directed to maintain status quo with regard to the services conducted by both parties. No judgment or any verdict was issued from any Honorable Court to restrain H. G. Dr. Mathews Mar Severios Metropolitan from exercising His Grace’s Episcopal authority and celebrating Holy Qurbana at Kolenchery church.
Fr. Dr. Johns Abraham Konat (Priest Trustee, Malankara Orthodox Church)
Aug. 20, 2011