Shaky start for Church of South India moderator

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An investigative report from Youth4CSI: Vindictive and Nepotistic Decisions Cloud Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam’s Start As CSI Moderator

Six months into his three-year tenure (2020-2023) as Moderator, Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam of South Kerala Diocese (SKD) is fast becoming a serious contender for the title of ‘worst moderator’ the CSI has seen in its over 70 year history. And that will be some ‘achievement’ considering the church has had a few notoriously bad moderators in the past. This including the likes of Govada Dyvasirvadam — who spent two months in a Vijayawada jail during 2018-19 after his arrest on charges of having swindled the church — and Badda Peter Sugandhar, the father of the incumbent Synod Treasurer Vimal Sukumar.

As we reported earlier, Rasalam had a dozen criminal FIRs pending against him for forgery and cheating when he was chosen by his fellow bishops as Moderator during a bishops-only side event of the Synod held in Trichy on January 11, 2020. This choice made by the bishops — with much ‘consideration’ having reportedly decided the issue — was duly rubber stamped by the 350-member-plus Synod meeting in plenary about an hour later. Not one member of the Synod thought it fit to air even a token objection as to how a person who had admitted before a state-government-appointed judicial commission of having committed forgery could be made head of the church.

And then on the last day of the Synod on Jan 14, 2020 the newly minted over 100-member Executive Committee of the Synod, which oversees the affairs of the church between the triennial synod sessions, gave a parting gift to the four new Officers of the Synod. They authorised, or so we are led to believe, through resolution 2020: 09 (b) the awesome foursome (Moderator, Deputy Moderator, General Secretary & Treasurer) “to appoint Moderator’s Commissaries and Administrative Committees and to reconstitute/supersede/modify the Administrative Committees, wherever deemed necessary….” (see attached page). Such crucial decisions are usually taken only after consulting either the Executive or Working Committees of the Synod — bodies put in place by the CSI Constitution precisely for such important decision making between Synod meets.

Not long after his election as Moderator, Bishop Rasalam was summoned to the State Police Headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram for a private questioning session regarding the many criminal charges he faces (see photos of his official Innova car outside the DGP office and of him inside the compound captured by a resourceful CSI member). As we reported earlier, although the sections under which he is charged would entail automatic arrest, Bishop Rasalam is being protected by the politically powerful. This even though his written confessions to the judicial commission headed by a retired high court judge that investigated the massive black money-fuelled capitation fee scam at the diocese-run Somervell Medical College would itself have been enough to secure a conviction.

One of the first nefarious acts of Rasalam on becoming Moderator was to usurp the powers of the Diocesan Council of SKD and summarily remove its duly elected Treasurer Rev D.N. Clavin Kisto. Reason: The Bishop’s illegal financial orders were being resisted by Kisto who was replaced by none other than Vimal Sukumar himself (see https://www.facebook.com/youth4csi/posts/2707471262709432?__tn__=K-R ) As ‘financial administrator,’ the Synod and CSITA Treasurer remote manages SKD’s finances sitting in Chennai.

And now Rasalam has used the blanket permission contained in the Synod executive committee resolution cited above to appoint a new Administrative Committee for Tirunelveli diocese. This followed the appointment by him using the same resolution of a new Moderator’s Commissary, Bishop Baker Fenn of North Kerala Diocese, for Tirunelveli diocese following the retirement of the bishop there in March 2020. The following month the term of the Diocesan Council also expired leading to the Synod again stepping in. Interestingly there are two Madras High Court appointed retired high court judges overseeing the administration of the diocese since late 2019 following several years of intense infighting and over two dozen court cases that rendered the diocese virtually ungovernable. How the new administrative committee which has been given wide powers, as per the Moderator’s letter of June 6, 2020 (see attached), will function without treading on the toes of the two retired high court judges remains to be seen.

There are a number of troubling questions raised by the Moderator’s letter to Bishop Fenn and veteran church historian Dr. J.G. Muthuraj has dealt with some of these in detail in one of his recent “Stones Crying Out” e-newsletters. Arguably the most controversial issue is the appointment of one TT Praveen as the financial administrator of Tirunelveli diocese. Who is Mr Praveen has become the most widely asked question. Praveen Thankam Thomson, allegedly a Latin Catholic masquerading as a CSI member, is a very close business associate of Bishop Rasalam and of Dr Bennet Abraham the highly controversial director of the Somervell Medical College and former Synod Treasurer. Praveen (seen in picture seated at his office) heads a construction company called Michael Builders and Developers Pvt Ltd https://www.zaubacorp.com/…/MICHAEL-B…/U45200KL2013PTC034796

Sources say that Praveen has been favoured with many large building contracts by Bishop Rasalam and Dr Abraham, at highly inflated prices. Last year he created a ruckus outside the SKD office in Thiruvananthapuram as reported by The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/…/tension-at-c…/article25963501.ece This after newly elected Diocesan Secretary Dr Rose Bist and Treasurer Rev Calvin Kisto — who have raised uncomfortable questions about Bishop Rasalam’s dubious financial dealings — refused to clear his bills as they found them highly inflated. How can such a person be entrusted with managing the finances of one of CSI’s richest dioceses?

What raises further questions on suitability is the fact that Praveen was convicted in a criminal case of, among others, attempt to murder and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for six months. The first two operative pages of the lengthy court order where he is shown as the prime accused (A1) are attached here. Some of the Rasalam’s detractors allege that Praveen played a key financial role in the bishop becoming Moderator and his appointment as Financial Administrator of a relatively wealthy diocese like Tirunelveli is simply a reward for personal services rendered.

Meanwhile, the former Secretary of the Vellore Diocese and ex-principal of Voorhees College Dr Jayakaran Isaac has written to Moderator Rasalam questioning the appointment of Praveen. The letter notes that Praveen lacks the desirable qualifications prescribed in the CSI Constitution for someone effectively discharging the functions of a Diocesan Treasurer, including having been a member of a Diocesan Executive Committee for at least one term. “The Moderator has laid himself open to the charge of nepotism by choosing a person from his own diocese. In a more general way any administrative action of this kind should satisfy the criteria of equity and good conscience which seems to be lacking” writes Dr Isaac adding he hopes the decision will be reconsidered.