Supreme Court blocks adoption of church constitution

Court hands down injunction against implementation of the Church of South India’s constitution following complaints that it was procured by fraud and in a manner contrary to canon law

The Supreme Court of India has handed down an interim injunction against the Church of South India, blocking implementation of amendments to its constitution and bylaws after lay members of the church filed a complaint alleging the changes had been procured by fraud and in a manner contrary to the church’s canon law. The December order blocks the amendments from taking place until 11 Nov 2016, to allow the party’s time to brief the court. At its last general synod meeting, the CSI voted to raise the retirement age of clergy to 67 from 65 and to strengthen the powers of the church’s moderator, executive synod and bishops at the expense of the dioceses. The measure was sent to the dioceses for approval, leading to verbal and physical clashes. On 27 June 2015 a meeting of delegates from the six dioceses in the Indian state of Kerala erupted into violence after the amendment was approved without giving opponents an opportunity to debate the measure. Shouts led to shoves, which led to a brawl between the two factions. The police were called and the District Collector ordered the proceedings be closed. Though riots were not reported at any other CSI diocesan synods, the level of opposition to the constitutional changes is high. Supporters of the change argue the amendments will bring the CSI into closer conformity to the Anglican Communion and will make business operations more efficient. Opponents point to the problems with corruption in the church — half of the bishops of the CSI are battling charges of corruption. They also say the move to become more Anglican in ecclesiology violates the founding agreements of the united church. At a conference held on 17 Oct 2015 in Vellore, members of the “lay synod” released a statement outlining their concerns over the theological and ecclesiological ramifications of the changes. “1) There is indeed a deliberate attempt to make the CSI fully Episcopal with the vested interest of centralizing power and authority in Bishops for personal gains, eclipsing the presbyteral and congregational elements; 2) The historic Episcopate in a Constitutional form accepted by the Uniting Churches for the sake of Unity is being distorted beyond recognition. Instead of the Bishops performing spiritual oversight while presiding over the diocesan council, bulk of the administrative responsibilities have been taken over by them; 3) The usurpation of powers by the Bishops coupled with the practice of issuing Power of attorney to the Bishops is the underlying cause for widespread corruption; 4) The new amendments and by-laws should be rejected out of hand as they go against the pledge that was given at the time of Union that a) the United Church does not mandate any particular interpretation of Episcopacy and no such particular interpretation shall be demanded from any minister or member ,b) the CSI needs the heritage of each of the Uniting Churches(Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational) and each of those Churches will not lose the continuity of its own life but preserve that life enriched by the union with other traditions and c) that there will not be absorption of anyone of the traditions by the other traditions.” The case continues.

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