Slander suit filed by Believers Church against the CSI

Indian churches at odds over apostolic succession of Archbishop KP Yohannan

The Church of South India has been accused of defamation by leaders of a Protestant group in India. On 16 Oct 2017 The Rt. Rev. Joju Mathew, Bishop of the Niranom diocese in The Believers Church lodged a complaint of criminal defamation against the Moderator of the CSI, the Most Rev. Thomas Oommen, with a magistrate in Alleppy in Southern India’s Kerala State.

He accused Bishop Oommen of slandering the apostolic succession of the bishops of the Believers Church and defaming its leaders.

Last month Bishop Oommen told The Hindu the CSI was withdrawing from active participation in the Kerala Council of Churches in protest to the admission of the Believers Church. “The CSI never considers the Believers Church as an episcopal church or accepts its leader, K.P. Yohannan, a bishop. As per the CSI view, K.P. Yohannan is a layman and the KCC decision, overlooking the CSI objection, was unfortunate,” Bishop Oommen said.

The current dispute between the CSI and the Believers Church arose in 2003 when the American based Indian Christian minister, K.P. Yohannan, was consecrated a bishop by the moderator of the CSI and two bishops of the Church of North India. The Believers Church claims over 4,500 regional parishes and 5,000 mission stations spread over six countries of Asia — and has been at odds with established Indian churches since its founding in 1990 for its proselytizing work among Christians of other denominations.

On 6 Feb 2003 the Rt. Rev. K. J. Samuel, Bishop in East Kerala and former moderator of the Church of South India, assisted by the the Rt. Rev. P.M. Dhotekar, Bishop in Nagpur of the Church of North India, and the Rt. Rev. Bancha Nidhi Nayak, Bishop in Phulbani of the Church of North India, consecrated Yohannan as metropolitan archbishop of the Believers Church.

The CSI and CNI responded by convening commissions of inquiry and on 11 Feb 2004 the CNI announced Bishops Dhotekar and Nayak had been deposed from office. CNI general secretary the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan said the executive council of Synod “wanted to uphold the discipline of the Church and its constitution,” as “nobody is above law and order or control of the Church executive committee.”

At its October 2003 General Synod the CSI declared the ordination was “invalid” and that no bishop could validly ordain anyone outside the CSI´s jurisdiction. The Rt. Rev. Sam Mathew on 10 Feb 2004 said reported the CSI Theological Commission had “studied in depth whether it was legally and theologically correct for Bishop Samuel to consecrate people not belonging to CSI and the fellowship” comprising the CNI, CSI and the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The church did not punish Bishop Samuel, however, allowing him to retire unmolested.

In its petition alleging defamation, Bishop Mathew called Bishop Oommen’s comments to The  Hindu slanderous, and recited the history of Archbishop Yohannan’s consecration at the hands of three Anglican bishops. He further stated that Bishop Oommen’s wife has taught at a Believers Church seminary for seven years.

Bishops from the Believers Church attended the consecration of Bishop Andy Lines in Wheaton, Ill., earlier this year. Their presence at the ceremony will likely cause a short term frost in relations between the ACNA and the united churches of India and Pakistan, who are in fierce competition with the Believers Church.

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