Diocese of Chotanagpur secedes from the Church of North India

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The Diocese of Chotanagpur has withdrawn from the Church of North India, prompting a legal battle between the national church and the diocese over the disposition of its property and the legality of the secession.

On 17 July 2020 the Rt. Rev. Basil B. Baskey, Bishop in Chotanagpur announced he had pulled the diocese out of the CNI after he had been accused of corruption, and his complaints of corruption by church officials were ignored. 

The CNI national synod dismissed the bishop’s secession as unlawful.  In a statement released on 21 July 2020 the synod described the bishop’s move as “an act of serious indiscipline and insubordination.” 

Citing the church’s constitution, CNI moderator the Rt. Rev. P.C. Singh said that “no diocese has the right to secede from the Church of North India.”

“The CNI synod appointed Bishop Baskey himself and yet he has taken a deplorable step against CNI itself,” the statement said, noting it had asked the bishop to take a leave of absence. “Reverend Joljas Kujur is appointed the moderator’s commissary for Chotanagpur diocese and an adhoc executive committee has been set up to look after its affairs,” Bishop Singh told the Times of India.

The diocese responded on 27 July 2020 by claiming the leaders of the 52 parishes in the diocese backed the bishop. Vikla Bakhlaa, general secretary of the diocese, told the Times of India the synod backed its bishop after the national church synod threatened to discipline him. 

“A section of the CNI synod had been engaging in anti-church activities in Jharkhand and an internal probe committee set up by us had even held that this section has been trying to illegally divert precious church properties at Chaibassa in West Singhbhum for commercial purposes. The CNI synod was duly informed but of initiating disciplinary action against the culprits, the synod set up a probe committee to investigate B B Baskey, the bishop of Chotanagpur diocese. We were thus left with no option but to announce our separation from CNI,” he said.

Speaking to IANS, CNI synod member Suresh Jacob told IANS the corruption lay with the bishop, not unnamed national church officials., “We have reasons to believe that it stems from a property dispute. We have learnt that Bishop Baskey wanted to lease some church properties in Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. In these days and age, with land sharks around, many were apprehensive about the future.”

On 7 Aug 2020 the CNI’s commissary for the diocese, Mr. Kujar, and his attorneys attempted to take possession of the diocesan headquarters, but was met by Mr. Baklaa and his attorneys, who blocked their entrance. The police were called but declined to take action, asking the parties to resolve their dispute in civil court.