Corrupt, More Corrupt and Most Corrupt Elected to Bishopric Panel in Rayalaseema Diocese of the Church of South India

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The CSI Constitution provides that at least six months before a Bishop in any one of CSI’s 24 dioceses is to retire at age 67, the Synod headed by the Moderator will issue a mandate. This to conduct an election at which a maximum of four senior pastors of the diocese are elected to a bishopric panel at a special meeting of the Diocesan Council. One among these four (or fewer number elected to the panel) is eventually appointed—in a highly discretionary and opaque exercise — by a Moderator-headed selection board comprising himself and six others. This decision, almost always, is ratified by the Executive Committee of the Synod and the new bishop consecrated.

It is no secret that this entire process of election of bishop candidates and the selection of the eventual winner is riddled with corruption. It is not uncommon for candidates to spend crores of rupees to quite literally purchase the coveted bishop’s post. The money is often provided by vested interests who are repaid the favour by the winner in terms of construction contracts, below-market rental deals on church property in the diocese, large purchase contracts and other business largesse. It is also no secret that this highly corrupt process throws up the worst candidates in terms of their personal integrity and commitment to the Lord and to protecting the vast inherited property wealth of the diocese.

But even going by the high levels of corruption seen in recent CSI bishopric elections, the Rayalaseema bishopric polls held on December 3, 2020 cuts a sorry picture. Crores of rupees mobilised from the rich landlords and businessmen around Ananthapur and Kadapa were deployed, say our sources, to get a result where the four elected represent the corrupt, the more corrupt and the most corrupt among the diocese’s senior pastors. In No 1 spot securing 162 votes was Rev Isaac Vara Prasad followed by Rev C. Ananda Rao, Rev P.D.S.J. Benhur and Rev U .Solomon. (attached photo shows four of them in that order starting with Vara Prasad on extreme left and ending with Solomon)

The track record of Rev Vara Prasad, who is the frontrunner to be made bishop having secured the most votes in the all important first round of voting, is particularly disturbing. Consider these:

a) He obtained a white ration card given to those below the poverty line by filing a false declaration he was an agricultural labourer with an annual income of Rs 25,000 per annum. He hid the fact of his being a presbyter of a leading CSI church in Kadapa and drawing a monthly salary of Rs 18,000. The white ration card not only enabled him to access extremely cheap rations but to secure Rs 65,000 from the government towards having a heart stent procedure done. A government investigation (see attached Joint Collector’s report) later confirmed his ration card was fraudulently obtained.

b) Rev Vara Prasad, along with another successful bishopric candidate Rev Benhur, executed a an illegal 15-year lease agreement for CSITA property Jesus Towers in Kadapa despite not having the power to do so. The lessor one V. Jayachandra Reddy has not paid over Rs 2.5 crores in lease rental to the diocese as pointed out by the diocesan auditor in audit reports for 2017-18 and 2018-19.

c) Rev Vara Prasad , a former Administrative Secretary of the diocese, along with his former boss and bishop Rt Rev B.D. Prasada Rao took Rs 40 lakhs from a marble businessman Y. Jayanna on the false promise of leasing him land situated within the CSI Compound in Kadapa. But when he failed to deliver and the matter reached the Synod which directed the money be returned, funds were mobilised from major churches in the diocese and from advances taken for renting out other church properties to return the 40 lakhs thus defrauding the diocese.

These and many other serious allegations – including of Rev Vara Prasad administering an immersion baptism to 43 adult communicant baptised members of CSI Central Church, Kadapa, in 2018 in gross violation of CSI Constitution and the belief in one baptism –have been reported to the Synod several times but to no avail. There are also serious allegations against Rev Ananda Rao, the current secretary of the diocese who is backed by some highly corrupt past leaders of the diocese. Rev Solomon, the fourth candidate, has been under a cloud for, inter alia, his highly questionable and non-transparent handling of the finances of the CSI Golden Jubilee Church, Proddatur, where he is presbyter.

The current sorry state of the Rayalaseema diocese and its inability to elect good candidates to the bishopric panel can be directly laid at the door of the CSI Synod. Despite numerous individual complaints over the years from members of the diocese and a damning report from a Synod appointed Administrative Committee in 2010 of widespread corruption the looter leadership of Rayalaseema diocese has been allowed to get away scot free. Probably because the leadership of the Synod itself has been increasingly gained and maintained through corrupt means. After all the pot can hardly afford to call the kettle black!

We attach below the first three pages of a report we filed in 2011 under our previous avatar as the Christ Centered Campaign to show Y4C readers how deep rooted and widespread corruption is in Rayalaseema diocese. The failure of the Synod to take any meaningful action against the guilty has meant many of them continue to be active behind the scenes in backing one or the other of the four recently elected bishopric candidates and corrupting a new generation of clergy.

In June 2020 Kadapa-based advocate A. Arogyadass, a CSI member and activist, served a legal notice (following up on earlier legal notices!) on the Moderator and fellow Synod office bearers. He listed the serious allegations against Rev Isaac Vara Prasad with supporting evidence and sought his disqualification from participating in the bishopric elections. But true to form the Synod never conducted an enquiry of the highly credible allegations and now that Vara Prasad has been placed 1st among the four contenders may well proceed to appoint him the new Bishop of Rayalaseema.

Over the last three decades, CSI Moderators have been known to make tens of lakhs and even over a crore for each bishop appointment. Easy money is probably what motivated Moderator and Bishop of South Kerala Diocese Dharmaraj Rasalam, who faces serious corruption allegations himself, to take direct charge of Rayalaseema Diocese rather than appoint a Telugu-speaking bishop as his commissary to manage the diocese till a new bishop takes office. He then roped in Deputy Moderator Reuben Mark, Bishop of Karimnagar and a Telugu speaker, to help him conduct the bishopric elections. This resulted in the uncommon sight of both the Moderator and Deputy Moderator being present at the venue of a bishopric election in a third diocese.

The Rayalaseema diocese bishopric election has again proved that In the CSI the more things change, the selection of the highly corrupt to high church office will not change.