The Madras High Court has invalidated an amendment to the constitution of the Church of South India, forcing the retirement of its current moderator the Most Rev. A Dharmaraj Rasalam.
The controversy arose when the CSI Synod, in 2019, passed an amendment that extended the retirement age for bishops from 68 to 72 years. This amendment was met with opposition by some lay leaders within the church, and a legal battle ensued.
In his 6 Sept 2023 opinion High Court Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy held the 2019 amendment to be ultra vires, meaning it was beyond the powers conferred by the church constitution. The court maintained that the CSI Synod’s decision to change the retirement age required a supermajority vote, which was not achieved. To pass a constitutional amendment, the support of two-thirds of synod council members and approval of two-thirds of the 24 diocese councils were required.
This ruling means that Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam, who reached the original retirement age of 68 in August 2022, will now be required to retire from active service as per the original rules as will four other serving bishops. Nineteen other constitutional amendments passed by synod council were also invalidated on the same grounds.
The court’s decision has led to mixed reactions within the CSI community. While some support the return to the original retirement age, others believe that it is time for the church to reconsider and reform its rules and procedures. Bishop Rasalam, in his response to the ruling, shared his willingness to retire in accordance with the court’s decision. He expressed gratitude for his time of service and stated that he would continue to serve the church in any capacity deemed appropriate by the leadership.
The deputy moderator of the CSI has been appointed acting moderator, and the court has ordered a new election be held under the supervision of a retired High Court judge.