The end of the year is a good time to take stock of the good, not-so-good and downright bad we came across in our reporting of the CSI during 2020. Last year, readers may recall, we announced the inaugural “Best of CSI” award. This went to the congregation of All Saints Church Bengaluru for their spirited fight to prevent the Bangalore Metro from swallowing up their church land. That battle still continues.
The “Biggest Public Scam of 2019” Award went to the South Kerala Diocese for taking illegal donations running into crores from students for providing admission to the diocese-run medical college near the state capital and then refusing to return the money to students who were not given admission. As we reported last year “It is a sign of the clout Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam packs with the local powers that be in Thiruvananthapuram that despite some 4 FIRs having been lodged against him (including one as recently as 10th December) ..… he has not been arrested. Rather he continues to remain the front-runner to become Moderator of the CSI in January 2020.”
Well, what do you know? Rasalam was elected Moderator by the CSI Synod in January 2020 and continues to evade arrest despite the Kerala High Court making plain its displeasure to the Kerala Police for not taking action against him. Rasalam’s close friendship with the Kerala Chief Minister is an open secret.
Two other awards we announced in 2019 were the “Biggest Cover Up of 2019” award and another for the “Biggest Disappointment of 2019.” The first of these went to the Karnataka Central Diocese for the Fuller Hostel-turned-three-star-hotel scam which caused a loss of Rs 22 crore to the diocese and was covered up through a whitewash of a White Paper that let all diocesan functionaries off the hook.
The Disappointment Award last year went to John Dorai who showed great initial promise of reforming the CSI but then lost credibility through his subsequent actions that made him part of the problem rather than the solution.
For 2020, Youth4CSI’s “Best of CSI 2020” award has two joint winners, Rev Pearly Walter of Madras Diocese (‘Rev Pearly Walter Speaks Truth to Power as Few CSI Pastors Do’) and Bishop Nithiyanandam of Vellore diocese (‘Why Bishop Nithiyanandam of Vellore Diocese is a Rare Gem Among CSI Bishops’)
Rev Walter for bravely speaking out against serious irregularities in Madras diocese. This even while being punished for her outspokenness including being denied her full salary. Bishop Nithiyanandam for walking the talk by donating a month’s salary to the government towards COVID relief efforts and being most unlike other CSI bishops in terms of striving to maintain high standards of personal financial integrity. Among other things, he returned an envelope with Rs 1.3 lakhs in cash given for influencing a vote in favour of a candidate for Moderator in January 2020.
On the negative side we have the, “Biggest Failure of 2020” Award. This goes to the CSI Synod for its abject failure to take into account not just the many FIRs that were lodged against moderator candidate Bishop Dharmaraj Rasalam but the fact that a state-government appointed commission headed by a retired high court judge had in August 2019 already found him guilty of malpractice.
That not even one of the 350 plus Synod members attending the triennial session at Trichy in January raised from the floor the indictment of Bishop Rasalam by a government-appointed commission and sought his withdrawal/disqualification from contesting for moderator’s post on this ground speaks badly of CSI’s highest decision-making body. This failure of the Synod had serious negative implications for the church throughout the year as seen in several of our reports covering the dubious actions of the new moderator in South Kerala Diocese, Rayalaseema Diocese and Tirunelveli Diocese among others.
Some of our coverage on the new moderator was also amplified overseas as in this report in Anglican Ink.