In a decision impacting over 2,000 parish churches and 30 million followers of the Malankara Church across the world, the Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a dozen review petitions filed by the Jacobite faction against the court’s July 3, 2017 verdict upholding the 1934 constitution of the church.
The judgment found that the 1934 constitution was “appropriate and adequate" for the management of the Malankara’s numerous parish churches. In a hearing held in their chambers on Tuesday, a Bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Amitava Roy upheld their July 3 judgment which had reiterated a 1995 verdict of the Supreme Court that the 1934 Constitution of the Malankara Church governs the parish churches under it.
The Bench had, with their July judgment, brought a finality to the over 100-year-old dispute between the faction with allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch in Syria (Jacobites) and the Catholicos of the East -- the two powerful factions of the Malankara Church, believed to be established in AD 52 by St. Thomas.
The apex court had twice previously intervened in the dispute between the two groups – once in 1958 and the second time in 1995. On both occasions, the apex court had upheld the validity of the 1934 constitution to administer the parish churches. The July 3 judgment was the third time the court had stepped in.
In its judgment, the court had held that “both the factions, for the sake of the sacred religion they profess and to preempt further bickering and unpleasantness precipitating avoidable institutional degeneration, ought to resolve their differences if any, on a common platform if necessary by amending the constitution further in accordance with law, but by no means, any attempt to create parallel systems of administration of the same churches resulting in law and order situations leading to even closure of the churches can be accepted”.
The judgment authored by Justice Mishra came after marathon hearings saw senior advocate K. Prasaran battle senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, before the latter became the Attorney General of India, for weeks in court.
The judgment had held that the “1934 constitution is enforceable at present and the plea of its frustration or breach is not available to the Patriarch faction”.
“Once there is Malankara Church, it has to remain as such, including the property. No group or denomination by majority or otherwise can take away the management or the property as that would virtually tantamount to illegal interference in the management and illegal usurpation of its properties,” the apex court had held.
The court had further held that it was not open to the beneficiaries even by majority to change the nature of the Church, its property and management. The only method to change management is to amend the Constitution of 1934 in accordance with law. It held that it was not open to the parish churches to even frame bye-laws in violation of the provisions of the 1934 constitution.