Malaysian Mar Thoma Church appeals to the Home Ministry for help

IT IS time the Home Ministry comes to the aid of Malaysia’s Mar Thoma Christian Community, numbering about 2,000 members and spread over six churches in the country.

The main issue that confronts the parishioners is that the Mar Thoma Church is not registered under the Societies Act 1966, which would enable the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to take remedial action when complaints about the maladministration or mismanagement that impinges on the rights of the parishioners are brought to its attention.

The parishioners have had to put up with the arbitrary decisions and authoritarian control of the Head of the Church, His Grace the Metropolitan Dr Theodosius Mar Thoma and the Episcopal Synod (Council of Bishops) based in Kerala, India.

Presently, the Office of the Registrar of Societies, though feeling sympathetic about the parishioners and their grievances, is unable to act due to the non-registration of the Church.

The Mar Thoma Church is mistakenly registered only under the Trustees (Incorporation) Act 1952, which is basically an Act to secure any Church property by way of a trust.

The Act has nothing to do with the day to day administration of the Church. This loophole and lacunae in the law has enabled the Episcopal Synod to overrule the parishioners’ reasonable demands, annual general meeting and emergency general meeting decisions as well as resolutions.

Due to this the Church has been weakened and losing members who could not accept the diktats of the Episcopal Synod.

The only hope to prevent this slide is for the Church to be registered under the ROS to stop this exploitation and victimisation of the local parishioners.

Despite having endless meetings, signature campaigns and sending petitions little could be changed due to the adamancy and domineering attitude of the Metropolitan who refuses to consider the point of view or the plight of the parishioners.

Some of the unilateral decisions taken by the Episcopal Synod could render the Church non-existent in a few years.

An arbitrary decision that rankles the parishioners is the exorbitant salaries of the priests who are paid RM15,000 per month. Allowances could add another RM3,000.

This has been a big drain on the finances of the small community and it has already bankrupted the smaller churches and a similar fate awaits the main Church in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, which is the largest and has about 700 members.

The large pay-outs leave little left for maintenance of churches and other programmes of the parishes. Despite serious objections at the high salaries of the priests, nothing has changed or ever will.

These are the reasons why the members want the Church to be registered to ensure that the parishioners will be the primary decision makers, not the Episcopal Synod from India that does not share the feelings and ethos of the local parishioners.

A previous attempt to register the Church was unsuccessful due to persons with vested interests who came with the baseless argument and defence that the Church was already registered under the Trustees Act.

The parishioners are not lifeless property to be governed by the Trustees Act. The parishioners are humans and should be protected by the Societies Act. Registration will bring numerous benefits and advantages for the Church.

With a lot of controversies and concerns now being raised locally about non-Muslim houses of worship, it will be better for the Church to be registered under the Societies Act and protected by the law.

It is shocking to note that the Church is not under the radar of the Home Ministry which appears not to know anything about the Mar Thoma Church.

The Home Ministry is totally blank and has zero information about affairs of this Church which has so many eminent and distinguished members.

There should be some diversity in both the Home Affairs Ministry and the Office of the Registrar of Societies, whose mono-racial employees appear not to know anything about Churches or their administration.

How can they act if they are not knowledgeable about issues concerning churches?

The Home Ministry cannot allow the victimisation of locals to go on like this and should investigate the matter comprehensively, and direct that the Church be registered with the ROS to ensure that the administration is done properly.

Registration of the Church is essential and the Trustees (Incorporation) Act cannot be an alternative considering the wide range of activities of the Church, both domestic and external.

There are numerous instances of mismanagement not to mention financial irregularities and activities that could raise strong suspicion of wrongdoing but the parishioners are helpless to act against them.

The Home Ministry needs to arrange for a meeting with the Church administration and parishioners to get a better perspective and understanding of the problems.

If nothing is done the other option will be to bring the matter to the attention of the Opposition. Additionally, there is also a possibility of bringing the issue to the attention of the Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Diaspora conference early next year.

Should this happen, it will reflect negatively on the Home Ministry for being unable to resolve the domestic problem confronting the Malaysian Mar Thoma parishioners. – March 4, 2024


V. Thomas is a Focus Malaysia viewer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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