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Roman Catholic Bishop, Dr. James Mendonca, by His Agent Rev. Fr. Chinnapper and ors. Vs. I.A. Amirthaswami Pillai and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
Subjectcivil
CourtChennai
Decided On
Reported inAIR1944Mad265
AppellantRoman Catholic Bishop, Dr. James Mendonca, by His Agent Rev. Fr. Chinnapper and ors.
Respondenti.A. Amirthaswami Pillai and ors.
Cases ReferredGeneral Assembly of Free Church of Scotland v. Lord Overtoun
Excerpt:
- - the house of lords held that their claims were well founded and reversed the decision of the second division of the court of session which dismissed their action......does not alter its character.4. the principles stated by the house of lords in general assembly of free church of scotland v. lord overtoun (1904) 1904 a.c. 515 have direct application here. in 1843 the free church of scotland was founded. its founders were ministers and laymen who had seceded from the established church of scotland. they seceded in order to be free from state interference in matters spiritual. they adhered to the establishment principle and gave an unqualified acceptance of the westminster confession of faith. in a formal document they asserted that these doctrines were part of the constitution of the church and could not be altered. as a result of the generosity of its members the free church of scotland received large endowments. in 1900 a majority of the members of.....
Judgment:

Leach, C.J.

1. The facts in this case are not in dispute. The appeal arises out of a suit filed by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Trichinopoly, the Catholic Mission, Trichinopoly and 24 Roman Catholics who are members of the Vellala community of Varaganeri, a suburb of Trichinopoly. The Vellala plaintiffs had obtained permission to sue under Order 1, Rule 8, Civil P.C., on behalf of themselves and the Roman Catholic residents of Varaganeri. There were 25 defendants of whom defendants l to 23 were also members of the Vellala community of Varaganeri. Defendants 24 and 25 were priests of the Syrian Church, whose adherents recognise the spiritual supremacy of the Patriarch of Antioch. The subject-matter of the suit is a Roman Catholic Church in Varaganeri, known as the Church of St. Francis Xavier. The suit was filed with the object of obtaining a decree for the possession of the church and for an injunction restraining the defendants from holding religious services therein. The Subordinate Judge held that the church was the private property of the Vellala community and that the plaintiffs had not made out a case for the disturbance of the possession of the Vellala defendants or for the issue of an injunction. It is manifest that the Subordinate Judge erred and that the appeal of the plaintiffs must be allowed.

2. In the first half of the seventeenth century a Roman Catholic Church dedicated to St. Francis Xavier was built upon the site now occupied by the church with which the suit is concerned, but it was allowed to fall into disrepair. In 1882 what remained of the old building was pulled down and the present church erected. It may be taken for the purpose of this case that the funds required for the purchase of the site and for the building of the church were provided by the Vellala Roman Catholics of Varaganeri. The new church has never been consecreted, but it has been dedicated to religious worship according to Roman Catholic rites. It would appear that after the erection of the new edifice, the Vellala community did not wish to be under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Trichinopoly. We say this because they arranged that the church should be dedicated by a Goanese priest of the Mylapore diocese, which is under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Goa. The dedication by the Goanese priest took place on 8th May 1882 without the sanction of any Bishop. This led the Bishop of Trichinopoly to take action against those who were responsible. An interdict was issued in respect of the church and the leaders were excommunicated, but the interdict and the order of excommunication were subsequently withdrawn as the Vellala Roman Catholics of Varaganeri submitted to the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Trichinopoly. The agreement arrived at was embodied in a document dated 31st August 1882 which representatives of the Vellala community signed. On the same day the Bishop of Trichinopoly signed another document in confirmation of the arrangement. The agreement provided inter alia that the Bishop should' depute a priest for the conduct of the daily mass and on days of obligation and for the conduct of the other religious services. The members of the Vellala community undertook to free themselves from the jurisdiction of the Goanese priest and subject themselves to the spiritual authority which the Bishop had received from the Pope. Baptisms and confirmations were to take place in the Parish Church of the Holy Redeemer. Although the church had been built out of funds provided by the Vellala Roman Catholics of Varaganeri, they did not attempt to close the church to other Roman Catholics. In fact they built a wing on the northern side of the church for the use of the Roman Catholics of lower social status. It may be taken that the church was open to all professing the Roman Catholic faith. After this satisfactory settlement of the dispute the church was dedicated by a priest nominated by the Bishop of Trichinopoly.

3. According to the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, the priest administering communion starts from the left side of the altar. It had, however, been the practice of the priest officiating in this church to start from the right, where the Vellala communicants knelt. Communion was not administered to others until it had been administered to all the Vellala communicants. The predecessor of the present Bishop of Trichinopoly considered that this practice was open to objection and accordingly directed that it should cease. This roused great resentment among a minority of the Vellala community, who obtained possession of the church and arranged for mass to be said therein by Syrian priests. It is said that there are 1500 Vellala Roman Catholics in Varaganeri and of these 1300 support the Bishop. The church having been dedicated to worship according to the Roman Catholic rites, it cannot lawfully be used for services conducted according to the rites of the Syrian Church. If the church in suit constituted a private oratory of the Vellala Roman Catholics of Varaganeri and all were in agreement with the defendants, the position might be different. In order to decide what would be the position if the church were to be regarded as a private oratory, it would be necessary to inquire closely into the provisions of the Canon Law, but it is not necessary to do this because this church cannot be regarded as a private oratory. It was built by the Vellala Roman Catholic community, but it was built for the use of all Roman Catholics and it has so been used until this dispute arose. Therefore, it must be regarded as a church dedicated for the general body of Roman Catholics. The fact that it has been maintained by a Committee of Vellala Roman Catholics who have had control of it for this purpose does not alter its character.

4. The principles stated by the House of Lords in General Assembly of Free Church of Scotland v. Lord Overtoun (1904) 1904 A.C. 515 have direct application here. In 1843 the Free Church of Scotland was founded. Its founders were ministers and laymen who had seceded from the established Church of Scotland. They seceded in order to be free from state interference in matters spiritual. They adhered to the establishment principle and gave an unqualified acceptance of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In a formal document they asserted that these doctrines were part of the constitution of the church and could not be altered. As a result of the generosity of its members the Free Church of Scotland received large endowments. In 1900 a majority of the members of the Free Church decided to unite with the United Presbyterian Church, the members of which were unanimously in favour of the union. The United Church was to be called the United Free Church. The United Presbyterian Church was against the establishment principle and did not maintain in its entirety the Westminster Confession of Faith. A small minority of the Free Church brought an action in the name of the General Assembly of the Free Church. They maintained that the Free Church had no power to change its doctrines or to unite with a body which did not accept those doctrines. They also claimed that the United Free Church was not entitled to the benefit of any of the endowments. The House of Lords held that their claims were well founded and reversed the decision of the Second Division of the Court of Session which dismissed their action. The position here is analogous. A minority, or even a majority, of the Vellala Roman Catholics of Varaganeri cannot be allowed to use this church for worship which is not in accordance with the Roman Catholic ritual and therefore cannot be allowed to introduce therein priests of another church (Syrian) for the purpose of conducting worship. The plaintiffs are entitled to the injunction restraining the defendants and their adherents from interfering in any way with the Church and the conduct of the religious services held therein.

5. It remains to be decided whether the plain-tiffs shall have a decree for possession. It has been contended on behalf of the appellants that the legal title is vested in the Pope whose representative is the Bishop of Trichinopoly. The decision of this question is also unnecessary for the decision of the appeal. The loyal members of the Vellala Roman Catholic community are entitled to have charge of the building for the purpose of management of the building as the management has always been in that community. We direct that possession be given to plaintiffs 3 to 26 as representing the Roman Catholics of Varaganeri, but, of course, they will hold it subject to the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Trichinopoly. The Vellala plaintiffs are also entitled to possession of the immovable properties set out in Schedule A to the plaint and to all the moveable properties belonging to the church. Unfortunately, it has not been ascertained what the moveable properties are. In these circumstances, there will have to be an inquiry into this matter. The Subordinate Judge will hold the inquiry and submit a report to this Court within six weeks from the date of the receipt by him of the record. The appellants will have their costs here and below.


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