Mangaluru: He said, She said, They all said…that the Bishop and the Mangaluru Catholic Diocese officials should dig deep into the scamming of church funds allegations made on parish priest (now former) of Holy Cross Church- Cordel, Kulshekar, one of the biggest parishes in the diocese, and settle this issue as early as possible, before things get out of control. When I decided to make my first article on this issue, I talked to some of the parishioners of Cordel Church, and got all the information that I needed. Then our editor-in-chief, Violet Pereira who wanted to clarify on the same issue, had met Fr Valerian Pinto at Fajir Church where he just got transferred- speaking to mangalorean.com, Fr Pinto said all the allegations made on him by some of the Cordel parishioners were not true and baseless. Yesterday, I had met the Vice President of Cordel Church Pastoral Council, Praveen Patrao, where he gave me all the information to the best of his knowledge about the church funds being misused.
Before going further into the details, Praveen Patrao wanted to make one thing clear about the comments made on him by one of the parishioners and also the member of the parish Council for the past 35 years, Sushil Noronha where he had said speaking to mangalorean.com, “From the past 4 and half years, Praveen Patrao has been the vice president of the parish pastoral council but he did not bother to inform about the problems to anyone; suddenly from the past three months, he alleges Fr Valerian Pinto of misappropriation of funds.” In response to these comments Patrao said, “These comments by Sushil Noronha have hurt me a lot, and they are all baseless. I have been active in the council since I took over the post of Vice President or even before that. When I came to know that something fishy was going on in the operations of church funds I had requested the parish priest many times to show me the accounts/ledger of the church. (A first email was sent in this regard to Fr Pinto on 8th January 2015). On seeing the ledgers and bills on 10th January, 2015 along with the secretary of the council Mr Michael D’Souza, I and Mr Michael D’Souza have both informed about the misuse of church funds to Fr Valerian Pinto on 15th January 2015. After that, I was not allowed to see any church accounts till date. In two occasions I have requested Fr Valerian Pinto to allow me to check the accounts of the church (through emails) on 17th February 2015 and 27th February 2015, but all in vain”.
“In the finance committee meeting held on March 4th 2015; there was a resolution made by the committee that any further bills for payments on the on going projects should be checked by the project engineer and counter signed by the vice president. The said minutes of the meeting were approved by our Bishop. Yet bills not been shown to me neither I have signed them. This shows the arrogance in administration by the Parish Priest. A person who is very much attached to the parish priest will surely make such comments on me to make me look like a bad person. Noronha should be ashamed of himself to make such negative remarks about my service in the Council”, added Patrao.
“For the past two or more years Holy Rosary Park, Vailankanni Shrine and Mount Sinai works were simply lingering. I had asked on many occasions with Fr Pinto why the work is not proceeding. He had said that many donors have not paid. I believed his version. I was aware that Fr Pinto’s tenure will end in May 2015 and I had asked him to complete these projects at least by December 2014. In fact I wanted these projects to be inaugurated on his Ruby Jubilee of Priestly Ordination on October 18th 2014. But Fr Pinto showed no interest in completing these projects. Instead of completing the pending projects he started two more projects, the backdrop of the stage in the Holy Rosary Park to inscribe seven sacraments and the grotto of Mother Mary next to the 20th station of the Rosary Park. Both these projects have never been figured out in the finance committee meetings or have been approved by the Bishop”.
“This also clearly shows the level of mis-administration by the Parish Priest. It was immediately after the Jubilee of Fr Valerian Pinto that I came to know through some genuine sources that most of the donors of Holy Rosary Park have already paid their committed contributions. That is when I started questioning Fr Pinto on accounts. Fr Pinto started evading me on several occasions. All my queries’ were not answered and I was ignored. In fact I was totally kept away from the Church administration in November and December 2014 as I was repeatedly questioning about completion of the pending projects. So I was forced to write to Fr Valerian Pinto about accounts through email as he was not answering any of my questions of finances and projects. As Mr Sushil Noronha has accused, I was never quite for the past few years; but as a matter of fact, I have immediately taken action the moment I had a doubt about misappropriation of funds.”
Talking more on the allegations, Patrao said, “According to the documents that I was shown by one of the media executive in town, I can clearly say that the operator of the accounts has misused the church funds very badly. There have been large scale misappropriation in almost all the projects implemented in the church during the tenure of Fr Valerian Pinto. The money was being scammed by overpaying the contractors way above the estimated budget. The estimated budget for the Holy Rosary Park was around Rs 30 lakhs- but when the project was completed bills were paid up to Rs 60 lakhs. How can a project go double the estimated budget, this speaks of fraud. The bills paid to the contractor were never counter signing by me”.
“Another project, Frad Saib Hall, with estimated budget of Rs 25 lakhs, but Rs 40 lakhs was paid out; Mount Sinai project, estimate cost was Rs 15 lakhs, payment after completion a total of Rs 30 lakhs (approximate) had been made; Adoration Chapel-estimate cost-Rs 20 lakhs, payment made almost Rs 30 lakhs; Open air Auditorium-estimate cost Rs 25 lakhs, payment after completion, Rs 45 lakhs; -when you look at all the payments made on these projects the bills have almost crossed double the estimated amount. The best part is that all these projects were undertaken by contractor, Walter Pinto. Most of the payments made to this contractor were through “uncrossed (Not Account Payable)” cheques. This is not a proper way to make payment; which will lead to suspicion, said Praveen Patrao.
He further said, “Getting some tips that church funds were being mishandled, the parishioners during the parish council meeting held on Sunday, 24 May 2015, demanded the explanations from the parish priest Fr Valerian Pinto, who denied any wrong doing and that he has not embezzled any church funds. Not satisfied with the answer from the parish priest, some parishioners next day, Monday-25 May 2015 staged a protest at the Bishop’s House demanding that action should be taken against their parish priest. In the meantime, Fr Valerian was not available in his office since 25th May late evening. I was not aware of this protest, until the Bishop called me to his place, to discuss about the situation.
“Although the Bishop tried to convince the parishioners who were protesting, that Fr Valerian has been transferred to Fajir, who will take charge during the first week of June, they didn’t agree to him, instead demanded that action should be taken quickly against Fr Valerian, and also that he should not be allowed to continue as parish priest effective from 25 May. The protest was called off, as Bishop had promised to take a decision the next morning. Next day Bishop called me along with three other church leaders. In the meeting, Bishop said to us that Fr Valerian had been admitted to Fr Muller’s Hospital in Derlakatte. When I asked the Bishop about the inauguration of three completed church projects which were scheduled for 30 May 2015, the Bishop was reluctant to have the inaugural function in the absence of a Parish Priest. The Bishop said without the parish priest you can’t have the inauguration. You reschedule the dates with your new Vicar.
“In his tenure of 7 years, right from the beginning Fr Valerian Pinto has done lot of developmental works, in Cordel Church. Be it spiritual, (retreat, masses in wards or special prayer services like night vigil), or developmental (like Garden of Gethsemane, renovation of Frad Saib Hall, Cordel open air auditorium, Holy Rosary park, Mount Sinai or Vailankanni Chapel) or Jubilees (like Frad Saib Bi-Centenary, Centenary of Church) I have always appreciated his works and supported him to the maximum. In fact I was so convinced about Fr Pinto that I personally took the initiative to celebrate his Ruby Jubilee of priesthood. But when I realized that all these projects were undertaken with a vested interest I was shattered.”
“Many feel that I have some personal revenge against Fr Valerian Pinto. Let me tell you I have no vengeance. As a matter of fact I always appreciate Fr Valerian Pinto with regards to his immense knowledge on scripture, his sermons and particularly his knowledge on many issues. I still admire him on these issues. But with respect to the misappropriations, as a Vice President I have to be honest and sincere to my post. Only by saying I have not taken a single paisa for my personal needs from the church does not solve the entire issue. I here by challenge Fr Valerian Pinto for a public debate on misappropriations. Even Mr Sushil Noronha with his 35 years of vast experience can have an open debate and try to answer many questions for which I have not found any answers”.
“Let me tell you one more truth, I had asked most of my friends and parishioners to forget the entire issue once Fr Victor Machado takes over as our new Vicar. As a matter of fact I was not happy when Fr Pinto was sent without send off from Kulshekar. I actually wanted to complete the projects and have their inauguration on May 30th in the presence of Fr Pinto. But Fr Valerian Pinto’s statement and Sushil Noronha’s allegations against me have deeply hurt me and I am forced to give this clarification”.
“Yet another information I gathered through the documents is that our parish priest had transferred nearly Rs 7.5 lakhs of church funds into the bank accounts of Raymond Mendonca and Fredrick Mendonca, brothers of Jacintha Mendonca suppose to be distant relatives of Fr Valerian. I also found out that Fr Valerian has withdrawn nearly Rs 30 lakhs through cheques payable to “Self”, and has been operating several bank accounts in different banks which are not audited” he added..
When I asked Patrao, about the news that has been spread around, that the parish council committee had agreed to forget all about the on going issue of funds being scammed, provided the parish priest return the council Rs 10 lakhs, for which Praveen Patrao gave a suitable clarification, “This news is not perfect, but deviated from facts. We had never agreed to compromise on this scam issue against Rs 10 lakhs compensation. The fact is, when we found out that the parish priest had taken around Rs 10 lakhs from promotion of education account towards bills payment of the Frad Saib project, we asked him to deposit the said money into the Promotion of Education Account, which the parish priest never obliged. But on the directions of Bishop; the parish priest was asked to return the said funds and Fr Valerian Pinto as deposited the same in May 2015. Sorry, for those who are making false comments on the parish council, you have the facts now”.
Patrao further added, “What I don’t understand is that why only the projects undertaken by church contractor Walter Pinto had been over billed other than the estimated budget, when the project of “Vailankanni Chapel” which was undertaken by a different contractor by the name of Stephen Pinto (not related to Walter Pinto) was very well completed within the estimated amount of Rs 30 lakhs. This speaks that there is something fishy going on. Regarding the electrification work undertaken by Sushil Noronha for all the church projects, about 90% of the bills paid to him have not been verified by project engineer, instead the parish priest himself authorised the payments.
“I had informed our Bishop regarding these issues several times (once by email also). On my request our Bishop had conducted a meeting with our Church finance committee, to sort out the issues. He had a few meetings with me and Mr Michael D’Souza our secretary. Finally there was a mega meeting of about four hours between Lord Bishop, Vicar General, Fr Valerian Pinto, Diocesean Council Secretary, me and our secretary Michael D’Souza in Bishop House. To a larger extend the issue was settled; as it was felt that the contractor has over billed the church. That is what most of us were believing. Now as Fr Valerain Pinto says there is no misappropriations in funds (some people are giving clean chit to contractor), then where have the funds disappeared.
“As per the rules, there should be a Parish Council meeting every three months, but since past seven months, the parish priest had never arranged a meeting, which is simply mismanagement in administration. I personally feel Bishop has tried to set-right things; but unfortunately all didn’t go well. I feel the ego of the Parish Priest has been an hindrance to this episode”.
When I asked Praveen Patrao, what he has decided on this on going church funds being scammed, he said, “We are leaving this in the hands of God. He is the only one who can bring out the truth. I have heard from a particular news website that the PRO of the diocese has expressed that the diocese is forming a commission to look into this matter. This news is not confirmed as I have not received any communication regarding this. At this juncture, I welcome this move. I shall demand that all the proceedings of this commission should be audio and video taped, for I do not want anyone involved to change their versions later. Let’s hope justice will be served to the Holy Cross Church parishioners- it was their money given to the church with good faith and intention, which has been scammed”.
Michael D’Souza, Secretary of Parish Council, George D’Souza, Past Secretary of Parish Council and Rajesh D’Souza, Finance Committee Member of Parish Council were also present during my discussion with Praveen Patrao, Vice President of Parish Council.