St. Thomas Church caught in renovation controversy

Chennai – The renovation of the 108–year–old St. Thomas Church here has run into a controversy, with a voluntary outfit, the Forum of Catholic Unity, alleging that the Church has taken up construction work without the prior sanction of the concerned authorities.

At the center of the dispute is a move by Fr. Lawrence Raj to renovate the wooden roof of the church.

The Forum of Catholic Unity has attributed hidden motives to the renovation work.

“Now Father Lawrence has completed the work. We want a thorough investigation to be made as to why did he do it so secretly? Why he did not consult people and why was the structural stability not taken into consideration? It’s a very serious matter. Now, suddenly something happens, who is going to be responsible?

“Catholics are very law abiding people and he has violated all the rules. Now, doubts have been expressed whether he has taken some antiques from below and sold it,” claimed Devasahayam, Convenor.

“This excavation was done twice before also in 1923 and 1954. This is not for the first time we are digging. They dug twice and removed some stones, bones and pottery.”

“Now I am making a new museum where I will keep all these things to make it more decent and attractive,” said Fr. Lawrence, the parish priest of St. Thomas.

In March 2004, the forum filed an application with the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority, which issued a stop order on further construction activity on the church.

A total of Rs.57 lacs were spent on the renovation.

Church authorities, however, condemned the allegations.

“I do not see any controversy here. Some individuals because of their vested interest or whatever it is, they have not come to me nor have they discussed with me or with the municipal authority.”

“They are simply going and reporting to different newspapers and different departments. It’s a project of the diocese; it’s not my project. The Archbishop and others are here. We have consulted engineers who are well versed with it and also have employed two big companies. This all proves that we are very much concerned and careful about the structural stability of the church. We are in fact thousands time more concerned about the whole thing,” Fr. Raj said.

Larsen and Toubro and Gundu Rao Associates have undertaken the church’s renovation.