Thiruvananthapuram: The land scam that is shaking up the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala assumed new proportions yesterday, with expert legal opinion coming in that the church head, Cardinal George Alancherry, can be charged as directed by the Kerala High Court.

Police have been delaying in carrying out the high court directive, reportedly to get legal opinion. The legal advice by the prosecution director general says charges can be filed against the cardinal and three others, as directed by the court.

The court’s order had come on a writ petition filed by a layman, Sherin Varghese. Besides the cardinal, the petition named two priests, Joshy Puthuva and Sebastian Vadakkumpadan, and a property dealer, Saju Varghese as the respondents.

The allegation against the cardinal and others is that they approved sale of church land worth an estimated Rs270 million for as little as Rs80 million. The deal itself was to raise cash to reduce a debt that the church had incurred in buying a parcel of land for Rs580 million to start a medical college.

As it turned out, there was no reduction in the debt burden of Rs580 million, and the church lost valuable property in Kerala’s commercial capital, Kochi.

The cardinal and the three others now face charges including breach of trust and criminal conspiracy.

Police have been facing criticism for the delay in pressing charges against the cardinal and the three others. The key allegation is that police is delaying action to give more time to them to pursue other legal options.

Meanwhile, the church is facing an internal rift, with several priests supporting the cardinal flocking to Kochi on Sunday, demonstrating a show of strength in support of the church head.

An opposing group had last week marched to the bishop’s house in Kochi and handed over a memorandum to auxiliary bishop Sebastian Edayantharath, demanding that Alancherry step aside from his responsibilities until an investigation into the land deal is completed.