Churches + Land matters = Controversy



The Anglican Church reportedly has sold the St Mark’s Secondary School field in Butterworth to a developer much to the dismay of the school’s PTA/PIBG


Long-time residents of a century-old kampung in the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church premises within George Town’s world heritage zone look on as a contractor illegally demolishes one of the houses in the village on 8 May

It seems that controversy is never far away when the churches in Malaysia get involved in land deals involving tracts of land that were originally allocated to them for religious, social, community, educational or health care use.

This is not the first time that the churches in Penang have courted unwanted publicity over such land deals.

Now the latest controversies:

In the case of the St Mark’s Secondary School, established in Butterworth in 1885, the Anglican Church reportedly sold the school field after a developer showed interest in the land. Of course, developers would be interested in most school fields! Especially if they can make big bucks from developing residential or commercial property on such tracts of land. That doesn’t mean that churches should rush to sell their school fields or land that was allocated for social use.

I remember the St Mark’s field: I played football in that field a few times when I was a kid, although my potential Malaysian Premier League (let alone, EPL) football career never really took off.

But what was so refreshing was that in those days, school fields were open to all during the evenings, and you could end up playing with any group of boys, of all ethnic groups, who happened to turn up for a game of football. No one really minded how good or how bad (as was the case with me) your standard of football was. It was just fun to be scampering around in an open field with a group of other boys.

Today, school fields are fenced up and guarded so that kids from the surrounding neigbourhoods rarely have access to them. And then we wonder how we landed up with the problems of Mat Rempits, gangsterism, and drug addiction.

As for the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church along Penang Road, residents – many of them senior citizens – of the century-old kampung on the church premises have been told by church authorities through their lawyers to leave by 31 May. They have been offered RM10,000 in compensation per household.

A contractor began illegally demolishing one of the houses on 8 May. After heritage activists expressed alarm, the Penang state government warned the Church that buildings within the Unesco world heritage zone cannot be torn down without permission of the Penang Municipal Council.

Remember, such tracts of land were allocated to churches – often very cheaply – for non-profit religious, educational or social use to benefit local communities. It doesn’t seem morally right for the churches now to sell these tracts to private developers for a tidy profit.

If the churches want to dispose of their property, it would only be fair to sell them at a nominal price or pass them on to those who are interested in non-profit activity for social, education or community use. Careful consideration should be given to those living on the land to ensure that they are not left stranded.

If the churches really need to raise money to fund their social, pastoral or mission work or to use the land for such work, then they could make sure that the community presently using the land is adequately compensated or not affected by the move.

Jesus said, “…sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

He did not say, “… sell what you have to property developers for a tidy sum or keep what you have, and follow me.”

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The priests and Bishops of the church today – (are they any) different from the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked in the Gospels? Mark 12:40 – “They take advantage of widows and rob them of their homes, and then make a show of saying long prayers. Their punishment will be all the worse!” Matthew 16:11 – “Guard yourselves from the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” Matthew 23:23 – “How terrible for you teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill and cumin, but you neglect… Read more »

CL Lee

I studied in both Assumption School and St Mark’s Secondary school, though I’m not stay ing Butterowrth anymore, I felt nostalgic everytime I passed by both schoos. However, since the time Assumption School was demolished for “Development”, these feeling had been torn apart, now with what’s happening to St Mark’s Secondary School, things gets worst. Assumption School & St Mark’s School happened to be one of the great school we had ever have. It’s really very sad to see them falling victims in the name of development, this all boils down to the Government’s could care less attitude when in… Read more »


This issue of the churches disposing their land has been there since the 80s when The Catholic Church sold the College General land in Kelawai Road. In my view, if any particular religious body has no further use of the land which was granted to them, the State government should be given the first right of refusal, i.e. it must be offered to the state first because the land was granted to them free. However there is no law to compel to return or sell their land to the state, except for compulsory acquisition by the state. The churches here… Read more »


The land belongs not to the bishop, but to the catholic church which consists of us, the layity. The bishop and priest are just there to carry out the duties set forth by Jesus. Without the layity the church will not exist. The land was obtained for the sole purpose of the physical growth of the church in tandem with the spiritual growth. If they the bishop and priest, can preach one thing and practice another then the layity should not be blamed if they move away from the church.This is the prophecy that many fail to understand when it… Read more »


I’m a Assumption old boy. What is left of the great Assumption School is just a tombstone at the Butterworth N.B.V.M church’s coumpound. Now there are condominiums and cargo storage lots replacing the school and what was formerly known as Kampung Serani. Assumption primary school is currently occupying a portion of sek. Ren. Keb. Sungai Nyior… How Sad.
Looks like the churches in Penang are going commercial.


agree with ‘property development company’. is there any possibility of the school buying the land from the developer? my son is a student in St Mark Secondary. i was utterly disappointed when i heard about the land deal. the Angelican church should have given more consideration. why are we having problems with children today? during our childhood days we had open fields and the beaches to run around and play. just take a look at Pantai Bersih which is no longer a ‘pantai’ nor is it ‘bersih’. the children of today have no where to go play and relax. aren’t… Read more »

property development company

I agree with you that land next to school should remain a park for kids to play in, no matter how hard times get, certain things should not have a price.

Jacqueline F.

Isn’t it about time that lay people have a say regarding matters such as the sale of church land and eviction of families? In the case of the SFX residents, it is not enough to simply give each family RM10,000 as compensation. The church should ensure that these families are able to find new homes and provide further financial assistance, if necessary.

Nitasha escamilla

And when the deal is done, some time later, theese same religious bodies will be pleading with the state government for land to expand their premises or build a bigger ‘house of GOD’. Lets say if this kind of request is denied (not granted), then the people out there who do not know how land allocated to the churches were given away, will start petitions, silent protests, writing in the blogs and working together with ‘crafty’ politicians to paint the picture that the government of the day is not sensitive to the fairth needs of the minority groups in Malaysia.… Read more »


heard of latest news going on in butterworth virgin mary’s church.

bishop could have done a thorough and proper investigation, and as lucia said we must always look at both side of the coins.


I don’t think Jesus left behind instructions that popes, bishops and clerics are to continue with His work after he has left for the Big Pasture In The Sky.

Andrew I

Religion is big business. Donations are pure profit. Who doesn’t want to run a business like that? The best part is there’s someone to shoulder all the blame for you when things are not running as they should be. And then there is the patience is a virtue excuse. You can never win with a clergyman. I stopped going to church eons ago. If things that unfold are part of God’s will, then no man can change it. So why bother? My relationship with God is still the same, but at least it’s not according to the whims and fancies… Read more »

Francis Khaw

The truth only comes out in a court of law. Look at the priest, monks, etc….that were charged in Singapore…..they sang like canaries. Credit cards, houses all over the world (ie the Singapore priest has 2 condos in Penang, Rolex watches, Porsche cars in Australia…).

If they did mislead the court, the sentence could be much higher.

Look at Dubai, where 90% of the workers are foreigners, consisting of Muslims, Chrisians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Catholics, Buddhists, etc….but they all live in peace and harmony…..because they have a unifying religion when they are there….$$$$$$$$$$$.

Andrew Aeria

In response to James Fah: James, you are correct. Nobody has all the information. So, all the more important that the Catholic Bishops (and parish priests) practise financial accountability and transparency to allow all of us Catholics full appreciation of Church finances. After all, who is paying for their soft mattresses, their three square meals and their air-conditioned cars if not us ordinary Catholics who put money in the church collection box every week? As it stands Catholic Church finances are completely opaque. And it’s not that some of us have never asked previously for transparency and financial accountability. So… Read more »


Hi lucia,

“…find me one person who genuinely live the gospel lifestyle to the full and i’ll pluck the moon for you.” I don’t live a gospel lifestyle but you would definitely have to pluck more than a score of moons for those I know who do. Money was usually the root of evil for most churches I knew. 🙂


i guess these days many either hide behind the court or religion – whichever suited them to make the millions and to stay in power.

Francis Khaw

Singapore has started prosecuting those so called Priest, Fathers, Monks, etc…..Look at the cases of Father Joachim Kang, the Reverend from Ren Ci, etc……

They are all crooks.

As they say, when it comes to $$$, we are all of the same religion.

James Fah

Andrew Aeria, Appreciate your passion. Then again please be reminded that we do not live in world where true information is available. A land sold can never only mean that someone is making profit. Will be good if we can spend sometime to find out what is actually taking place before coming out with our judgements. You can give the Church a call and find out what’s happening. The Convent school in Seremban is no longer around. Now the location where it used to stand is a man-made mosquito breeding farm. Can we say it was the sister’s doings? Will… Read more »


Aeria is right but on another note could you check what happened to the mini tent city you highlighted close to penanti.


Lucifer has clawed in The Church is his domain The way the activities done Money and idols ring the bell The Church has evolved The days of the Saints gone Preaching and helping the destitutes It has lost its direction Cultures of others The dominant ones creep into the Church The way it is done right to the decorations Is it necessary when we talked about religion? Selling properties to self worth It defeats it purposes on Earth It is to spread the word And the belief in the faith If one were to read About past history of how… Read more »


Anil thanks for taking up this issue.

I think the church today has become a materialistic organization where it preaches but does not do what it preaches.It has become like the arrogant BN where there is no room for consultation and dialogue.

The church administrators and priests have become riddled with all sorts of scandals – financial,sex and abuse of power.I really wonder where we are heading.If we continue with our practices we will definitely destroy the church like how the Umno-BN is destroying itself.


I just returned from filming Hare Krsna meals on wheels and talked to a lot of the poor people on their plights. Looking at them running towards the food van and then, queing up in the hot sun, waiting for their meals is just so heartbreaking. They said more and more people are sleeping on the streets.


They must be preaching to YTL. Francis Yeoh He sure knows how to live in style. And he mentions God from time to time, in between counting money from his IPP gotten riches.

Did he learn that from the Catholic Church or “Malaysia is an Islamic state” Mahathir?

S…. the rakyat and live the good life mantra seems to be their chorus.


andrew, find me one person who genuinely live the gospel lifestyle to the full and i’ll pluck the moon for you. 🙂 it’s easy to criticise and condemn but we must always look at both sides of the coins. people always look at big corporation/organisations as the ‘big bully’ while the ‘small people’ eg the residents, squatters, beggars, poor as the ‘good guy’. sometimes there are 2 side to the story. the so called ‘good guy’ may be the problem! anyway i agree with anil that if the church wants to sell the land, wiser for them to sell to… Read more »

Andrew Aeria

The Catholic Church has much to answer when it comes to issues of money-making versus the care of its flock. Many ordinary and poor Catholics get left by the wayside by the Catholic Church that makes millions when it sells Church land for the money. One can think of other cases in Penang previous to this. College General. Pulau Tikus Kampong Serani. And now Penang Road. In all these cases, the Catholic Clergy has refused to practise any financial accountability let alone transparency over their land sales and other financial dealings. And hey, don’t even talk about social responsibility to… Read more »