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An act of defiance against the tyrannical leadership of Mar. Thazath is a second Coonan Cross Oath

“Moozhikulam Mass, the second Coonan Cross Oath”, says Advocate Jayasankar

On 20th May 2023, 250 priests of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam Angamaly, gathered at Moozhikulam Forane Church, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. The event was nothing short of an act of defiance against the tyrannical approach adopted by the Apostolic Administrator, Mar Andrews Thazhath. Prior to it, Fr. Antony Poothaveli who led the group that vandalized and desecrated St. Mary’s Basilica on Christmas’eve, leading to its indefinite closure, had been appointed as the Vicar of Moozhikulam Forane Church. This and his staunch advocacy of the Synodal Mass had made him a persona non-grata in the Archdiocese. Mar Thazhath who knew this pretty well perhaps wanted to test the stand of the people of Moozhikulam. When Fr. Poothaveli arrived to assume charge as the Vicar, he was prevented from entering the precincts of the Church and was therefore forced to read his appointment order standing in front of the locked gate of the church and left.

The next day, a Sunday, Holy Mass had to be celebrated. The parishioners got Fr. Paul Chakkian, a native of Moozhikulam Forane Church, to preside over the two Eucharistic celebrations of the day without the consent of the Vicar appointed by Mar Thazhath. By evening he received a notice from the Apostolic Administrator, first by SMS and later its hard copy, stating that Fr. Paul’s action, that of celebrating the Eucharist without the permission of the legitimate Vicar, Fr. Antony Poothaveli, was a breach of norms and an explanation was demanded. This provoked the priests of the Archdiocese to celebrate the Eucharist in defiance of the Apostolic Administrator’s diktat.

Prior to it, two events requiring attention occurred: on 17th May, 2023, the Supreme Court gave a verdict against Cardinal Alancherry accused of questionable land deals asking him to face trial, and second, the demise of Archbishop Emeritus Mar Powathil, the mentor and patron of Alancherry. Perhaps drawing inspiration from these two events, the priests, who are labelled rebels by the pro-Synod lobby, congregated at Moozhikulam Forane Church and concelebrated the Holy Eucharist, thus daring Mar Andrews Thazhath to take action against them. What was even more significant about the event was that Fr. Kuriakose Mundadan, the spokesperson of the clergy of the Archdiocese, Fr. Benny Maramparambil who had inquired into the land scam involving the Cardinal, and Fr. Augustine Vattoli, who was at the forefront of several public demonstrations, were conspicuous by their absence at Moozhikulam. Andrews had earlier issued notices to the three leaders to desist from the move to offer the Eucharist at Moozhikulam.

The concelebrated Holy Mass at Moozhikulam was presided over by Monsignor Varghese Njaliath, former Vicar General of the Archdiocese, who is now leading a retired life. It was a clear indication that the protest against the imposition of the Synod formula in the Archdiocese could go on without the regular leaders. But when 250 priests come together to celebrate the Eucharist, defying the orders of the Apostolic Administrator, can Andrews or Alancherry or even the Pope himself, take disciplinary action against so many? The priests are not alone; they are backed by 99% of the laity of the Archdiocese. ( Half a million Catholics) Hence any disciplinary action against the priests would be detrimental to the Syro-Malabar Church. The episode is reminiscent of the Koonan Kurisu Satyam (January 3, 1653) at Mattancherry which caused a schism in the Syro-Malabar Church. The present attempt to enforce the 50:50 formula would rip apart the Syro-Malabar Church. What was intended as a step to engender unity has threatened to wreck the Church.

Justice Kurian Joseph, former SC Judge

Therefore, the ecclesiastical authorities have to exercise self-restraint. But the present crop of leaders leading the Syro-Malabar Church doesn’t seem to have such a virtue. Retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India, Kurian Joseph, had earlier made an appeal to the bishops, who preach from the pulpit to forgive seventy times seven, to exercise restraint and to adopt a conciliatory approach. But sadly, the bishops who preach Christ’s message of reconciliation, do not practise the same in their life. Mar Andrews Thazhath is opposed to any compromise.

Fr.Poothaveli would receive the same kind of reception wherever he is appointed. Since the people of Moozhikulam are peace-loving, he was unscathed after trying to force his way into Moozhikulam parish. He would have received a violent reception elsewhere in the Archdiocese. When the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries tried to impose their authority and Latin practices over the Malankara Church, the famous Coonan Cross Oath took place under the leadership of Archdeacon Thomas. The Moozhikulam Concelebration by over 250 priests, attended by a large number of the laity, conveyed a clear message that the people of the Archdiocese would not accept the spiritual and temporal authority of prelates like Andrews Thazhath. The event garners greater significance for the sole reason that it was led by retired priests like Fr. Paul Chakkian and Monsignor Varghese Njaliath in the absence of the established leaders.

Translated by Johny Cheglan

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