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Cardinal Alencherry creates the illusion of Truth: Repeated lies never become Truth.

The Post Synodal Circular of Cardinal George Alencherry: A Few Comments

Mr. Johny Chengalan

I came across in the social media the post Synodal circular issued by His Beatitude Cardinal George Alencherry and read it with a blend of dismay and bemusement. The issue that the circular devotes much of its space is the Synodal Mass (50:50 formula) and its main opponent, the priests and faithful of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam Angamaly. The assertions therein need to be both challenged and refuted. The Cardinal seems to be under the illusion that a lie repeated several times would become a truth. The Cardinal claims that the Synod Fathers unanimously approved the uniform Holy Eucharist in the Synod of November, 1999. Facts to the contrary have come to light recently with several retired participant bishops asserting that their objections were simply brushed aside before arriving at ‘unanimity’. The brutal majority of the traditionalists ( I do not wish to use the word Chaldean because that would be an affront to the Chaldean Church which has adopted Eucharist versus Populum) in the Synod enabled it to project the decision as having the consent of all.

The decision regarding the imposition of the 50:50 formula was taken without following the procedure laid by the Synod in 2001, which had clearly stipulated that before taking so important a decision, the matter must be referred to a Synodal Committee and in the light of the latter’s recommendation, the subject must be placed before the entire Synod and discussed and passed. Was this stipulation honestly adhered to before the controversial decision was taken?The Cardinal must give an answer before he can call for obedience to the decision.

Dragging the Pope’s name into the circular saying that the Pope had twice exhorted the Syro-Malabar Christians to follow the formula enunciated by the Synod, is to justify the dubious manner in which the entire issue was handled by the Synod and the Cardinal. In any case, was the Pope really aware of what he was exhorting the faithful of SMC to follow? Was he aware that the text of the Eucharist was doctored post-approval at the instance of one member of the Synod (whoever that one member is!) and the rest of the Synod members mutely subscribed to the amendment proposed by that one member (who seems to have had enormous clout in the Synod)

The circular claims that the final decision with regard to liturgical matters lies with the Synod and the Holy See. While conceding that claim, we like to ask why the Synod didn’t follow the procedure laid down by it. Moreover, if the Holy See’s approval is essential for a Synodal decree to become effective, why did the Synod (or the vested interests in it) alter the text after it was approved by the Pope? Why didn’t the Synod seek fresh approval from the Holy See for the altered text of the Eucharist before imposing it on the Syro-Malabar Church as some sort of an incontrovertible gospel truth? In refusing to secure fresh approval for the doctored text of the Holy Eucharist, wasn’t the Synod violating all norms of morality? Whose agenda was it anyway? If the priests of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese celebrate the unaltered Eucharist approved and sanctioned by the Pope, why does the Cardinal term it illicit? In short, the Synod has no moral authority to ask the priests of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese to follow the altered 50:50 formula which is yet to be approved by the Pontiff. In fact, the only licit text of the Eucharist is the one approved by the Pope. By terming the celebration of the same as illicit, isn’t the Cardinal challenging the authority of the Pope? Is he claiming to be above the Pope? Celebrating the Eucharist as per the 50:50 formula is absolutely illicit as it lacks the endorsement of the Pope. By insisting on compliance to the unapproved Synodal Mass, what message is the Synod and its head, the Cardinal, conveying to the laity in the Syro-Malabar Church? By projecting the clandestinely and hastily conceived 50:50 formula alone as licit and everything else as illicit, isn’t the Cardinal justifying the faulty and illegal manner in which it was decided upon and imposed on the Syro-Malabar Church?

In paragraph 5, the Cardinal says that the Synod cannot address the issues raised by Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese because it is under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic Administrator appointed by the Pope. The Cardinal indirectly admits that he is responsible for the present impasse in Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese and the Syro-Malabar Church but he cannot resolve it unless Rome removes the Apostolic Administrator. Earlier Rome had to appoint a Metropolitan Vicar Archbishop to head the administration of the Archdiocese because the Cardinal had lost his credibility as a leader. The present Apostolic Administrator can never resolve the crisis plaguing the Archdiocese so long as he toes the line of the Cardinal and continues to resort to tactics which are totally unchristian and inhuman. For example, appointing an administrator for the Basilica, while a full time Vicar was managing its affairs commendably well, was part of Thazhath’s tactic to sow the seeds of distrust and discord among the flock and to win votaries for the Eucharist ad Orientem, after pitting one group against the other. The best course before the Cardinal is to own up responsibility for the crisis enveloping the Syro-Malabar Church before the Pope and since he has become an irrelevant entity in the Church, to resign the post of head of the Syro-Malabar Church and allow the Pope to find a more dynamic, acceptable and moderate prelate in his place.

Before the two Papal exhortations asking the Syro-Malabar Church to concur with the decision of the Synod on the uniform model of the Eucharist, the Holy Father had asked the Synod to make restitution for the losses suffered by Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese as a result of the corrupt land deals entered into by the Cardinal and his team. The circular is totally silent on this issue. Neither he nor the Synod has taken any initiative in this regard, all the while repeating the Biblical dictum: “Obedience is better than sacrifice” The Cardinal and the Synod believe that they are not bound by this dictum but the priests and faithful of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese are. The Cardinal can salvage some of his lost credibility by setting a time frame for the payment of the restitution ordered by the Pope!

By merely appointing a multi-member commission and meeting with the different groups, one cannot overcome a crisis, especially when the commission is ostensibly authorized only to parrot the decisions of the Synod while its members are not forthright in replying to the questions raised by the learned representatives of the priests and the laity. One cannot solve a problem by circumventing it and repeating the maxim: ‘this is the will of God or the Holy Spirit has inspired this decision.’ I don’t think the Holy Spirit ever endorses mendacity, duplicity and arrogance.

In paragraph six it is claimed that the uniform Eucharist is sought to be introduced in order to foster greater unity in the Syro-Malabar Church. What are the consequences of the ‘unanimous decision? It backfired and instead fostered open conflicts where at least a semblance of unity existed earlier. It caused almost irreparable rupture in the Church between traditionalists and liberalists, between Alencherry faction and those opposed to him. As days go by, the chasm is accentuating and the factions are becoming more vocal in their demands. The Syro-Malabar Church has never had a uniform mode of celebrating the Eucharist post Vatican II, with Kanjirapally, Changanassery and Pala dioceses, the sworn citadels of orthodoxy, having their own unique views or approaches to celebrating the Eucharist and other sacraments. Later Kothamangalam joined the latter bandwagon. They were never taken to task for their divergent practices, often an obstacle to unity. The introduction of the 50:50 formula merely exposed the rot within the Syro-Malabar Church. Today Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese is being victimized on the issue of a single rubric that it does not abide by, while fully endorsing the revised text of the Holy Qurbana approved by the Holy Father. The priests and faithful of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese are convinced that the Eucharist they celebrate is licit, whereas the Synodal Mass with the doctored rubric which is not approved by the Holy Father is totally illicit. So, the Eucharist being offered by the 34 dioceses are in fact illicit. What the Synod wants is uniformity, not unity and to this end, the most supreme worship of the Church is made the point of contention! The Synod wants to prove to the world that the Syro-Malabar Church is bereft of any Latin influences and thereby to assert its (the Syro-Malabar Church’s) individuality and difference from its sister Churches. For that it is willing to walk any distance and resort to any practices even to the point of negating the spirit of the Lord’s teaching and examples. The introduction of curtains blocking the sanctuary, sidelining the tabernacle to ascribe prominence to the Manichean cross, discouraging the Holy Rosary and other devotionals are simply steps in that direction. In that vein, the Syro-Malabar Church is ‘opposing God Himself’, in the words of Gamaliel. The priests and faithful of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdicese still adhere to the belief that the tabernacle holds the center stage in Catholic churches. The Holy Eucharist is the fountain of divine grace and the bedrock of Christian spirituality. We endorse other devotionals as they draw us closer to God.

The circular takes note of the incidents that occurred in St.Mary’s Basilica on 23rd and 24th December, 2022, and disapproves the celebration of the Eucharist as a means of protest. Were the priests celebrating the Eucharist as a means of protest? Why is the circular silent on the sacrilege committed by the Basilica administrator who stood before the altar in order to block a Eucharist that was going on? What action will be taken against the people who desecrated the altar and the sacred vessels and vestments? A commission has been appointed to inquire into the incidents and the report thereof would be sent to Rome and disciplinary action would be taken against the perpetrators of sacrilege as per the instructions to be given by Rome. An honest procedure would be to publish the findings of the commission before forwarding them to Rome. What guarantee is there for an impartial enquiry? Moreover, there is a standing allegation against the Cardinal that he celebrated Christmas with the very people who committed the sacrilege.

In paragraph eight the circular singles out for praise those priests and laymen who came forward to implement the decision of the Synod on the Holy Eucharist. The question is, how many priests of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese came forward to fully back the decision of the Synod? Who are the laymen clamouring for Synodal Mass? Less than ten priests of the Archdiocese are in favour of Synodal Mass and they are people with doubtful credentials. One of them known to me personally was notorious for having been at loggerheads with the parishioners wherever he worked and he had the audacity to drag his opponents to police stations. The laymen who agitate for Synodal Mass are mostly people having roots in south Kerala.

The circular seems to have had no impact on the votaries of Eucharist versus Populum and it was read in just four parishes on 22nd January, 2023. This proves again that despite the desperate attempts being made by the Cardinal and the Apostolic Administrator to hold the fortand to have their way in Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese, no tangible progress is made. It has reached a point of no return and hence it is judicious to maintain status quo on both sides.

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