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The Unveiling of Dark Politics and Extremism during Cardinal Alencherry's Reign: Dark days of SM Church Exposed - Part 3

Updated: Jan 7

by Wimal MaryDas

Dirty Politics and Extremist Era of Cardinal Alencherry.

It was at the sudden death of Mar. Abraham Kattumana (1996) Mar Joseph Powathil, a man of orthodox family origin, began to emerge in Church power politics with an extremist liturgical ideology of worshipping ad orientem (Holy Mass facing east).

He began to assume unbridled authority and waged war on reform ideology — propounded Holy Mass facing people.  Holy Mass celebration facing Congregation ( Mass versus populum) was introduced in the Syro Malabar Church by Cardinal Parecattil in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. It was officially introduced in 1968. All bishops unanimously embraced the Holy Mass, facing the congregation.

The liturgical celebration of Holy Mass facing the congregation, with its liveliness, has been in practice in all dioceses of Syro Malabar Church under the leadership of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam.  It was well received by the faithful, and peace and prosperity reigned over.   In contrast, Mar. Powathil Archbishop in Changanassery succeeded in creating hostile groups warring against the renewal of the liturgy.

Fr. Powathil became a bishop in 1972, was an auxiliary for a few years, and then became the first bishop of Kanjirappally. His personal predilection for Holy Mass ad orientem was evident in his leadership.  His maternal patronage and his Eastern rite liturgical upbringing often manifested in his ministry. He taught his maternal heritage in the diocese of Kanjirappally and kept his allegiance with the Orthodox Churches. There were times he was reprimanded by the Holy See for his inclination towards “the married clergy and planning to introduce in the Syro Malabar Church” which was nipped in the bud later. 

This liturgical aberration in the Syro Malabar Church created a terrible division. Bishop Powathil was made the archbishop of Changanassery in 1985, where he began to claim unrestrained authority.   By that time, Cardinal Parecattil had retired, and eventually, he died in 1987. Archbishop Powathil emerged as an unchallenged authoritarian leader and began his power politics to win his games.

The epic centre of the liturgical crisis.

The power centre and lobby at the Archdiocese of Changanassery paved the way for its deterioration in the Syro Malabar Church.  At the beginning of his reign, Mar. Powathil faced resistance from the local clergy and faithful, but he wielded immense power to thwart the opposition. He even used political parties and police force to bulldoze the resistance of clergy and faithful. Bp.Powethil's mantra was to close the churches and intimidate the clergy and faithful to impose his ways.

There was a period in the archdiocese of Chaganassery when he forcefully executed the Holy Mass ad orientem ( Holy Mass facing the altar from beginning to end) without any ecclesiastical approval. No one questioned his liturgical aberration and unwillingness to accept the liturgical policy. No one asked why one Archbishop ( Powathil)  was disobeying the policy of the Syro Malabar Liturgical Council of that time; no media called them rebel priests or bishop. Holy See hid everything under their carpet, and no video message of the Pope was released from Rome! Yes, the liturgical aberration of Mar. Powathil, along with the dreadful omission of audacity to speak against his abuse of power, reaped its fruits 100 per cent in the Syro Malabar Church today. Mar. Powathil continued his dirty politics and backstabbing, whereas the Archdiocese of Ernakulam advanced in its pastoral strength and vibrancy.  

The Archdiocese of Ernakulam always stood for renewal under the patronage of the late Cardinal Parecattil. Meanwhile, the Powathil group, under his guidance, waged war against it.  

Hidden lobby of Chaganassery.

Mar. Powathil created a hidden lobby to manipulate the Syro Malabar church’s power structure.  After the sudden death of Mar. Kattumana, the elections of all bishops from 1996 were engineered purposefully to impose the liturgical restoration. It was quintessential for ideological engineering. Between 1996 and 2017, 46 bishops were selected, and 39 were obsessive restoration ideology radicals. Their passionate restoration ideologies began to influence the decision-making process in the Synod.

Mar. Powathil began to battle to win the restoration ideology. The divide-and-rule policy of Rome was very clear, and Rome supported only the Powathil extremist group.  Even in the election process, the Synod bishops used social engineering to create bishops who supported the restoration- liturgical ideology. 

The election of bishops Mar. Thomas Elavanal (1996), George Alencherry (1997), Sebastian Vadakkel (1998), Lawrence Mukkuzhy (1999), Mar. Jacob Angadiath (2001), Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt (2004), Joseph Srampickal (2016), Jose Kalluvalil (2018), Sebastian Pozhiliparambil (2017) and Curia Bishop Mar. Sebastian Vaniyapurackal (2017) is the perfect example.

This polarization was exacerbated to the point of disintegration of the fabric of the Syro Malabar church. These dirty politics of creating bishops with pro-restoration (anti-renewal) policies enabled the synod to have a brute majority to elect their bishops for restoration ideology.  Cardinal Alencherry played all dirty politics in choosing candidates for bishops to get their support.  

It is a well-known fact that Mar. Kattumana was brutally persecuted and tortured by the hidden and clamoured liturgical group headed by the Powathil extremist group. The warring groups continued to fight, but the arrival of Mar. Varkey Vithayathil brought peace for a short time.

The heydays of Mar. Vithayathil collapsed with the deliberation to implement a uniform mode of celebrating Syro Malabar Mass, but he managed to bring peace, providing necessary canonical exceptions. (CCEO 1538) His words of warning still resonate with the sad realities today: “These enemies may take the form of persons or ideologies. In both cases, they are more dangerous than the worst enemies from outside. We know that there is no dearth of such forces that are at work in our church.” It was a hint at the clamoring hands of the Powathil group in the Church.

After the death of Mar, Varkey Vithayathil, Archbishop Alencherry was elected on May 23, 2011, and his dirty politics, along with land row and his idiosyncratic stiff-nicked personality, advanced him towards his downfall.


It was the ontological necessity that he faced the disgrace of his downfall due to his arrogance of personality traits and numerous criminal cases. The root cause of this split was the riven jealousy of the Chaganassery archdiocese against the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, where Cardinal Alencherry became an instrument in the project of ripping apart the archdiocese of Ernakulam.

The arrogance and authoritarian mindset of Major Archbishop Alencherry is flagrantly clear- if you read the minutes of synodal news of Synod 2022, Session I&II. Major Archbishop’s bloodthirsty- voracious mindset to annihilate Archbishop Kariyil and subsequent removal became the pinnacle moment of the rotten story. Archbishop Karriyil has become a venerable scapegoat. The bleeding heart of Archbishop Karriyil is telling a paramount truth - even today- "the kings demand the head on a platter".  It is revealed secret that the Holy See has committed a crime by unjustly removing Abp Karriyil.       

The moral of the Kids' story of the fox and fighting goats is a relevant point even today. Even though goats were wounded and blood was oozing...  The fox was clever, instead of stopping fighting, but started licking the blood without caring.  Fox becomes greedy by the smell of the blood - wealth.  

The church is severely wounded.  The clever fox has fallen. History will call the fox- a clever fox but after all, a Fox is a Fox!   The moral of the story must be read from the Panchatantra, an ancient animal fables of India “ the wicked ones should always be punished for their deeds- It also explains that if one does bad to others, bad will happen to him too.   


Stay tuned . Part Four.

End of extremist Era and a new dawn of hope


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