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Despicable and shameful participants in the Synodal process of the Catholic Church.

Photo credit from the public domain

The Upcoming Synod of the Catholic Church and the Syro-Malabar Participants in it.

The Synod of the Catholic Church is scheduled to be held in the Vatican from 4th to 29th October 2023 on the theme: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.” Bishops from all over the world and representatives of the laity including a few women are set to participate in this mega event. Preparations for the same was set in motion by Pope Francis who ‘launched the Synod on Synodality in October 2021 as a worldwide undertaking during which Catholics were encouraged to submit feedback to their local dioceses’. Subsequently, synods at the local level were organized, and as per records 112 Bishops Conferences out of the 114 conducted the exercise involving thousands of priests, religious and laity.

In the Syro Malabar Church, I am not sure how many dioceses conducted the exercise. I had the privilege of participating in the exercise conducted by Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese and I am sure a summary of the deliberations of the assembly would have been sent to Rome by now.

Against the backdrop of the raging controversy surrounding the implementation of the 50:50 formula of Eucharistic celebration enunciated by the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church, the universal Synod would take place. It is now certain that three persons from the Syro-Malabar Church would attend it: Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alancherry as the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath as the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and Archbishop Joseph Pamplany. What are their credentials apart from those stated above? The Major Archbishop is at the centre of a land scam and is awaiting trial on the issue in spite of his repeated attempts to flee from appearing in court by giving lame excuses. Archbishop Thazhath has the reputation of having deepened the crisis in Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese by his style of operation and the dubious methods he employed to attain his objectives: seeking the help of the police in order to celebrate the Eucharist in St.Mary’s Basilica and replacing the Basilica Vicar, Monsignor Antony Narikulam with Fr.Antony Poothaveli, a priest considered a persona non grata in the Archdiocese (His role in the desecration of the Basilica and the sacrilegious and controversial manner in which he disposed of the sacred hosts made him unacceptable in the entire Archdiocese. Earlier he was appointed as the Vicar of Moozhikulam Forane Church but the parishioners there didn’t allow him to step into the parish compound.) Archbishop Joseph Pamplani has a knack for courting controversies. He offered to make the BJP win in Kerala provided the price of natural rubber was hiked to Rs.300 per kg. He forgot that the laity in Kerala are capable of deciding which party they should vote for, without ecclesiastical recommendation. Although eloquent about Synod and synodality, the three prelates do not see synodality in the way the Holy Father sees it. For them synodality means simply obedience to what the Synod, or to be more accurate, the permanent members of the Synod dictate. They echo the lines of English poet Alfred Tennyson: “Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die” They do not believe in dialogue or reconciliation; they do not believe in listening to the flock. As Father Paul Thelakkat noted, “The synod meets periodically and decides, but it has no system of consultation with the clergy, religious, or laity. Hence, the dialogue with the levels below the bishops is not always fruitful.” So what can the three representatives from the Syro-Malabar Church contribute to the Synod?

Several months have passed since the closure of St.Mary’s Basilica and the denial of the sacrament of Holy Eucharist to the parishioners of the Basilica. These prelates have ignored the on-going agitation by the laity and the priests to get the Basilica reopened. They are adamant that the Basilica will remain closed until the people of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese accept the 50:50 Synodal MASS. In fact, they have employed several unchristian strategies to force the priests of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese to comply with their irrational orders. Initially the rectors of the diocesan seminaries were ordered to switch over to the Synodal Mass. Later the superiors of various congregations were asked to do the same. The believers of the Eparchy have not made any unreasonable demand. They have not objected to the use of the text of the Eucharist approved by the Pope. What they have opposed is the 50:50 formula, which, as everyone knows, is a compromise solution, ostensibly for promoting uniformity of worship but really to divert the attention of the people from the murky land deals entered into by the head of the Syro Malabar Church.

How many Synods have been called to find a solution to the problem? All of them turned out to be futile exercises basically because the idea of dialogue and consultation with the stakeholders concerned did not precede them. Neither the Pope nor any future Synod will be able to resolve the present impasse without the ‘synod having the language of love, sincerity, openness.’ The shepherds should have the odour of the sheep, said the Pope. Do any of the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, especially those chosen to participate in the Synod, have the odour of the sheep? Instead, they will carry into the Synod the very disagreeable odour of corruption, obstinacy, and opportunism - all detested by Christ and His Church. Other Synod participants will frown at the sight of these men. Syro-Malabar Church always had the respect of the entire Christendom because it was thought of as a vibrant Church, having numerous vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and having a laity that practices the faith. Today that respect has been eroded - thanks to the recent developments in it. When the Church in Europe is beckoning its flock to attend the Holy Eucharist but finds few takers for it, Mar Andrews Thazhath has deliberately kept the faithful away from the sacraments by closing the Basilica indefinitely. In the name of an irrational tradition sought to be reinstated within the Syro-Malabar Church, the Syro-Malabar Synod opened the Pandora’s Box. The very leaders responsible for this undesirable state of affairs are now designated to participate in the Synod. If they open their mouth at all, it will be to justify all that happens in the Syro Malabar Church as the ‘will of God’. They will seek to exonerate themselves of responsibility for the present predicament in this Church. There will be a hopeless chasm between the synodality they will speak about in the Universal Synod and the synodality they practice back home. Without resolving present crisis in the Syro-Malabar Church do they have a right to participate in the Universal Synod? It would be a shame, if they do.

Johny Chengalan

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