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In unprecedented move, Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Church, Cardinal Alencherry sidelined

The News Minute Report

In a major development, perhaps unprecedented in the history of the church in Kerala, the Vatican has appointed Bishop of Mandya Mar Antony Kariyil in charge of all administrative, financial and pastoral duties in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro Malabar church. This means that land scam accused Cardinal Mar George Alencherry will only be the holy seer and figurehead of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese of the Syro Malabar church. This comes after a synod meeting – the synod is a council in the church which takes important decisions. Mar Sebastian Edayanthram has been appointed as the Mandya Bishop.

The decision has been prompted by the consistent pressure from reformers’ groups in the church, including the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT), and the Alamaya Munnettam, a group that represents ordinary believers. The reformers groups had been up in arms for the past two years, ever since financial irregularities in a series of land deals of the church in which Alencherry was also involved, were exposed. The Ernakulam city police in April had registered a case against Alencherry and three others in connection with the land deals that allegedly ended up causing financial losses for the archdiocese.

In a press release, the church acknowledged the land scam – however, it blamed middlemen for it. “The land scam related to the archdiocese has deeply hurt the church in the past two years. The crisis had become grave as the allegations were against the head and Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Church. The synod has understood that there have been lapses in collective responsibility in the land deals,” said a press release issued by the church post the synod meeting.

“However, no financial gain has been made by the cardinal or the other priests in the church,” the release added, “The leadership of the diocese as well that of the related committees failed to realise the profit motives of the middlemen in the deals. It is also misfortunate that fake documents were appeared justifying the allegations related to the land deal.”

The church also slammed the protestors who have been standing up against the scam. “Some of the protests against the land deal broke all the barriers of discipline. The act of burning the effigy of Major Archbishop has created lasting taint for the church. Church as a whole had witnessed how precarious is the indiscipline of priests. It is also condemnable that there were attempts in various social media groups for creating factionalism within the church under the shield of controversies. It is being reminded that priests need the permission of the Bishop for taking part in channel discussions as well as to issue press releases,” the statement said.

The synod also accused the Archdiocese Forum for Transparency, Indian Catholic Forum, World Christian Council and Save Our Sisters Forum of 'anti-church activities'. These forums, which have even priests as members, have been raising their voicec on the need for corrections within the church. Save Our Sisters Forum backed the nuns who protested openly to get justice for the survivor nun in the rape case in which Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal is the accused.

While the letter from the Vatican written to Alencherry makes it look like the change in administration was Alencherry's idea, activists say this is a win for those who have been protesting against the land scam.

“It is indeed a huge victory. It is like we have won after fighting a mountain,” Riju Kanjoorakkaran of AMT told TNM, “Raising a voice within a powerful organisation like the church is not easy.”

“Bishop Antony Kariyil will have full powers in the fields of administration, finances and pastoral ministry in the said ecclesiastical circumscription observing whatever is prescribed by law, including the obligatory consultations and approvals of various bodies such as College of Consultors, Finance Council, Presbyteral Council and Pastoral Council,” said a communication from the Vatican.

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