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Mar Jose Porunnedom and his misleading messages : Liturgical uniformity in question

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

Paulose Vareed

Bishop Jose Porunnedom: Photo credit to Public domain.

Bishop is misleading his flock with his deceptive information in the pastoral letter.

The Manathavady Diocesan Bulletin for the month of November (2021) is of great help to understand the direction in which the Syro-Malabar Church is headed ( ). The volume contains a Pastoral letter by Bishop Mar Jose Porunnedom. The letter is to be read in all parishes and religious houses in the Diocese on 7th November. The title of the letter as per the content page is ‘Pastoral letter of the Bishop of Mananthavady about the implementation of uniform mode’. It also contains information compiled by the bishop chronicling the journey towards the uniform mode of celebration of Holy Mass in the Syro-Malabar Church. Many documents, including the exhortation by the Pope and Letter by the Prefect of the Orientation for the Oriental Churches, along with Malayalam translation, are published. This will definitely help a layperson to understand better and evaluate the controversy. At least this is a recognition, though indirectly, that liturgy is not an issue involving only the Bishops and the priests, the faithful also has a view on this, and they form their views by their own reasoning and understanding.In that way, this gesture questions the narrative of the Chaldean lobby that faithful in certain Dioceses are brainwashed by priests.

As an ordinary layperson, I read the Bulletin with an open mind, to better understand the need for a uniform mode of celebration. However, now I am certain that there are no cogent reasons for this unilateral decision by the Synod. The only reason appears to be to divert the attention from all the scandals surrounding the Major Archbishop and certain Bishops. But on a deeper level, a reading of the Bulletin raises serious questions about the direction in which the Syro-Malabar Church is headed. Let me outline some of these concerns. But before that, it may be useful to give a brief background about the bishop.

Bishop Jose Porunnedom

Bishop Jose Porunnedom is the third bishop of the Mananthavady Diocese, which consists predominantly of farmers who migrated from central Kerala during the post-war period that saw food shortages. Bishop Porunnedom is also one among the last three bishops who were directly appointed by Rome before that power was transferred to the Synod. The other two bishops appointed along with him are Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt (Bishop of Pala), and Bishop Andrews Thazhath (Auxiliary Bishop of Trichur).

Bishop Porunnedom worked as chancellor of the curia and edited a volume titled Acts of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church held in the Vatican from 8 to 16 Janu­ary 1996. Thus, as a person well versed with the controversy and the discussions around it and as someone chronicling the events, one expected him to be neutral and impartial in his analysis. But he comes across as a vociferous spokesperson of the Chaldean lobby. Let me highlight some serious concerns that his pastoral letter and the chronology of events raises.

Why uniform mode now?

A perusal of the various documents reveals that the need for the imposition of uniform mode was ‘exacerbated due to the broadcasting and live-streaming during the pandemic’. It seems that there are some people in the Church who did not know that the Holy Mass was celebrated in different modes in different Dioceses, and the decision to impose a uniform mode had to be cancelled due to the severe differences of opinion. Be that as it may, it raises concerns. If a third wave forces another lockdown, and those ‘concerned people’ still see crucifix and tabernacle, absence of curtain in certain dioceses and express concern, will the Synod respond by bringing in uniformity in all these matters? Whose concerns does Synod take into consideration? There are representations submitted by thousands of laypersons requesting the continuation of the status quo that were summarily rejected.

Blind obedience is the only way to survival

There is a recognition that the Church is facing serious challenges. According to the bishop Jose, a change in the attitude of the laity and the priests is the only way to overcome those challenges. Blind obedience is what he demands of the laity. In one sense he may be right. Under the present leadership, the Syro-Malabar Church can survive only if it has faithful who do not think and do not ask questions.

His explanation that the letter of the Pope is not an exhortation but a direction clearly demonstrates that. To quote him, “In North India, there are village heads or chieftains. Their commands are obeyed by the villagers without any questions being asked.” The analogy is important. The khap panchayaths in North India that he refers to are notorious for their archaic, backward looking and patriarchal beliefs and views. Such an understanding of authority cements the belief that the present church leadership wants a faithful who blindly obey and who share the regressive, archaic, and reactionary views of the leadership. One wonders whether the Church leadership endorses the views of fringe groups that see the role of women confined to the kitchen and bedroom, who can display their loyalty to the Church by giving birth to more and more children.

A significant part of his article is devoted to threatening those who oppose the unilateral decision of the Synod. He reminds them of the fate of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their households who questioned the authority of Moses, and of Judas who betrayed Jesus.

Difference in views not tolerated even among the leadership

One of the reasons identified by the bishop for lack of uniformity in the celebration of liturgy is the differences among the bishops about it. He says “when the new dioceses were erected, priests holding diverging viewpoints were installed as bishops. Thus, various dioceses started enforcing different modes of celebration.” One is to understand that the ‘unanimous’ decision of the Synod on uniform mode of celebration was possible only because the majority of the bishops belonged to the Chaldean group. Thus, his understanding of the origin of the differences gives credence to Wimal Das Mary’s assertion in this platform that there was a deliberate ploy to appoint bishops who identified with the Chaldean restoration group. To quote the author: “After the sudden death of Mar. Abraham Kattumana, the elections of all bishops from 1996 were engineered purposefully imposing the Chaldean rituals in Kerala. It was quintessential for ideological engineering. Between 1996 and 2017, 46 bishops were selected and 39 of them are all obsessive orientalists. Their passionate Chaldean ideologies began to influence the decision-making process​ in the Synod.” ( ).

As an ordinary layman, if I have the luxury to think independently, I wonder if Mar Augustine Kandathil, the first Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church or Mar Joseph Parecattil, the first Cardinal of the Syro-Malabar Church were given the power and exercised that power in the way Mar Jose Porunnedom envisages, we would have had a different liturgy altogether and everyone including Mar Porunnedom would have accepted it without any objection. Thus, it was only an accident of time and person that we have the present liturgy and the present mode of celebration.

Interpretation of Pope’s letter

A major portion of the article is devoted to interpret the Pope’s letter. He is certain that the letter is not an exhortation but a direction that everyone is to obey. The usage of expressions ‘time is greater than space’ and ‘unity prevails over conflict’ and ‘ecclesiastical walking together’ gave a lot of hope to me. Even these simple words, the meaning of which are very clear to anyone how the Syro-Malabar Synod functions, are explained. He says that these expressions have been grossly misunderstood and misinterpreted. According to him ‘time is greater than space’ means that we should surrender to God who intervenes in history. ‘Unity prevails over conflict’ means not running away from conflicts, not ignoring them, but facing them and reaching a consensus. ‘Ecclesiastical walking together’ means that everyone in the Synod should walk towards the same direction. With them their dioceses, priests, religious and the laity should also walk towards the same direction. How foolish one was to understand the letter as Pope’s exhortation to the leadership to walk with the faithful! As a layman, my role is clear. Follow the Major Archbishop and Synod. Common English words can be so complicated that they can convey exactly the opposite of what it looks like!

His explanation of ‘time is greater than space’ at another place gives a clear roadmap for liturgical uniformity. “It may take decades to bring in complete uniformity. That is why Holy Father Francis writes time is greater than space.” (p. 52) Ad Orientem Mass, the Curtain, the removal of the Crucifix and tabernacle from the altar, installation of the controversial cross, discontinuance of rosary etc. are bound to happen. 50:50 is only the beginning. It is only a matter of time that the entire Syro-Malabar Church becomes Changanassery Archdiocese.

The Common enemy

In explaining the need for uniformity, he cites ‘to fight against the common enemy’ as one of the reasons. “How effectively we can fight the common enemy will depend upon how fast we can resolve our differences.” (p. 82 -83) He says it is very evident that our enemies will try to sustain and inflame the differences. A clarification is needed here. Who is our common enemy? Is it the same religious group that was named and attacked by a prominent Syro-Malabar bishop recently? If yes, what did they do to inflame our differences? If not, which group is he referring to? One knows very well that a discussion on whether a bishop could use words like ‘common enemy’ and ‘fight against’ does not make any sense in Syro-Malabar Church!

New text can wait but not uniform mode of celebration

The revision of the Text of the Holy Mass was going on for sometime now. There was consensus about the revised text that was approved by the Synod and Rome. The revised text was finalized after wide-ranging consultations, and it is to be used from 28th November along with the uniform mode of celebration.

In the pastoral letter printed in bold letters he directs “From 28th November the uniform mode of celebration will come into effect, even if the new text is not available.” One wonders whether the real purpose of revision of the text was enforcing uniformity!

The Mananthavady bulletin is a clear indication that 50:50 celebration is only temporary. By completely emasculating the Central Kerala dioceses like Ernakulam-Angamaly, Thrissur, and Irinjalakkuda financially and through attacks on social media, it may not take decades for brining in ad orientem Mass, controversial cross, curtain etc. While diocesan office becomes offices of real estate agents, Syro-Malabar Church would have turned into Changanassery mafia.

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