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Tension spiraled up in the Syro Malabar Church. Major Archbishop lost his credibility

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

By Joy.C, India.

"Pope has to act immediately and strip of the vested powers of Syro Malabar Synod to make decisions on Liturgy and the election of Bishops. Major Archbishop has misused his authority in the selection process of bishops to amass a brute majority. The selection process of bishops has been arbitrarily determined based on the candidate’s predilection for Chaldean Liturgy, which created a backlash and irreparable damages in the Church" says a senior priest of Thrissur Archdiocese in anonymity.

A faction of Syro Malabar Church under the leadership of Major Archbishop is moving towards orthodox Church in India. Major Archbishop challenges Pope Francis and the Oriental Congregation. The celebration of Holy Mass turning towards East, using the flabella, a liturgical object usually used by the Orthodox Church in India, has shocked the Catholic faithful of India.

The Catholic Church in India has a documented history going back to 300 AD and is believed to have been established by Saint Thomas the Apostle. The Portuguese Padroado missionary zeal in Kerala caused a division in the Church after the Synod of Diamper in 1599. A decade after the Coonan Cross oath of 1653, when Saint Thomas ‘Nasrani’ Christians broke away from Portuguese control, the Pope directly initiated reconciliation with the Nasranis through the Carmelite friars. It ­resulted in 84 of Kerala’s 116 churches coming under the Holy See, essentially making up the Syro-Malabar Church today.

Today, the Catholic Church in Kerala is made up of Syro-Malabar, Latin, and Syro-Malankara rites, and they work in close coordination with each other.

Lately, a lit­urgical schism has developed between the liberal and conservative sections of the dominant Syro-Malabar Church. The conservative section spearheaded by the Changanacherry archdiocese wants the Church to return to Chaldean roots. In 1992, the Pope elevated the Syro-Malabar Church as a Sui Iuris or a Major Archiepiscopal Church with its seat of power at Ernakulam-Angamaly, leading to a tug-of-war bet­ween the Changanacherry archdiocese and the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

The schism had deepened in the mid-1990s when the conservative Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry tried to emerge as the successor of cardinal Antony Padiyara and was thwarted by the collective resistance of the clergy in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese. After the relative calm during the term of Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil (1999-2011), things spiraled out of control when the Changanacherry-born George Alencherry succeeded the former as Ernakulam-Angamaly archbishop, making him the de facto major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church.

As head of the Syro-Malabar Church and a proxy of the conservative faction, cardinal Alencherry found himself in a quagmire while trying to consolidate his powers. The questionable real estate deals undertaken by Cardinal Alencherry and the spirited resistance put up by a section of the clergy in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese with the backing of the laity eventually played spoilsport, resulting in the Vatican divesting cardinal Alencherry of his ­administrative privileges.

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There is a delicious irony in the Syro-Malabar Church’s conservative section romanticizing its Chaldean traditions and pining to revert to its past. Back when the Nasranis were either independent or in communion with the Church of the East from 300-1599, the clergy did not actively partake in the Church’s administration and primarily engaged in the community’s spiritual well-being. The deacons and archdeacons mana­ged the finances and administration of the wealth of independent churches on behalf of the palliyogams (parish council).

Today the parish Council and Palliyogam have no role in deciding the mode of celebration of Holy Mass. The Synod and its bishops are imposing what they want against the wish of the faithful. The parish councils and the clergy of the many dioceses decided to continue the celebration of the Holy Mass facing the people. Moreover, the offices in Rome were inundated by the petitions of the clergy and laity seeking the permission to continue to celebrate the Holy mass facing people. The plea of genuine petitions was accepted by Pope Francis, dispensing the diocese from the prescriptions of the Synod. But unfortunately, this pastoral move of Pope Francis was cunningly hijacked by the Major Archbishop and his vested interest group of bishops.

It has shocked the Catholics in India that Major Archbishop , proxy of Changanassery Chaldean group using the flabella of Orthodox community in the celebrations of Catholic Church.

"This deceit and treachery of Major Archbishop exacerbated the tension in the Church. Even the permission granted by the statutory provisions of the Canon Law and endorsement by Pope Francis has been manipulated for his crooked strategy. Even he hid the communication from Rome under the carpet and lied to the media that he did not receive the missive from Roman Office. He is a scandal for us" A mother of two and a committed catechism teacher Mrs. Sara Thomas of Angamaly parish told the reporter.

“ The cheating and deceit shamelessly displayed by Major Archbishop demoted himself as a criminal in the minds of the faithful. It is also reflects his overt reproach from Pope and inkling of leaning towards the orthodox faction of the Indian Church. Thus we strongly feel a division in the Syro Malabar Church is fast approaching, “ Laity leader says.

On August 12, 2021, the Kerala high court ordered a probe into land deals involving Cardinal Alench­erry, leading to the Kerala Police forming a team and the Enforcement Directorate initiating proceedings against the prelate. The Income Tax dep­artment had already slapped a fine of Rs 2.5 crore in this regard. The BJP seems to be going slow on a slew of petitions, including Right to Information revelations, as it has great utility in keeping the pot simmering till its goals are met in Kerala.

The Church was at the vanguard of pointing fingers at Muslims, And It gradually bore results as evident from the widening gap ­between the two Communities.

Division has created wounds that has terribly destroyed the harmony and unity existed in the Church. It is learned from reliable sources that Major Archbishop is involved in misleading faithful with the help of hooligans to disrupt the Bishops and Archbishops who followed the pastoral measures warranted by the CCEO canon 1538.

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