Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Laity accuses India’s Eastern rite Church's head of conspiracy

A section of the laity from a troubled Indian archdiocese has appealed to the Vatican to settle their decades-old liturgy row in the Syro Malabar Church and accused the Church head of conspiring to destabilize their archdiocese.

Representatives from 300 parishes out of 328 under the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in southern Kerala passed a resolution on April 30 against the Eastern rite Church’s move to implement the disputed uniform mode of Mass (Holy Qurbana), in which the celebrant faces the altar during the Eucharistic prayer.

The resolution passed at a meeting in central Ernakulam, where the Church is headquartered, urged the Vatican to allow the archdiocese to continue with the traditional mode of Mass where the celebrant faces the congregation throughout.

The Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese is the seat of the Church's head, Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil. It is currently run jointly by a pontifical delegate and an apostolic administrator. The Major Archbishop has no administrative power in the archdiocese.

Last year, the Vatican appointed Jesuit Archbishop Cyril Vasil of Slovakia as a pontifical delegate to resolve the liturgical dispute. However, his mission failed as priests in the archdiocese stuck to their demand to continue their traditional Mass, where the celebrant faced people throughout the Mass. 

Barring Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, all 34 dioceses of the Church implemented the uniform mode of Mass, approved by the Synod, the apex decision-making body, within the November 2021 deadline.

In a video message, Pope Francis had warned the dissenting priests of excommunication if they fail to celebrate the Synod-approved Mass by Dec. 25, 2023.

The archdiocese houses nearly 10 percent of the Church's 5 million followers. Established as a vicariate by Pope Leo XIII in 1896, it is the seat of power of the second largest Eastern rite Church.

The resolution asked the Vatican to grant their traditional mode of Mass a liturgy-variant status or declare the archdiocese as a separate Church under the control of the Holy See.

They said this move was necessitated after Church head Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil started “conspiring to destabilize the archdiocese.”

Archbishop Thattil was elected on Jan. 10 and assumed office the next day. His election was necessitated by Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry's resignation on Dec.7, 2023.

Alencherry resigned amid escalating tension over the liturgy dispute and after his name figured in a court case in which he was accused of incurring loss of US$10 million to the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese with his controversial property deals.

Thattil promised to talk with all stakeholders after assuming office, recalled Riju Kanjookaran, spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, a body comprising priests, religious, and the laity that spearheads the protest in the archdiocese.

“Until now, Thattil held no official meeting with priests and the laity. Instead, he is trying to destabilize the archdiocese by pushing to implement the Synod-approved Mass,” Kanjookaran told UCA News on May 1.

At the April 30 meeting, lay leaders opposed attempts to implement the Synod-approved Mass in the archdiocese.

“We have already informed the Vatican of our stand through an email. The hard copy of our resolution will be handed over to the papal office through our emissary in the Vatican,” added Kanjookaran.

They want the Church to approve their Mass as a liturgical variant or allow them to become an independent Church under the pope, separated from the Syro-Malabar Church.

The Syro-Malabar Church has not yet responded to the demand of the laity.

Their call to the Vatican came 11 days after 300 priests from the archdiocese made a similar appeal to the Vatican through its apostolic administrator, Bishop Bosco Puthur.

Priests and laypeople are irked with Thattil after he and Puthur issued a letter on April 12 underscoring the need to celebrate the Synod-approved Mass.

The letter made it clear that it was impossible to give any exemption to the archdiocese and warned of punitive action in case of failure.