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Administrative shake-up for Eastern-rite church in India

Vatican approves bishops' changes after a turbulent period for the Syro-Malabar Church

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

Published: September 03, 2019 05:37 AM GMT

Updated: September 03, 2019 06:38 AM GMT

Administrative shake-up for Eastern-rite church in India

The synod of bishops of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church holds a session at the Church's headquarters near Kochi. The Aug. 19-30 synod established a new system of administration for the church. (Photo supplied)

The Vatican has approved a new administrative system for India’s Syro-Malabar Church to ease the difficulties of its major archbishop in running his archdiocese and the second largest Eastern-rite church.

The new system approved by the Vatican on Aug. 30 separates the administration of the Kerala-based church and Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the seat of Cardinal George Alencherry, the Church’s head and major archbishop.

The Syro-Malabar bishops’ synod that met from Aug. 19-30 decided on the new system in view of the “practical difficulties of the major archbishop to handle his dual responsibilities.”

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The synod has been considering changes to the system since 2007, said an official communication from the synod.

The Vatican’s Congregation for Oriental Churches sent a letter saying Pope Francis was informed “in detail of the decisions adopted by the synod.”

The pope has mandated the Oriental Congregation to communicate his approval for the new system and new appointments, said the letter from Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the prefect of the congregation.

Bishop Antony Kariyil of Mandya, the secretary of the synod, was elected to the new office of major archiepiscopal vicar for Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese.

Public protests and rebellion

The new system follows a turbulent period after most of the archdiocese’s 450 priests and laypeople accused Cardinal Alencherry of being involved in land deals that incurred a loss of US$10 million to the archdiocese.

Public protests and rebellion forced the Vatican to remove the cardinal from administrative responsibilities of the archdiocese and appoint Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat as apostolic administrator in June 2018, asking him to study the issues and report the results confidentially to the Vatican.

In June this year, Bishop Manathodath was relieved of the administrative role a month after he submitted his report to the Vatican. The Vatican reinstated the cardinal, who announced that the Vatican had removed two of his auxiliary bishops.

Priests continued to protest publicly, forcing senior bishops to promise to find solutions to outstanding issues in the August synod.

The synod appointed Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, who was removed as an auxiliary, as bishop of Mandya, the diocese that fell vacant with the transfer of Bishop Kariyil.

Bishop Jose Puthenveettil, the other removed auxiliary, was named auxiliary bishop of Faridabad, based in the national capital New Delhi.

“Most astonishing are the harsh disputes and divisions on various levels, whose contents, in addition, are unscrupulously spread through the media, disregarding the due respect towards the Church and towards the concerned persons,” Cardinal’s Sandri’s letter said.

“All of these represent a severe wound to the Body of Christ that regards not only the Syro-Malabar Church but also risks harming the whole Catholic Church in India.”

The letter also appreciated the Church’s missionary spirit and active life.

Cardinal Alencherry and the Oriental Congregation have been “in constant dialogue” in the past few months, and the current conclusions provide a “possible general solution” suggested by the Kerala cardinal, the letter said.

The church of 3.5 million Catholics is the second largest Eastern-rite Church after the Ukraine Church and has 35 dioceses including four outside India.

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