Catholics protest in front of St Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam in the southern Indian state of Kerala on Jan. 26 demanding it be reopened for the faithful. (Photo supplied)
A Vatican-appointed team has wrapped up its fact-finding exercise into the alleged “desecration and sacrilege” of the altar of a cathedral-basilica in southern India, linked to a decades-old dispute over the mode of celebrating Mass.
Retired Archbishop Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum, headed the two-member team along with retired Bishop Stanley Roman of Quilon.
The team was mandated to establish the facts of a clash that took place on the last Christmas eve inside the St. Mary’s Cathedral-Basilica of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church based in southern Kerala state.
A group of 29 Catholics, mostly men, are accused of desecrating the consecrated bread and wine when some priests of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese were celebrating their traditional Mass.
A majority of priests and laity in the archdiocese want to continue with the traditional Mass in which the celebrant faces the congregation throughout the Mass. However, the Synod-approved mode requires the priests to face the congregation until the Eucharistic Prayer and after communion. The synod approved the new form to have uniform Mass across all its dioceses.
The bishops' team was mandated “to do a fact-finding on the clashes at the cathedral basilica on the eve of Christmas last year," Archbishop Pakiam told UCA News on Feb. 27.
“I will submit a report to the nunciature,” he said while declining to speak further citing ill health.
Church leaders familiar with the development told UCA News that “this is perhaps the first such case in the history of the Catholic Church in which the Vatican had to step in.”
The Vatican move came in response to a complaint lodged by Father Joseph Kaniamparambil, the promoter of justice at the archdiocese, with the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith on Jan. 2.
The priest sought an independent probe without involving Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, its Synod and Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the Vatican-appointed administrator, whom he accused of orchestrating the violence through their supporters.
The fact-finding team, according to reliable sources, recorded the statements of all 29 accused and 12 witnesses including three priests Feb. 19-21 at the Pastoral Orientation Centre (POC) of the Secretariat of Kerala Catholic Bishops in Ernakulam district.
Cardinal Alencherry or Archbishop Thazhath, however, have not been named as accused in the complaint.
Father Joseph Kaniamparambil has also narrated in detail the earlier incident of violence at the Archbishop’s House in November last year and the alleged roles played by Cardinal Alencherry and Archbishop Thazhath.
The Syro-Malabar Church is one among 22 Oriental churches in communion with the Holy See and is the second largest Eastern Church with more than 5 million followers.
“We are happy that the Vatican responded to the complaint so fast,” said Riju Kanjookaran, spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency, a body of lay people.
He said they had presented their side before the fact-finding team and would wait for the response from the Vatican.
“We have provided digital evidence to prove our contention,” Kanjookaran added.
The lay leader also appealed to Vatican authorities to reopen the Cathedral as early as possible as its parishioners had to go to other parishes for the availing sacraments including Mass.
The Cathedral is sealed since Dec. 24 clash and the priests and laity in the archdiocese want it reopened while also expecting approval of the traditional form of Mass as a liturgical variant.