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Dissident Catholics in India seek to deport Vatican delegate

Archbishop Cyril Vasil is accused of 'violating visa norms and engaging in unlawful acts’ amid decades-old liturgy row
Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Catholics, who oppose the liturgy approved by their Church's Synod, burn an order from the Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil on Aug. 17 in southern Indian Kochi city after it called on them to follow the Church-approved liturgy

Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Catholics, who oppose the liturgy approved by their Church's Synod, burn an order from the Pontifical Delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil on Aug. 17 in southern Indian Kochi city after it called on them to follow the Church-approved liturgy. (Photo: supplied) 

Published: August 18, 2023 03:57 AM GMT
Updated: August 18, 2023 04:56 AM GMT

Dissident Catholics in a southern Indian archdiocese have petitioned India’s federal officials to deport a Pontifical Delegate, accusing him of violating visa norms and engaging in unlawful acts.

Catholics associated with the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (ATM), a forum of priests and laity in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, have complained about Archbishop Cyril Vasil to the president, prime minister, and federal home and external affairs ministers among others.

The Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church archdiocese in southern Kerala state is at the center of a decades-old liturgy row. Vasil arrived at the Church's headquarters on Aug. 4 to help find a solution to the dispute.

Vasil enraged the protesting Catholics on Aug. 17 when he ordered all priests in the archdiocese to follow the liturgy approved by the Church’s synod and the Vatican or face excommunication.

The Catholics in the petition said they doubt if Vasil has a valid mandate to function in India and in their Church.

“Vasil claiming to be appointed by the head of state of Vatican City started "intervening with the administration" of the archdiocese and "started threatening Christian faithful with dire consequences," wrote K. M. John, one of the complainants, in an Aug. 17 email to the federal home and external affairs ministries.

"Archdiocesan priests say they would continue their own form of liturgy"

“As there is enough mechanism existing in India to resolve, adjudicate and decide any dispute originated and existing in India, the external help sought by the head of an alien nation by a synod of the Syro-Malabar Church is unwarranted, unlawful, and amounts to an act against the sovereignty of our country,” said John, a member of the AMT.

Vasil “is meddling with the internal affairs of the country” in violation of his visa norms, the complaint said. 

The crux of the controversy is archdiocesan priests' refusal to accept liturgical rubrics approved by the Church's synod that wants the celebrants to face the altar during Eucharistic prayer.

The archdiocesan priests say they would continue their own form of liturgy in which they face the congregation throughout the Mass.  

Church officials introduced the revised liturgy two decades ago to help the Kerala-based Church have uniformity in the liturgy. But disputes delayed its implementation. 

A day after Vasil arrived at the headquarters of the Syro-Malabar Church, he issued a pastoral letter announcing his appointment as the Pontifical Delegate with the special mandate to implement the disputed uniform mode of Mass in the archdiocese.

"He interfered in the domestic affairs of our country to create violence"

The AMT leaders say neither the Vatican nor the nunciature has shared Vasil's appointment letter with the archdiocese, nor was it published anywhere.

Some Catholics demanded his deportation calling him an “imposter” backing one group and refusing to have a dialogue.

“Vasil who claims to have diplomatic protection misused the state police to resort to force against Indian citizens and thus, he interfered in the domestic affairs of our country to create violence,” John told UCA News on Aug. 17.

John said he has also sent complaints against Vasil to the Kerala chief secretary and director-general of police, top civil and other police officials in the state and officials in the immigration department demanding action be taken.

The AMT spokesperson Kanjookaran said they are also seeking possible legal action against Vasil as the Vatican embassy did not confirm his appointment.

“A Pontifical Delegate should be a neutral person appointed by the pope to listen to us and find an amicable solution to the dispute. Vasil on the contrary is threatening our priests and so we have serious doubt if he is really a Pontifical Delegate”, Kanjookaran told UCA News on Aug. 17.

“We will wait for responses from the government authorities and if there is no response, we will file a case against him in court if required”, Kanjookaran added.

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15 Comments on this Story
ABRAHAM PHILIO
These rebellious fellows are after Power, Money,using this as a reason ,against the Catholic beliefs They should be ex communicated
SHAJU JOHN
They are not against Catholic beliefs. It is more complex than that.
WILLIAM DSOUZA
These are a very few no of people. How can they deport the Vatican Nuncia. The Pope's verdict is final for us on all religious matters. These people are behind money and wealth which will not last long.
SHAJU JOHN
Only on dogma, the Pope's verdict is final
RICHARD GOMES
Where ever there is a Malayali Diocesan Priest, there is bound to be trouble, because these diocesan priest are less religious and more after money and power, and in India, only in kerela one can find Priests rebellious towards the church and the Vatican.Shame on these people who have put the entire Kerala State in bad colour by asking for the deportation of Archbishop Vasil.
SHAJU JOHN
This comment is judgmental and uncharitable.
MICHAEL NORONHA
How silly to fight for conducting the Eucharistic celebration by facing people fully or facing them partly. As Catholics they should know that Jesus faced his disciples throughout at the last supper when He instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. It's ridiculous to show partly the face and partly the base. Sic issue by educated illiterates.
SHAJU JOHN
Our Holy Catholic Church is made up of 23 diverse sister Churches each with its own Apostolic tradition - an understanding of Eastern Catholic churches helps understand the diversity and the complexity. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and we need patience to resolve disputes.
SEBIN
Syro-Malabar Church is an individual Church in the Catholic Church, comprising of people who claim to be of higher caste. Malabar Christians in Kerala claim that they are the descendants of Brahmins who were converted to Christianity by St. Thomas the Apostle. There is no historical evidence for this. But, there is historical evidence of Syrian traders settling in Kerala in the 4th Century AD, bringing with them traditions from the Eastern Church. These people were considered as high caste people in the caste system and they enjoyed several privileges that caste-status allowed them. Later when European missionaries came to Kerala and baptized people of lower caste, these high caste Christians were unhappy. They feared that they would lose the privileges that the caste system allowed them to have. So, these people want to separate themselves from the new Christians. The answer was Eastern traditions. The new Christians followed Western traditions as they were baptized by Catholic missionaries. As a result, Eastern liturgy and traditions became an expression of caste system in Kerala. Even now there exist an informal untouchability towards Latin Christians and Dalit Christians in Kerala. Inside this Syro-Malabar Church there were two factions- conservative (led by Changanassery diocese) and liberals (led by Ernakulam diocese). Conservatives want strict adhesion to Eastern traditions, where as Liberals are more inclined to Western traditions. In Ernakulam diocese Latin and Syrian Christians live together without much difference. As a result, there was a liturgical dispute between the two factions. This was settled by a settlement that allowed liberals to follow liberal traditions and conservatives to follow conservative traditions. This was how it was for decades. In liberal dioceses, priests faced people during the Holy Mass and in the conservative ones priests did the opposite. Since Ernakulam diocese is the seat of the head of Syro-Malabar Church, it is not necessary for Ernakulam diocese to have a Bishop from Ernakulam. The Present head of Syro-Malabar Church is Cardinal Alencherry who got involved in a real estate scandal that made the Ernakulam diocese suffer losses. Besides losses, the real estate deal was murky involving black money transactions and cover-ups. As a result, the Priests of the Ernakulam diocese questioned the role of the Cardinal in the deal. Enforcement Directorate has fined the Ernakulam diocese crores of rupees for tax evasion in the land deal. The Cardinal sought help from conservative faction. The conservative faction backed the Cardinal. To escape from the blame, conservative faction spread the news that the Ernakulam diocese wants cardinal expelled because of liturgical difference. To substantiate this, cardinal and conservative faction, revoked the truce that had been exercised between the liberals and conservatives. The Synod, led by the Cardinal, decreed all the Dioceses in the Syro-Malabar to stick to Eastern traditions. As a result, the focus shifted from murky real estate deal to liturgical dispute. Since Syro-Malabar Church identifies as an Eastern Church, it doesn't come under the direct jurisdiction of the Pope. It come under Pontifical Oriental Council. As a result, the Syro-Malabar Church can easily get what they want. Pope won't get directly involved in the administeration of Eastern Churches. This loop-hole was used by the Conservative faction to attack the liberals. The Cardinal with the help of the bishops from the conservative factions, control the Synod. They are now crushing the liberals. Whatever the Synod puts forward will be approved by the Pope. The people and priests in the Ernakulam diocese fight back against this. This is what is happening here, in Kerala.
VICTOR
Thanks for this explanation which is very clear
CYRIAC
This is by far the best short explanation ever.
JOHN MASCARENHAS
SEBIN: a big THANK YOU for clarifying the matter! PLEASE GET YOUR COMMENT PRINTED ON ALL FORUMS OF THE INDIAN CHURCHES, SO INDIAN CHURCH GOERS LEARN THE TRUTH.
XAVIER
Very strange that these people chose to complain to the BJP govt.Modi and his lackeys more than anyone in the country are striving to destroy Christianity in the country.
JEFFRY
EXCOMMUNICATE THEM AT ONCE! The priests achieve a celebrity status just like a tv actor when he keeps facing the people. That's the main reason. The people will begin to adore the priest instead of Christ. And whenever their favourite priest is absent they don't feel like going to mass with a different priest. It's basically a PRIEST IDOLATRY.
JOHN MASCARENHAS
jeffry: IT IS NOT IDOLATRY, it is the way mass is celebrated in the catholic church. YOU ARE AN IDIOT!
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