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Global campaign to oust Vatican appointee in Indian archdiocese

No end in sight to the tussle between Archbishop Thazhath and priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly over the decades-old liturgy dispute

Catholics burn the circular of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath on June 25 in front of St. Mary's Cathedral which is closed since December 2022 over the liturgy dispute.

Catholics burn the circular of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath on June 25 in front of St. Mary's Cathedral which is closed since December 2022 over the liturgy dispute. (Photo: File)

Published: November 09, 2023 12:17 PM GMT

Updated: November 10, 2023 04:10 AM GMT

Priests in a troubled Indian archdiocese are planning to seek the support of global Catholic bishops to remove a Vatican-appointed apostolic administrator to settle a five-decade-old liturgy dispute.

“We will inform the Catholic bishops across the globe with documents about the decisions of the apostolic administrator to destroy the future of the archdiocese,” said a statement by 200 priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese after a meeting on Nov. 7.

Priests and the laity in the archdiocese under the Syro-Malabar Church have been up in arms against Archbishop Andrews Thazhath ever since he was appointed apostolic administrator on July 30, 2022, with a special mandate to settle the liturgy dispute.

Except Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, all 34 dioceses of the Eastern rite Church have complied with the August 2021 decision of the Synod, the supreme decision-making body, to adopt the uniform mode of Mass.

The second largest Eastern rite Church has been divided over the liturgical celebration with priests in the archdiocese celebrating the Mass facing the congregation, while the Synod wants them to face the altar during Eucharist prayer, against the congregation.

The priests allege that Thazhath’s decision to shut down the Sacred Heart Minor seminary where close to 100 seminarians study “would be nothing more than digging the grave for the archdiocese.”

“We fear we are likely to lose our valuable vocations,” said a senior priest associated with vocation promotion in the archdiocese.

The seminarians “now continue to attend courses online and we are trying to re-open it,” the priest, who sought anonymity, told UCA News on Nov. 9.

Thazhath wants to "systematically destroy our archdiocese and thus he closed down our minor seminary,” said Riju Kanjookaran, spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency that spearheads the protests for the traditional Mass.

“It is a well-known fact that every vocation is very valuable for the Church as vocations are dwindling," Kanjookaran told UCA News on Oct. 8.

The seminary was closed in August 2023 after the priests in the seminary refused to celebrate the uniform mode of Mass.

Archbishop Thazhath, 70, a close associate of Cardinal Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, is an expert in the Eastern Catholic Code of Canon Law.

He is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the archbishop of Trichur in Kerala.

The archdiocesan priests are also angry at the decision of Thazhath not to ordain deacons unless they agree to celebrate the Synod-approved Mass.

“We met Thazhath on Nov. 3 and discussed our ordination. But, he wanted us to agree to offer the Synod-approved Mass, but we refused,” said a deacon among the eight who are waiting for their priestly ordinations.

When the situation in the archdiocese was brought to the attention of Thazhath, he refused to budge, the deacon seeking anonymity told UCA News on Nov. 8.

The Archdiocesan Protection Committee, a body of archdiocesan priests, has decided to continue with their traditional Mass facing the people. 

Earlier, the priests and the laity launched a series of protests, including a hunger strike, but to no avail. St Mary’s Basilica in the archdiocese remained closed since December 2022 after clashes inside it between supporters of Thazhath and rival priests.

The liturgy dispute is currently under consideration by the Vatican.

Repeated attempts by UCA News to contact Archbishop Thazhath and archdiocesan officials failed.

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