Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt of Kottayam Knanaya archdiocese is facing court cases over centuries-old endogamy practice
Justin John and Vijimol Shaji during their engagement at St. Francis Xavier’s Church under Tellicherry archdiocese on April 17. (Photo: Supplied)
A Catholic archbishop in southern Indian Kerala state has pleaded before a court to dismiss a contempt case that accused him of violating a court order by denying a no-objection certificate for marriage.
The petitioner Justin John, from the Knanaya Christian community, says the bishop violated the court order by denying the necessary documents for him to marry a Catholic woman from outside the Knanaya community.
Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt of Kottayam in his reply to a Kerala High Court denied that he was instrumental in refusing the mandatory no-objection certificate for the marriage of John.
The Kottayam Archdiocese was created exclusively for the Knanaya Christian community in 1911, under the Kerala-based Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church
The members of the archdiocese claim to be descendants of Jewish Christians who migrated in the fourth century. Members are prohibited from marrying outside the community to maintain “the purity of blood.” Those marrying outside are expelled.
John, in his contempt of court petition on Aug. 25, accused Moolakkatt and Father Sijo Stephan, parish priest of St. Anne’s Church in the northern part of the state, of refusing to solemnize his marriage in violation of an earlier court order.
“There is no contemptuous act conducted on my part as alleged,” the prelate told the court and asked it to dismiss the contempt petition.
He termed the case against him as “machinations of the petitioner”.
The marriage of John with Vijimol Shaji from Tellicherry archdiocese in Kerala state was fixed for May 18.
Their marriage, however, could not be solemnized in the church as John’s parish priest refused to issue the mandatory marriage certificate.
It forced the couple to symbolically marry by garlanding each other in the presence of 1,000 guests in front of a closed church.
The marriage came more than a year after a civil court in Kerala in April 2021 declared the endogamy illegal and directed the archdiocese not to discriminate against its members who married outside it.
The court also directed the archdiocese to issue mandatory certificates to solemnize marriages of those willing to marry outside its territory.
Last March, the archdiocese challenged the civil court order in the Kerala High Court and pleaded for a stay order.
The court rejected the appeal and ordered the archdiocese to comply with the lower court order.The court order forced the parish priest to permit the engagement of John and Shaji on April 17, but he refused permission for their marriage.
The prelate in his 14-page reply to the court on Oct. 25 accused John of not providing valid documents to prove that he had undertaken “pre-marital counseling in the Church or with other Churches with prior permission.”
According to the prelate, this was one of the hurdles to issuing the no-objection certificate to John.
The prelate also questioned the current legal status of the couple, saying, “In the absence of clarity, whether he is married to Shaji or living in adultery, the whole situation has turned complex and confusing.”
Archbishop Moolakkatt also asserted that it was not his duty to issue the certificate and blamed the parish priest.
The parish priest denied the certificate as he sought more time to seek permission from the archbishop, John said.
“The parish priest did not contact me or seek my instruction in the matter,” the prelate asserted in his submission.
The prelate also maintained that “the whole exercise is stage-managed, orchestrated and funded... to make it appear that Kottayam archdiocese does not have respect for orders of the court."
John is, however, hopeful that he will get a favorable reply from the court and that his marriage will be solemnized in the Church.
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