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Indian archdiocese seeks to leave Eastern rite Church

At emergency meeting, around 300 priests from Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese sought independent status under the pope
Devotees at a holy Mass in Kerala, headquarters of Syro Malabar Church, which is plagued by five decades old liturgy dispute.

Devotees at a holy Mass in Kerala, headquarters of Syro Malabar Church, which is plagued by five decades old liturgy dispute. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 22, 2024 11:18 AM GMT
Updated: April 23, 2024 05:31 AM GMT

Priests of an archdiocese belonging to the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church want the Vatican to recognize their archdiocese as an independent Church after their Church's synod failed to resolve a five-decade-old liturgy dispute.

During an emergency meeting on April 19, some 300 priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese asked archdiocesan apostolic administrator Bishop Bosco Puthur to communicate to the Vatican that they wished to be separated from the Syro-Malabar Church.

Father Jose Vailikodath, public relations officer of the Archdiocesan Protection Committee, a body of the archdiocesan priests, said the priests made their stance known after the administrator made it clear that the Church's synod would not yield to their demand to continue with their Mass.

Vailikodath, in a statement, said the priests wanted Puthur to inform the Vatican to recognize their archdiocese as a separate church under the pope outside of the Syro-Malabar Church.

The priests also told the apostolic administrator that even if they agreed to celebrate the synod-approved Mass, their parishioners would not allow them to change a liturgy they had been following for five decades.

The dispute stems from a synodal decision to implement uniformity in liturgical celebrations. The synod wanted all priests to turn to the altar during Eucharistic prayer, but the archdiocesan priests refused to accept this and continued to face the congregation throughout the Mass.

A separation could further complicate the situation as the archdiocese is the seat of the Church’s head, Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil. The Syro-Malabar Church, based in southern Indian Kerala state, has 35 dioceses and some 5 million Catholics. Some 10 percent of its Catholics belong to the archdiocese.

During the meeting, Puthur read a letter from Thattil that threatened disciplinary action against priests who refused to celebrate the synod-approved Mass.

Vailikodath said the priests were unperturbed by the threat. According to Vailikodath, one of them said, “It would be better to establish a religious court to try the 450 priests as soon as possible and start punitive measures instead of negotiating.”

The Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) is a movement of priests, religious and laity that spearheads the demand for traditional Mass.

“We will not allow a synod-approved Mass in our churches,” said the movement’s spokesperson, Riju Kanjookaran.

“If the synod is not ready to grant liturgy variant status to our Mass or allow us to continue with it, it will be good for us to remain committed to the Vatican and become part of it as a separate church," he told UCA News on April 22.

The archdiocese witnessed several violent incidents over the liturgy dispute, especially after August 2021 when the synod decreed that all its dioceses follow the synod-approved Mass for liturgical unity in the Church.

The dispute dates back to the 1970s over the orientation of the priest during the Mass. In 1999, the Church’s synod devised a uniform Mass as a compromise. It required priests to face the altar during the Eucharistic prayer and face the people at other times.

However, following opposition, it was not implemented in all dioceses. In August 2021, the synod ordered all 35 dioceses to implement it from November 2021, reviving the controversy.

After initial opposition, its 34 dioceses adopted the synod-approved Mass in November 2021, but priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese refused and continued to celebrate Mass facing the people.

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2 Comments on this Story
CHHOTEBHAI
This is a very bold step by the people of the archdiocese. It is absurd that the hierarchy persists in its dictatorial ways. However, I doubt if the church has a provision for another independent/ autonomous church. Sad indeed.
GEORGE VARGHESE
U are wrong . The Vatican has every right and proviso exists to govern a diocese directly from Rome .
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