Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the former metropolitan vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, met Pope Francis in 2021 in the Vatican and explained the liturgical controversy. (Photo:ernakulamarchdiocese.org)
An Indian archbishop from the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church who resigned last week amid a raging liturgical dispute has alleged he was forced from office without being given any reason by the papal representative to India
Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who resigned as the metropolitan vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in southern Kerala state, in an open letter on Aug. 3 also accused Vatican offices of mismanaging the five-decade-old liturgical dispute.
Archbishop Kariyil resigned amid allegations his archdiocese defied the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church's supreme synod in the liturgical dispute. He was summoned to New Delhi on July 19 by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio to India, and told to tender his resignation within 24 hours.
In an open letter addressed to priests and the laity, Archbishop Kariyil said: “Since this was an important decision concerning the archdiocese and my life, I requested in writing to have a week to reply. But the nuncio refused. He informed me that if I failed to resign, a process would be started to sack me.”
The prelate said he handed over a letter addressed to Pope Francis and returned to Kerala. A week later, on July 26, the nuncio visited him and said his request seeking reasons for the resignation was communicated to Rome.
But he was told that “for the good of the Church" the pope is demanding his resignation. Archbishop Kariyil said he then resigned in obedience to the pope.
“I was aware that my decision to protect the interests of the faithful would cost me dearly"
His resignation came amid a raging controversy over the refusal of the archdiocesan priests and laity to accept a liturgical structure formulated by the synod, according to which the Mass celebrant turns to the altar during the Eucharistic prayer.
The archdiocesan priests refused to accept this saying they want to continue facing the congregation throughout the Mass.
“I was aware that my decision to protect the interests of the faithful would cost me dearly,” Archbishop Kariyil said in his six-page letter written in his native Malayalam.
The synod granted dispensation to the archdiocese from implementing its decision with approval from Pope Francis and the Prefect of the Oriental Congregation Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
Still, his decision was treated as defiance against the synod, Archbishop Kariyil rued.
“I could have protected my office by issuing an order to implement the synod’s decision... but I considered my conscience and the spiritual well-being of the believers,” he further claimed in the letter.
"The synod’s insistence on liturgical uniformity complicated issues"
The former metropolitan vicar recalled he took charge of the post at the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in 2019 in the midst of criminal court cases and controversies related to dubious Church land deals allegedly involving the Eastern Church’s head, Archbishop George Alencherry.
The synod created the office of archdiocesan vicar without consulting the canonical bodies of the archdiocese, he said adding that he took up the responsibility as a member of the archdiocese expecting people’s cooperation.
Archbishop Kariyil took office as the priests and laity demanded the resignation of Cardinal Alencherry.
The synod’s insistence on liturgical uniformity complicated issues and destroyed to a great extent the peace and unity in the Church, Archbishop Kariyil said.
The decision to implement a uniform mass for liturgical unity in August 2020 came when the land controversies and court cases were at their peak, and it further divided the Church.
“The pastoral orientation” of the people of the archdiocese was communicated to the Vatican Oriental Congregation, Vatican state secretary, and Vatican nuncio in India.
"I also spoke to Pope Francis in person and wrote letters on other occasions. But they all took the stand that the synodal decision is final and needs to be followed,” Archbishop Kariyil said.
Archbishop Kariyil has been replaced by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, an expert in the Eastern Catholic Code of Canon Law, and is reportedly tasked to end the dispute and ensure liturgical unity in the Church headquartered in Kerala.
When contacted, the Vatican nunciature in New Delhi refused to comment on the open letter and suggested sending queries by email. But there was no response so far to the questions posed by UCA News.