UCA News
Contribute

India’s Eastern Church moves closer to split over liturgy dispute

Some 450 priests and 500,000 Catholics seek to become an 'independent metropolitan Church' under the Vatican
Apostolic administrator Bishop Bosco Puthur (left) at a function of the CHurch in southern Kerala.

Apostolic administrator Bishop Bosco Puthur (left) at a function of the Syro Malabar Church in southern Kerala state in India. (Photo: ernakulamarchdiocese.org)

 

Published: June 11, 2024 12:01 PM GMT
Updated: June 11, 2024 12:22 PM GMT

India’s Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church has moved a step closer to split after representatives of priests and laity in a troubled archdiocese asked its Vatican-appointed administrator to move out of their archdiocese.

The ongoing liturgy dispute worsened after an official circular threatened to expel priests in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese who persistently refuse to accept rubrics of the Mass approved by the Church’s synod.

“We have called on apostolic administrator Bishop Bosco Puthur in the Archbishop’s House on June 10 and asked him to vacate it on or before June 14,” said Riju Kanjookaran, the spokesperson of Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT).

He said lay leaders, who met on June 10, urged the priests not to pray for their Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil or any other bishop of the Church during the Mass from July 4. However, they would include Pope Francis' name.

Praying for the pope, head of the Church, and the local bishop during the Mass by taking their names is a liturgical requirement, exhibiting a local church's communion with the Catholic Church.

“We have lost faith in our bishops and the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church,” he told UCA News.

Puthur and Thattil issued a circular on June 9 stating that priests who do not follow the Synod-approved liturgy by July 3 will lose their clerical faculties, and the sacraments they administer will be considered invalid.

The circular warned that the priests who ignored the ultimatum would be “automatically out of the Catholic communion” without any prior notice of warning.

'Seeking to be independent'

“We no longer want Puthur to continue in our Archbishop’s House after he betrayed us,” Kanjookaran told UCA News on June 11.

Church observers say the archdiocesan priests and laity are moving away from their Eastern rite Church by asking the Vatican-appointed administrator to leave the archdiocese.

Father Kuriakose Mundadan, representing the archdiocesan priest’s council, told the media on June 10 that the archdiocese’s 450 priests and 500,000 Catholics want to become an “independent metropolitan Church” directly under the Vatican.

Defying the Church leaders' demand, the priests will not read the circular in their parishes on Sunday, June 16. They will also ignore its warnings and ultimatum because the circular "was issued fraudulently,” Mundadan told media.

Mundadan said these decisions were taken when some 300 priests and lay leaders met separately on June 10. They jointly addressed the media and dismissed the circular.

Some lay people also joined in burning copies of the circular in front of the Archbishop’s House in Kochi, in southern India's Kerala state, where the Church is based. 

The circular was issued days before a June 14 meeting of the Synod of Bishops, the Church’s top decision-making body.  A Church notice said the synod meeting aims to “decide on implementing the Synod-approved liturgy” in the archdiocese.

Kanjookaran told UCA News that the synod was supposed to issue a circular after its meeting. However, issuing such a circular five days before the synod has “questioned the credibility and ability of the synod.”

Kanjookaran’s forum, a body of priests, religious, and laity in the archdiocese, the seat of the Major Archbishop, spearheads the protest against the Synod-approved Mass, which wants celebrants to face the altar during the Eucharistic prayer.

Catholics in the archdiocese want celebrants to face the people throughout the Mass, as had been the practice for the past five decades.

Some lay leaders on social media wondered how the synod could issue such an ultimatum and suspend priests’ faculties based on a dispute on rubrics.

Some others called it “illegal,” noting that the synod meeting, as directed by Pope Francis, had yet to occur.

'Pope sought amicable settlement'

Last month, the pope met with the Church leaders and told them that he does not want to make decisions for the “sui juris” (self-governing Church) but wants the Church to find ways to settle the dispute amicably.

A church official, who did not want to be named, told UCA News that the circular was deliberately leaked to the media before the synod “to pressurize some 16 bishops” who are against the majority bishops’ stand to impose a uniform mode of Mass in the archdiocese.

The official said these bishops informed the Synod that their dissent must be recorded when the decision to impose the Synod-approved Mass on the archdiocese is finalized.

When the media began to discuss it, Thattil and Puthur signed and officially released it on June 9, five days before the synod.

The official Church has not yet responded to the current situation.

The Church has 5 million Catholics in 35 dioceses in India and abroad.

Some 12 dioceses initially resisted the Synod-approved Mass, but except the archdiocese, all others accepted it following the Synod’s August 2021 order to do so.

Help UCA News to be independent
Dear reader,
Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
In this series, UCA News introduces our readers to this problem, its victims, and the efforts of those who shine the light of the Gospel on what the Vatican calls “these varied and brutal denials of human dignity.”
Help us with your donations to bring such stories of faith that make a difference in the Church and society.
A small contribution of US$5 will support us continue our mission…
William J. Grimm
Publisher
UCA News
comment

Share your comments

1 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
THE ADVICE THAT POPE FRANCIS IS GETTING IS WRONG. RATHER THAN GETTING THE 2 FACTIONS TO COMPROMISE, HE SHOULD HAVE SETTLED THE MATTER, AS IT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR SO LONG. THIS IS A SHAME ON THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ITS AUTHORITY. IF ALL THE PRIESTS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FACE THE CONGREGATION DURING THE MASS, WHY DO THESE SYRO MALABAR HEADS OF CHURCH (THAT ARE PART OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH) WANT TO FACE THE ALTER?? WHAT DO THEY HAVE TO HIDE FROM THE CONGREGATION? I SUPPORT THE LAY PEOPLE AND PRIESTS WHO INSIST THAT THE PRIESTS MUST FACE THE CONGREGATION DURING MASS. FIGHT THE PHARISEES! STAY STRONG!
Asian Bishops
Latest News
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia