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Priests in Indian archdiocese seek probe into pope’s video

Pope Francis in his Dec. 7 video message instructed them to end liturgical dispute and adopt the Synod Mass
This Aug. 8 file photo shows a meeting of priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, which decided not to cooperate with Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the newly appointed pontifical delegate, who they say wanted to impose a form of liturgy on them without hearing out their concerns

This Aug. 8 file photo shows a meeting of priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, which decided not to cooperate with Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the newly appointed pontifical delegate, who they say wanted to impose a form of liturgy on them without hearing out their concerns. (Photo: supplied)

Published: December 14, 2023 11:54 AM GMT
Updated: December 15, 2023 03:30 AM GMT

Some 400 priests in an Indian Archdiocese have sought a probe into the content of Pope Francis' video message that told them to face excommunication if they fail to follow the official liturgy of their Church.

The priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese met on Dec. 13 and "unanimously demanded" a probe into “the source of the video message which is replete with factual errors and ambiguities.”

The archdiocese, based in the southern Indian Kerala state, is the seat of the major archbishop of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Pope Francis' video message on Dec. 7 instructed the priest and Catholics in the archdiocese to adopt the order of the Mass approved by their Church's Synod of Bishops and set Dec. 25 as the deadline to comply with the order. Failure might lead to excommunication, he warned.

The priests’ statement said the pope was made to believe that “a few priests are creating trouble and if they are removed everything will be alright.”

But most of some 500,000 Catholics and more than 400 priests in the archdiocese “are together" in the struggle, a priest told UCA News.

Of the “464 priests in the archdiocese, 452 are for their traditional Mass” in which the celebrant faces the people throughout the Mass, said the statement issued after the meeting.

Only the “remaining 12 priests are in favor of the Synod Mass,” which wants the priests to face the altar during Eucharistic prayer and face people during its initial and concluding parts, it said.

The Dicastery for Oriental Churches and Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the former apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, influenced the pope to “sing to their tunes without verifying the facts,” alleged the priests' statement.

Thazhath failed to inform the pope about the grave pastoral crisis in the archdiocese, where “the lay faithful would physically prevent the priest” from celebrating the Synod-approved Mass, said the statement issued by Father Jose Vailikodath, the public relation officer of the priests’ body.

Thazhath and Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the pontifical delegate appointed to settle the dispute amicably through dialogue, are also accused of misleading the Pope to issue the video “without realizing the ground situation” a priest who did not want to be named told UCA News.

"The pope, who always speaks of synodality would not have issued such a statement if he knew that the people of God had been completely ignored in this process of imposing a liturgy,” he said.

Bishop Bosco Puthur, newly appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, is assigned to find an amicable solution along with Vasil, who arrived in Kerala on Dec. 13. 

The archdiocesan priests and lay leaders remain defiant despite the threat of excommunication.

“People also do not want any change in their traditional Mass, which they are used to since the 1960s,” Riju Kanjookaran, spokesperson of Archdiocesan Moment for Transparency (AMT), a body of priests, religious and laity spearheading the demand for continuing with the traditional Mass.

“Even if one priest is punished for not celebrating the Synod Mass, then we will not sit silent. We have a responsibility to protect our priests,” he said.

“We have already intimated Bishop Puthur about our demands including a probe into the contents of the pope’s video message,” Kanjookaran told UCA News on Dec. 14.

The priests’ meeting wanted the Vatican to grant a “liturgy variant” status to their traditional Mass “considering the demand came from at least half a million Catholics and their priests and close the chapter permanently.”

However, Father Antony Vadakkekara, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News that “what the pope said is final.”

“Those who want to obey him can continue in the Church and those who don’t want will have to go out. There is no question of any reconsideration or scope for further dialogue in this matter,” he said.

Father Vadakkekara said the pope’s video address made it very clear that he issued the message after taking time and carefully studying the matter. “Therefore, it is a final decision,” he added.

The dispute began when the Church attempted to revise its liturgy. One group wanted a liturgy facing the congregation and the traditionalists among them wanted a priest to face the altar.

As a compromise, the synod after much deliberation in 1999 devised the order of the Mass accommodating both sides. It aimed to bring liturgical unity in all its 35 dioceses.

But some territories, including the archdiocese, refused and were given dispensations.  But bishops withdrew the dispensations in November 2021 ordering all to follow the Synod-approved liturgy. 

The Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese refused to comply with the order, resulting in the current crisis.

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4 Comments on this Story
The pope's purported statement defies all logic, is not rooted in reality, is contrary to Vatican II ecclesiology and the entire synodal process
Its extremely sad that the liturgy, which is a sign of unity, is precisely the subject matter of this conflict. Christ did not give any precise formula for celebrating the Eucharist. I think it is best to leave it to individual dioceses.
The entire issue was politics for power, nothing to do with liturgy or faith. The senior priests wanted to call the shots in the diocese when the Major Archbishop was from outside their diocese, and especially from Changanassery. They will find lame excuses not to obey the Synod and now the Pope, because it has become and ego issue for them (Initially, they said the Pope was with them; now they say the Pope erred in his video). Well, they are in a free country, and they don't need to obey the Pope, but they shouldn't be in the catholic communion. This will bring peace to the rest of the church. Enough is enough! It is a well known fact that these priests instigated the lay people through systematic propaganda to garner support for them (there are ample videos of their homilies on social media). They also proved that they would go to any level to get things done in their way (the drama of marathon Mass as a tool of protest is an example). Lately, ucannews has been giving a lot of coverage to these rebel priests; not sure if it is because of some 'connections'.
Praise the lord ????
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