The decision by officials of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese may amount to 'defying the papal authority’
Lay people at the Ernakulam-Angamly archdiocese in the southern Indian state of Kerala take a pledge to not allow Arhcbihsop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator, to enter the Archbishop’s House accusing him of misleading the Vatican against their interest in a long-standing liturgical dispute. on Oct. 16. (Photo supplied)
Some half a million Catholics and 450 priests in southern India have severed links with their apostolic administrator further escalating the five-decade-long liturgical dispute within the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.
Officials of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese based in the southern state of Kerala said the majority of Catholics and priests there have cut off official links with the Vatican-appointed administrator, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath.
The decision was taken at a meeting of some 250 priests in the Archbishop’s House on Oct. 18.
Archbishop Andrews Thazhath is “unfit for the position” and the archdiocesan priest will not report to him and obey his instructions on pastoral duties, said an official communication from Father Jose Vailikodath, senior priest and public relations officer of the Archdiocesan Protection Committee (of priests).
The priests in a resolution adopted said that “the administrator or his acolytes will not be invited to any parish or other Church-run institutions” and ended the practice of priests’ reporting to the Archbishop’s House on any matter related to the administration of parishes even those requiring the consent of the archbishop.
A canon law expert, who does not want to be quoted, said the development should be seen as “a very serious move that would have an unexpected impact on the priests.”
“It amounts to severing links with the hierarchy and defying the papal authority. These are very serious violations. I’m not sure if the priests are acting with the kind of awareness they should show here,” he said requesting not to publish his name.
This dramatic turn of events took place after Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator entered the Archbishop’s House on the night of Oct. 17 with the help of the police force following an open threat from the laypeople that they would not allow him to enter it for his alleged betrayal.
They had earlier launched a round-the-clock vigil around the Archbishop’s House with effect from Oct. 16.
When the priests got to know that the administrator entered the Archbishop’s House with the help of police, they rushed there and demanded the procurator who summoned the police at the instruction of Archbishop Thazhath to withdraw the force.
The priests also threatened to stay put in the Archbishop’s House until the police force was finally withdrawn under pressure.
Meanwhile, the priests also passed a resolution announcing a permanent boycott of Archbishop Thazhath and his supporters with immediate effect. They also condemned the action of the administrator to turn the Archbishop’s House into a “police raj” (police rule).
The priests further decided to discontinue the parish contributions to the Archdiocese, not share any information about the parish with the archbishop (administrator) nor take any order from him, says Father Vailikodath.
The issues that required the permission of the archbishop, the priest said in a statement, “would be decided at the Forane level” deepening the ongoing tug of war between the archdiocese and the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church over the decades-long Mass dispute in the Archdiocese.
The liturgical dispute dates back nearly five decades when the Church initiated a revision of its liturgy. The simmering controversy was revived in August 2021 when the synod decided to implement its 1999 decision of introducing uniformity in Mass across all the dioceses to bring in more unity among its members.
All 35 dioceses of the Church except in the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese have begun following the synod-approved mass from November last.
Archbishop Thazhath on Sept. 30 imposed the liturgical pattern approved by the bishops’ synod that requires priests to face the altar against the congregation during the Eucharistic prayer until Communion.
The prelate left the Archbishop’s House soon after this announcement with the help of police. But the priests and the lay people in the archdiocese insisted on continuing with their traditional Mass, in which the celebrant faces the congregation throughout.
The priests and the lay people have accused Archbishop Thazhath of misleading the Vatican by hushing up the signed documents from parishes and more than 400 priests from the archdiocese in favor of the traditional Mass.
They also said that the prelate imposed the synod Mass in the archdiocese without consulting the canonical bodies even after assuring the lay people and the priests he would consult them.
The priests continued to offer Mass facing the congregation in total defiance of the order from the administrator.
The priests in their resolution said the administrator had not taken into confidence the views of 500,000 faithful and 450 priests in the archdiocese and vowed to discontinue all contact with him.
They also claimed that among the 460 priests in the archdiocese, 377 had signed the resolution to boycott the administrator while the remaining, barring 10 priests, had extended their support as they could not sign since they were away.
Riju Kanjookaran, the spokesperson of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT) told UCA News on Oct. 19: “We the people and the priests are together on this sensitive issue of Mass and will not make any compromise.”
The priests and the laity have appealed to the Vatican to grant a “liturgy variant” status to their traditional Mass and end the dispute in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
Father Antony Vadakkekara VC, the spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, did not respond to calls and text messages from UCA News.
Many Church officials though said the lay people were worried due to the revolt by the priests and the laity leading to a breaking point.
The Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese is the biggest diocese in the Syro-Malabar Church with more than half a million faithful, almost 10 percent of the 5.5 million people in the Eastern rite Church.
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