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Rebellion spreads in India's Eastern-rite church

Amid objections to the leadership of Cardinal George Alencherry, calls grow for prayer and unity

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

ucanews.com reporter, Kochi

Published: July 16, 2019 04:25 AM GMT

Updated: July 16, 2019 09:27 AM GMT

Rebellion spreads in India's Eastern-rite church

Indian Christians light candles on the eve of Christmas Day at St. Paul's Church in Amritsar on Dec. 24, 2018.
(Photo by Narinder Nanu/AFP)


Allegations of corruption and open rebellion in India's Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church have become a concern across the Indian Church nationwide.

Bishops of Syro-Malabar origin working in the Latin-rite dioceses of northeast India have appealed for prayer, peace and unity in their mother church, which is based in Kerala state in the south.

This comes after a group of priests openly rebelled against Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop and head of the church.

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"We are greatly pained at recent incidents that have threatened the unity of the church, which we love so much and whose missionary zeal we would like to see growing daily," said a July 12 statement of Kerala-origin bishops working in northeast India.

The seven states in the northeast have 13 dioceses. Missionary priests from Kerala have been instrumental in building up the Catholic Church in the region, which has three Christian-majority states. Six of the 13 dioceses are now led by missionary bishops who hail from Kerala.

"This is not the time to allow our little differences to divide us and make our work ineffective," Archbishop John Moolachiara of Guwahati in Assam state told ucanews.com.

Retired Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati told ucanews.com: "As members of the Catholic Church, we should become a bit more sensitive to address whatever dispute we have as one family rather than fighting against each other."

Trouble began in November 2017 after some priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, the seat of the major archbishop, alleged that Cardinal Alencherry sold off land, incurring a loss of US$10 million for the archdiocese.

The Vatican removed the cardinal in June 2018 from administrative responsibilities of the archdiocese and probed the allegations. But he was returned to his position without clarification of the allegations against him.

His priests openly challenge his authority. They gathered on July 2 and said that a crisis of faith emerged in the church when on June 27 the Vatican's Oriental Congregation reinstated the cardinal without providing any explanation for what they regarded as "moral decadence" linked to the land deal.

The rebellion grew when a majority of parish priests in the archdiocese refused to read a circular issued by the major archbishop, which was supposed to have been presented in all 336 parishes of the archdiocese during Sunday Mass on July 14.

However, only 30 parishes had the circular read out, according to a statement from a lay forum.

The circular urged all faithful to bury their differences for the sake of church unity and not to cooperate or encourage divisive actions within the church.

Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon in Assam state told ucanews.com that the "current divisions could have been avoided with a bit of sensitivity and farsightedness on the part of those who made the decisions."

The bishop said the Syro-Malabar Church, which traces its faith to St. Thomas the Apostle, "cannot afford to make such mistakes."

He said the grave situation is affecting the entire Christian community in India and Indian missionaries working all over the world.

"The current issue is not of religion or faith or the teachings of Christ," Bishop Pulloppillil explained. "It is all about an administrative decision and it should not lead to the division of the church."

He said in most parts of India Christians cannot practice their Christian faith openly and face opposition from fanatical groups.

By way of contrast, the Kerala church has been vibrant. "But we should not waste that opportunity to witness the peace and love of Christ," Bishop Pulloppillil said.

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