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Vatican asks Indian archbishop to resign over liturgical dispute

Archbishop Antony Kariyil has been against adopting the uniform method of offering Mass in the eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church
A Syro-Malabar church in Kochuthovala in India's Kerala state

A Syro-Malabar church in Kochuthovala in India's Kerala state. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN archive)

Published: July 26, 2022 11:05 AM GMT
Updated: July 27, 2022 02:44 AM GMT

An archbishop of Eastern Rite Syro-Malabar Church has resigned following the Vatican’s directions after he was accused of defying the Church’s supreme synod in the decades-long liturgical dispute.

Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the vicar of the major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in southern Kerala state expressed willingness to resign on July 26, six days after he was summoned to the Vatican nunciature in New Delhi.

The nuncio issued a letter asking him to immediately tender his resignation, said archdiocesan officials from the eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Archbishop Kariyil initially refused as no valid reason was cited for his resignation. He handed over a letter to the nuncio seeking to apprise Pope Francis about the developments, officials added.

The resignation comes after Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the nuncio to India, arrived at the Archbishop’s House on July 26 and held a discussion with Archbishop Kariyil.

The church issued no official statement about the resignation but a source told UCA News that "it is just a formality" that the synod accepts the resignation and makes alternative administrative arrangements.  

The archbishop stepped down despite a section of laity and priests rallying in his support.

As the news spread, a section of the archdiocesan priests held an emergency meeting at the Archbishop’s House and passed a resolution recording their opposition to the Vatican emissary forcefully demanding the resignation of Archbishop Kariyil.

“The Archeparchy showed tremendous unity, Christian witness and progress during the tenure of Mar Kariyil compared to the past many years. He is a true pastor who knows the hearts and minds of his flock,” the resolution by the priests stated.

Archbishop Kariyil, it said, was a bishop who was fully committed to Jesus, the Word of God and the Roman Pontiff and never violated any canon or civil laws.

“Any attempt to jeopardize his bishopric will prove detrimental to Catholic communion and harmony,” they warned.

The resolution further noted that though Archbishop Kariyil hesitated to divulge anything about the latest move by the Vatican nunciature, it is known that some groups favoring Cardinal George Alencherry have sought his immediate resignation.

“This move, if ever it is true, is totally unjust, inhuman, unchristian, and illegal,” the priests said while opposing any move to reinstate Cardinal Alencherry as the Archbishop of Ernakulam.

“We do not want a corrupt prelate to lead us; nor do we want to be his vicars in the parishes.” the priests said. “We solemnly declare that we cannot accept any other administrators or vicars of the Major Archbishop to rule over us at this moment supplanting Mar Antony Kariyil.”

They further appealed to the Vatican to be “synodal in the approach to the priests and laity” and “find a solution to the present impasse through fraternal dialogue in the Catholic spirit” instead of demanding the forced resignation of Archbishop Kariyil.

Archbishop Kariyial was appointed vicar of the Major Archbishop for the Ernakulam-Angamaly in August 2019 after Archbishop Alencherry was removed due to his alleged involvement in Church land deals pending in court.

Archbishop Kariyil was appointed with the consent of Cardinal Alencherry but they fell apart after the former refused to accept the Syro-Malabar synod’s decision to implement a policy of uniformity in the celebration of mass in the Church.

For more than four decades the Church was divided in celebrating the Mass. One group wanted to celebrate Mass by turning to the altar in an effort to restore their ancient liturgy, while another group, led by the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, opposed it.

The synod in 1999 ruled that the priest “will face the congregation until the Eucharistic prayer, and then again from communion to the end of the Mass. From Eucharistic prayers until communion, the priest will face the altar.”

The synod's formula, seen as a compromise was adopted in August 2021 but faced strong opposition from the Ernakulam-Angamaly, the second largest catholic diocese in India.

The priests and laity launched a hunger strike causing Archbishop Kariyil to grant the archdiocese dispensation from following the synod mass. The protesting groups want to continue with the traditional Mass in which the priest faces the congregation throughout.

The Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese accounts for close to one-tenth of the approximately five million Syro-Malabar Catholics.

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