The three Catholic rites in India have sorted out confusion going back a decade over their national conference´s name, a development that Church people expect will settle several inter-ritual issues.
The recent biennial meeting of the bishops from India´s Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites "ratified" directives from the Vatican aimed at resolving the issues, Father Donald De Souza, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI), told UCA News.
The bishops agreed March 8 to retain the title "conference" for the national body in which all three rites are represented after the Vatican said it was "favorably disposed" to the move.
With this, tension among the rites has come to "an amicable solution," Father De Souza said. He noted that though the CBCI will continue to address the Church´s "national and supra-ritual" concerns, the episcopal body that heads each rite will deal with internal issues.
Confusion over names has existed since 1987, when Pope John Paul II directed the Latin and two Oriental rites to each set up their own episcopal body while retaining the national Church body, which was founded in 1944.
The Latin rite, which has 115 among the 143 dioceses in India, established the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI-Latin Rite), which caused confusion due to similarity with the name of the multi-rite CBCI.
Some Latin bishops argued that their episcopal conference, set up according to the (Latin) Code of Canon Law, was above the multi-rite conference.
During their March 1-8 biennial meeting, several bishops who spoke to UCA News said that some Latin bishops had tried to assert "ritual supremacy" by arguing that theirs was the only validly instituted "conference."
These Latin bishops, they said, wanted the CBCI to change "conference" in its name to "assembly," and to allow the Latin-rite episcopal conference to act as the national Church conference.
The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara bodies, called synods, function within the parameters of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, but the national multi-rite body is independent of the Latin and Oriental codes. The Vatican approved a special statute for it.
Nonetheless, some bishops objected to changing the name of the CBCI. They said that the decades-old organization had developed "familiarity" among governments and people, and a name change would adversely affect the Church.
Jesuit Bishop Godfrey de Rozario of Baroda told UCA News that because the CBCI owns several institutions and has obtained several court verdicts in its favor, "a sudden change of name would create legal confusion."
The Vatican resolved the issue with a letter issued in September 2001 after consultation with the concerned offices. The letter approved of the CBCI keeping "conference" in its name with its statutes specifying that the term is not used in the same sense as that given in Latin canon law.
The final decision, however, was left to the CBCI general body.
According to Latin Bishop John Thattumkal of Cochin, "the name confusion" was "sorted out long ago" and the bishops needed only a formal approval.
He said the bishops "have absolutely no problems with rites now" and conduct their meetings "in the friendliest atmosphere of respect and love."
Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay called the recent plenary in Jalandhar, northern India, "a turning point" and expressed hope that the rites will now "grow fast in understanding and collaboration."
The Syro-Malabar prelate said most Latin bishops now show willingness "to receive missioners from Oriental Churches for evangelization in their areas."
During the plenary, the CBCI president, Syro-Malankara Archbishop Cyril Baselios of Trivandrum, asserted mission as the entire Church´s priority.
Latin Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, the conference´s second vice president, said the prelates would continue to "stress dialogue within the Church and outside" to resolve problems.
The CBCI standing committee wrote to the Vatican in May 2001 that the bishops had reached a "consensus" to retain the term "conference" for the national multi-rite body rather than replace this with "assembly." It added that the bishops also agreed to drop "Latin Rite" from the CCBI´s name.
"The Holy See is favorably disposed" to the suggestions, said the Vatican letter written by Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Ignace Mousa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
The letter said a meeting of Vatican offices studied the implications "to resolve these issues once and for all."