Oriental Church´s New Bishops Said To Be Last Direct Vatican Appointments In Home Territory

2004-03-23 00:00:00

Three new bishops appointed for the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) should be the last selected directly by the Vatican for SMC dioceses in Kerala state, say officials of the Oriental Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II on March 18 named Father Joseph Kallarangatt as bishop of Palai and Father Jose Porunnedom as bishop of Mananthavady. He also named Father Andrews Thazhath as auxiliary bishop of Trichur archdiocese. The three jurisdictions are all in Kerala, southern India, where the Syro-Malabar Church is based.

According to SMC officials, the appointments came more than two months after the pope granted the Church the power to elect bishops for its dioceses in Kerala. However, they said, the SMC synod did not exercise the power this time as the process of making the appointments had begun earlier.

"The process for naming the new (three) bishops had started much before the Vatican granted us the power to elect bishops. But this would be the last direct appointments of bishops from the Vatican," SMC spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat told UCA News March 22.

He said Vatican officials have informed Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly, who heads the Church, that the SMC synod will deal directly with all future appointments of Syro-Malabar bishops in Kerala. Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese is based in Kochi, 2,595 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The Church in India comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. The Latin follows Roman liturgy, introduced by European missioners in the 15th century, while the other two, both based in Kerala, follow Syrian Church traditions and trace their origins to Saint Thomas the Apostle.

The Syro-Malabar Church has 3.5 million of India´s 16 million Catholics. It has 25 jurisdictions -- three archdioceses, one archeparchy, 19 dioceses, two eparchies. Among the 149 Catholic jurisdictions in India, the Latin rite has 119 and the Syro-Malankara rite five.

In January, during the meeting of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India, which unites all three rites, Patriarch Ignace Cardinal Moussa I Daoud, president of the Vatican´s Congregation for Oriental Churches, announced the vesting of the power to elect bishops in the SMC synod.

Accordingly, the synod of 26 bishops can elect bishops for the 15 SMC jurisdictions in Kerala. But this right does not cover the election of bishops in the 10 SMC dioceses elsewhere in India and one in the United States.

The Church was raised to the status of major archiepiscopal Church in 1992, when the late Cardinal Antony Padiyara of Ernakulam-Angamaly was named its first major archbishop. However, the Vatican also reserved the power to decide on liturgical matters and the election of bishops. In 1998, the pope ended the reservation concerning liturgical matters.

Bishop-designate Thazhath told UCA News March 20 there was no anomaly in the Vatican making the latest appointments, "because its process must have started quite some months back, and surely much before the Vatican granted our Church the power to elect bishop."

Bishop-designate Kallarangatt said the Vatican appointment has "humbled" him because he never expected it. "It is all God´s will," he said.

Father George Njaralakatt, who has been administrator of hilly Mananthavady diocese since Bishop Emmanuel Pothanamuzhy, the last ordinary, died on April 6, 2003, said the diocese is eagerly looking forward to the new bishop.

Joseph Thomas, a parishioner at Kallody parish in Mananthavady, told UCA News the diocese needs "lots of economic and social progress to catch up with others" and the Catholics there "warmly welcome the new bishop."


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