30 November 2023, The Tablet

Syro-Malabar priests decry ‘dictatorial’ bishops

Priests of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly said Archbishop Andrews Thazath had acted “to destroy the archdiocese”.

Syro-Malabar priests decry ‘dictatorial’ bishops

Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator of the Archeparchy of Erankulam-Angamaly, has clashed with its priests.
Shalom Television / Youtube screenshot

A potential compromise in the Syro-Malabar Church’s bitter liturgical dispute collapsed last month, with priests in its chief diocese accusing its apostolic administrator of sabotaging an agreement.

More than 200 priests of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly in Kerala met on 7 November to condemn the conduct of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who governs the see on behalf of its major archbishop Cardinal George Allencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church.

The priests threatened to produce documents to prove that Archbishop Thazhath had acted “to destroy the archdiocese”, following two meetings in November in which he demanded strict adherence to the reformed Syro-Malabar liturgy – the Holy Qurbana – which priests in Ernakulam-Angamaly have opposed since its introduction in 2021.

In the “uniform” reformed rite, the priest faces away from the congregation during the liturgy of the Eucharist, contrary to the custom in the archeparchy.

Thazath has reportedly rejected a compromise which would see the reformed rite observed at major diocesan sites but would leave priests with liturgical discretion elsewhere.

Protesting priests told the Crux news agency that Thazhath and the papal delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil, appointed in July to resolve the dispute, have “aggravated the situation” by their “dictatorial methods”.

“Archbishop Thazhath’s way of functioning damages the very image of the Pope, who insists that the Church is not only the Pope and bishops but also the people of God,” the priests said in a statement.

They also questioned the archbishop’s claim that the compromise was impossible because it lacked Vatican approval, arguing that Pope Francis would welcome their “synodal” attitude.  

Wider divisions between priests and bishops in the Syro-Malabar Church emerged later in November, when a bishop sanctioned a priest who has criticised corruption in the hierarchy.

Bishop Remigiose Inchananiyil of Thamarassery, also in Kerala, issued a decree on 10 November barring Fr Aji Puthiyaparambil from celebrating the liturgy or receiving communion in public.

The decree charged Puthiyaparambil with disobedience but he said that he was targeted for attempting to expose corruption and promote reform – notably in relation to a series of controversial real estate deals within the Church which are now the subject of criminal charges against Cardinal Allencherry.

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