Indian Catholics at the center of a fierce liturgical dispute are expected to gather on Sunday to appeal for “justice” following the resignation of their archbishop.
Members of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese are due to meet on Aug. 7 after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of 72-year-old Archbishop Antony Kariyil.
The Holy See press office did not give a reason for Archbishop Kariyil’s resignation three years before the typical retirement age. But it said on July 30 that he would retain “the personal dignity of archbishop and the titular see of Macriana Maior.”
The press office also announced that the pope had appointed Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur as apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese. India’s Latin Rite bishops’ conference described Archbishop Thazhath as “a world-renowned expert in Oriental Code of Canon Law.”
Archbishop Kariyil had served as archiepiscopal vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly since 2019. In November 2021, he dispensed priests in the archdiocese from adopting a uniform mode of celebrating the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy, known as the Holy Qurbana.
The Syro-Malabar Church is the second-largest of the 23 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The decision to implement a uniform liturgy was taken by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church after a complex, decades-long dispute focused on whether clergy should face the people or liturgical east while celebrating the liturgy.
The Synod of Bishops backed a compromise, known as the “50:50 formula,” in which priests face the people during the Liturgy of the Word but turn east for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
While other dioceses have adopted the formula, the push for a uniform liturgy has met strong resistance in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, with protesters burning cardinals’ effigies, holding a hunger strike, and clashing with opponents in the streets.
A poster for Sunday’s meeting, currently being circulated online, invites clergy, religious, and lay people to gather at Kaloor Stadium in Kochi, Kerala State, at 3 p.m. local time. Opponents of the meeting have branded it the “devil’s convention.”
The poster, which calls for “justice” for Archbishop Kariyil, features an image of Pope Francis. Beneath the pope are photos of the archbishop and Cardinal Joseph Parecattil, who attended the Second Vatican Council while serving as archbishop of Ernakulam from 1956 to 1984 and is admired by supporters of Mass facing the people.
The poster also refers to a controversy over real estate transactions that lost the archdiocese a reported $10 million and led to legal proceedings involving Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church and major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.
In 2018, the Vatican appointed a temporary apostolic administrator to lead the archdiocese amid claims of irregularities in local land deals. Archbishop Kariyil was named archiepiscopal vicar in August 2019, at the end of the apostolic administrator’s tenure.
Cardinal Alencherry, who rejected allegations of malpractice, resumed his duties a year after the apostolic administrator’s appointment. Kerala’s state government filed an affidavit in India’s Supreme Court earlier this month clearing the 77-year-old cardinal of any wrongdoing.
The Synod of Bishops is due to meet on Aug. 6 and is expected to discuss the uniform liturgy dispute.
The body, which comprises all the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, has the power to elect bishops within the state of Kerala. The appointments are then confirmed by the pope.
Pope Francis has supported the drive for a uniform liturgy. He wrote to Syro-Malabar Catholics in July 2021, asking them “to proceed to a prompt implementation of the uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Qurbana, for the greater good and unity of your Church.”
On March 25 this year, the pope wrote to clergy of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, asking them to take the “difficult and painful step” of adopting the uniform liturgy.