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The archbishop at the heart of a fierce liturgical controversy in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church submitted his resignation Tuesday, according to local reports.

Indian media claimed that Archbishop Antony Kariyil agreed to resign after he was visited on July 26 by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio to India. The meeting in Kochi, Kerala State, lasted for more than three hours, according to The Hindu newspaper. 

There is no official confirmation that the 72-year-old archbishop has resigned as the archiepiscopal vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly. But local Church sources told The Pillar that they believed the archbishop had agreed to resign.


His resignation would need to be accepted by Pope Francis before it became effective. The pope is currently visiting Canada.

Archbishop Kariyil is the only Syro-Malabar leader to have issued a dispensation exempting priests from adopting a uniform mode of celebrating the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy. 

The uniform mode requires priests to face the congregation during the Liturgy of the Word and then turn east for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The majority of clergy in Archbishop Kariyil’s Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese want to continue facing the people throughout the Eucharistic liturgy, a practice they have followed for the past 50 years.

The push for a uniform liturgy has met strong resistance in the archdiocese, with protesters burning cardinals’ effigies, holding a hunger strike, and brawling in the streets. 

Fr. Joyce Kaithakottil, a priest of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, told The Pillar that he was not surprised by reports that Archbishop Kariyil had resigned.

Kaithakottil said: “My concern is more about the people, the pastoral problems it may create, and erosion of faith in the Church and the departure of youngsters from the Church. There is a very good attendance now on Sunday worship. But this is shrinking.” 

“The pastoral issues and the faith of the people are not an issue of the bishops. Their interest lies mainly in keeping their power intact and also to keep under strict blind obedience,” said Kaithakottil. “Ernakulam priests are not ready for blind obedience.”

The archdiocese, also known as the Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, is the see of Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, who favors the uniform mode. 

In 2018, the Vatican appointed a temporary apostolic administrator to lead the archdiocese amid claims of irregularities in local land deals. Cardinal Alencherry, who rejected allegations of malpractice, resumed his duties a year later. Kerala’s state government filed an affidavit in India’s Supreme Court earlier this month clearing the 77-year-old cardinal of any wrongdoing.

Archbishop Kariyil was appointed archiepiscopal vicar in August 2019, at the end of the apostolic administrator’s tenure. Local media have speculated that his reported resignation could be related to the land deals dispute, but without offering evidence of a connection. 

The clergy of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese said in a July 25 statement that they would oppose any move to oust Archbishop Kariyil. They insisted that his removal would be “totally unjust, inhuman, unchristian and illegal.”

Nuncio Archbishop Girelli did not respond to The Pillar’s request for comment on the priests’ statement.

Members of the Synod of Bishops, a legislative body consisting of all the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, are due to meet on Aug. 6 and are expected to discuss the uniform liturgy dispute.

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