The archbishop at the center of a bitter liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is recovering in hospital after suffering an “episode of seizure.”
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of 72-year-old Archbishop Antony Kariyil as archiepiscopal vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly on July 30.
An Aug. 30 statement by a private hospital in India’s southern Kerala State said that the archbishop had been admitted for the treatment of several chronic conditions.
The hospital said that after Archbishop Kariyil suffered the “episode of seizure,” he was “stabilized and shifted to critical care ICU” but was “recovering well.”
The archbishop had faced intense pressure to introduce a uniform mode of celebrating the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, which he had overseen since August 2019.
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 decision to implement a uniform liturgy was taken by the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church - the second-largest of the 23 self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church - and endorsed by Pope Francis.
But the majority of clergy in the 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.
Archbishop Kariyil was the only Syro-Malabar leader to issue a dispensation exempting priests from adopting the uniform mode.
In a six-page open letter, dated Aug. 3, the archbishop described the events leading to his resignation. He said that after issuing the dispensation, there were “many attempts” to persuade him to reconsider.
He wrote: “Naturally, there were two paths before me. Either give in to the pressure and revoke the dispensation I had given, or uphold the dispensation temporarily, in view of the greater good of the archeparchy, the pastoral concerns, and the salvation of the souls of the people of God. I decided to take the second route.”
“It was not for my personal gain, nor was it lack of obedience to authority, or against the collegiality of the bishops. Rather, I was listening to my conscience and the spiritual welfare of God’s people as a pastor.”
The archbishop said that he met with Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, the apostolic nuncio to India, on July 19 and was presented with a letter requesting his resignation.
“The letter stated that it was the pope’s decision regarding the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly,” he wrote. “The nuncio asked me to submit my resignation within 24 hours. Even though I requested in writing to allow a week to reply as this was a very important decision for me and the archeparchy, the request was denied. The nuncio informed that in the eventuality of non-resignation, the process of dismissal would commence immediately.”
Archbishop Kariyil said that the nuncio visited him on July 26 to ask for his resignation, which he gave “in obedience to the pope.”
Archbishop Girelli has not commented publicly on the open letter.
A reported 50,000 people attended a protest on Aug. 7 following Archbishop Kariyil’s resignation and the appointment of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath of Trichur as apostolic administrator of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.
Archbishop Kariyil said in his open letter that he was “proud to have done justice to my conscience and to the people of God who were entrusted to me.”
He added: “Needless to say, I was physically and mentally exhausted by the gravity of the subjects and the agony I endured while handling them. But, I have no complaints. I firmly believe that God knows my pains.”