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Syro-Malabar priests accuse Vatican of demanding archbishop’s resignation

Priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese hold a press conference on July 25, 2022. Screenshot from EKAM MEDIA-Ernakulam Angamaly Major Archdiocese YouTube channel.

Priests at the center of a liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church accused the Vatican Monday of demanding the removal of their archbishop following rumors that he may be about to step down.

The clergy of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in India’s Kerala State said in a July 25 statement that they would oppose any move to oust Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who has overseen the archdiocese’s day-to-day administration since 2019.

They said that the removal of the 72-year-old archbishop would be “totally unjust, inhuman, unchristian and illegal.”

Indian media reported unsourced rumors that Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli, apostolic nuncio to India, had asked Archbishop Kariyil to present his resignation to Pope Francis three years ahead of the normal retirement age for diocesan bishops.

The media claimed that the archbishop, a member of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, would be required to live outside the archdiocese.

Archbishop Girelli did not immediately respond to The Pillar’s request for comment.

Archbishop Kariyil issued a dispensation in 2021 exempting priests of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese from adopting the uniform mode of celebrating the Syro-Malabar Church’s Eucharistic liturgy until Christmas 2022.

The uniform mode, accepted in other Syro-Malabar dioceses, 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 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 faced strong resistance in the archdiocese, with protesters burning cardinals’ effigies, staging hunger strikes, and engaging in scuffles.

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 allegations of irregularities in local land deals. Cardinal Alencherry, who rejected claims of malpractice, resumed his duties a year later. Kerala’s state government filed an affidavit earlier this month that said it found no wrongdoing.

Archbishop Kariyil was appointed archiepiscopal vicar in August 2019, at the end of the apostolic administrator’s tenure.

In their statement, local clergy said:

“The Archeparchy showed tremendous unity, Christian witness, and progress during the tenure of Mar Kariyil compared to the past many years. He is a true pastor who knows the hearts and minds of his flock. He is a prelate fully committed to Jesus, the Word of God, and the Roman Pontiff. He never violates any canon or civil laws. Any attempt to jeopardize his bishopric will prove detrimental to Catholic communion and harmony.”

The priests said that Archbishop Kariyil was reluctant to speak “about the latest move by the Vatican nunciature,” despite several requests.

They accused “some groups favoring Cardinal George Alencherry” of publicizing rumors that the “Vatican has demanded Mar Kariyil’s urgent resignation or else he would be removed from the office.”

“Any move to reinstate Cardinal Alencherry as the Archbishop of Ernakulam will be strongly opposed and we do not want a corrupt prelate to lead us; nor do we want to be his vicars in the parishes,” the clergy said.

“We solemnly declare that we cannot accept any other administrators or Vicars of the Major Archbishop to rule over us at this moment supplanting Mar Antony Kariyil.”

The clergy urged the Vatican “to be synodal in the approach to the priests and laity of the archdiocese and to find a solution to the present impasse through fraternal dialogue in the Catholic spirit, and to desist from demanding the forced resignation of Archbishop Mar Antony Kariyil from his office.”

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. They are expected to discuss the uniform liturgy dispute.

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