After putting up a strong fight against Syro-Malabar Catholic Church head Cardinal George Alencherry over implementing a uniform method of offering the Mass, the most important form of worship in the Catholic Church, Ernakulam Archbishop Antony Kariyil on Tuesday decided to step down from his role, according to sources in the Church.
The decision comes in the wake of Kariyil’s meeting with Leopoldo Girelli, the Apostolic Nuncio or Vatican’s diplomatic representative in India. Girelli reached Kochi from Delhi on Tuesday and held consultations with Kariyil.
Sources said a formal announcement would come only once the Vatican consents. “What we learn is that the Apostolic Nuncio has returned with the resignation letter of Kariyil. The decision would be officially announced only with the consent of the Vatican. As an interim arrangement, an administrator would be appointed for the archdiocese. The decision on appointing the administrator would be taken by the Syro-Malabar Church Synod in Kerala with the consent of the Vatican,” the sources said.
Referring to the revolt of priests in the archdiocese, who had stood with Kariyil against implementing a uniform method of Mass, sources said they would react only after the decision is officially announced. “However, options are limited for the priests to fight against the Cardinal,” sources pointed out.
Kariyil has been leading a revolt of priests in the archdiocese against Cardinal George Alencherry over the last one year in connection with the issue.
The Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church, one of the prominent Eastern Churches under the Vatican, had introduced a uniform Mass in all dioceses under the Church in November last year, but the archdiocese of Ernakulam had refused to implement the directive of Alencherry, who had the backing of Vatican in this regard. Kariyil had the support of the majority of the priests and a section of laymen, who had even clashed in many parishes over the bid to foist the uniform Mass.
On Monday, around 200 priests who back Archbishop Kariyil gathered at his residence in Kochi to pledge solidarity with him. The priests passed a resolution saying they would not accept the removal of Kariyil as head of the archdiocese. “The move to get the resignation of Kariyil shows that the Vatican does not want to solve the crisis in the Church or the archdiocese. Such a decision would only push the archdiocese into further crisis. Neither the priests nor the laity of the archdiocese would accept the decision of the Vatican to remove Kariyil as the head of the archdiocese,” said the resolution released by Fr Sebastian Thaliyan.
The resolution demanded the resignation of Cardinal Alencherry, whose name had got embroiled in the controversy surrounding the sale of Church property allegedly involving black money. “It is the Cardinal who should quit. His land dealings had caused heavy loss for the archdiocese. By influencing the state and the central governments, the Cardinal has been trying to wriggle out of the land scam,” said the resolution.
The dispute over uniform Mass has prevailed in the Catholic Church in Kerala for several decades. While a section of priests offers the Mass facing the people, another section of priests does so facing the altar. In certain other dioceses, the Church follows a mix of both. Bishops and priests have been divided over this. As per the uniform mode of offering Mass, priests and bishops in all dioceses across the Church perform the ritual facing the altar throughout the service.
The crisis over the liturgy comes close on the heels of the controversial land dealing which had even led to the removal of Alencherry as the archbishop of the archdiocese in 2019. Although Alencherry continues to be the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Kerala, he no longer has any administrative role in the archdiocese of Ernakulam. In the past, Cardinals used to hold administrative responsibility in the archdiocese of Ernakulam.