Six Syro-Malabar bishops: 'Excommunication threat on liturgy wrong'

The bishops - originally from the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the epicentre of the schism - launched an appeal to avoid a schism, contesting the circular letter issued by the Major Archbishop requiring priests to adapt to the unified rite by July 3. "A hasty choice and contrary to the spirit of Vatican II. Pope Francis asked us for unity through dialogue".

Jun 21, 2024

By Nirmala Carvalho
As the deadline of July 3, the feast of St Thomas set by Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil as the deadline to adapt to the "unified liturgy" approved by the Synod almost three years ago, approaches, there is a growing number of statements within the Syro-Malabar Church against the intention to excommunicate priests who do not obey, thus sanctioning the schism.

In a formal letter addressed to the Major Archbishop, six bishops from the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, the epicentre of the liturgical clash (Mar Ephrem Nariculam, Mar Jose Chittooparambil, Mar Jose Puthenveettil, Mar Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath) expressed deep concern.

While assuring their commitment to the Synod decisions on the uniformity of the celebration of the Qurbana, the prelates objected to the 'hasty dissemination of the circular' without prior discussion at the Synod. And they cite Pope Francis' insistence on dialogue and unity in the Church, in contrast to what they perceive as a one-sided decision-making process.

"The circular reflects an approach contrary to the spirit of the post-Vatican II Church," the letter reads. The bishops also expressed dismay at the potential long-term consequences of the circular, which they fear could deepen divisions and erode faith within the community. They called for reconsideration of the decision and urged a more consultative and reconciliation-oriented approach to resolving the current crisis. The document concludes with an appeal to Mar Thattil to formally register their dissent and share it with all members of the synod, offering their willingness to engage in dialogue to resolve the issue by upholding the virtue of obedience.

A group of 25 priests from the Diocese of Mananthavady also stated that the notice of automatic expulsion from Catholic communion of those who will not obey the circular is 'immature and inappropriate'. They argue that it would be appropriate for the archdiocese to continue with the status quo on a provisional basis, in order to initiate dialogue. They suggest the formation of a committee composed of the papal delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archbishop Bosco Puthur and lay people to arrive at a mutually acceptable point 'to embrace the greater glory of the Syro-Malabar Church and the preservation of tradition'.

For his part, the secretary of the Council of Priests of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, Fr. Kuriakose Mundadan, has appealed to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and the Catholic Bishops' Council of Kerala (KCBC) to intervene in the dispute, which, he claims, risks turning into a scandal that would overwhelm the entire Catholic Church in India.

In the letter, however, Fr. Mundadan accuses the former apostolic administrator Andrews Thazhath, who is also the current president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), of "abusing power" and misguiding and misinforming the Pope on liturgical matters in the archdiocese.

"His ethically incorrect acts and dealings," he claims, "have contributed to plunging the situation into further controversy, while the issue was one of simple rubrics (the celebrant of the Mass facing the people or with his back to the people) into a major dispute over ecclesiastical communion. This is, to say the least, totally unchristian and contrary to the fundamental principles of the Gospel'.--Asia News

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