The Syro-Malabar Church: Vibrant and targeted
by Biju Veticad

It is among the oldest churches in India, with 5 million faithful, 34 dioceses, 8500 priests, 32 religious.  Bishops and priests are suffering heavy attacks from inside and outside the Church.  Dead who are reported as suicides; corruption charges against Card. Alencherry.  The strength of this Church, its schools and hospitals, make it a target for criticism.  The need for reform.



Cochin (AsiaNews) - The Syro-Malabar Church, among the oldest churches in India, dating back to the apostle Thomas (according to tradition), is a vital and growing community, although for some years it has been targeted by serious criticism both from inside and outside of the Church.

The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Eastern Catholic Church (after the Ukrainian Church) in terms of numbers, with 5 million faithful.  Since 2004 it has been a "Sui iuris" Church: the Holy See has guaranteed it full administrative powers, including the power to elect bishops and to take care of the pastoral ministry of its faithful throughout the world.  In fact, of the 34 dioceses of the Church, only 18 are in the state of Kerala, the original founding place;  the rest are in other indian states (13) or abroad, founded for the faithful who emigrated to other countries: the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand.  For other countries in Europe, there is an apostolic Visitor who lives in Rome.

The Church has more than 8,500 priests and 32,000 religious.  On June 18, despite many limitations due to Covid-19, the 62nd Syro-Malabar bishop was consecrated in the person of Msgr Peter Kochupurackal (photo 2).  He is now the auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Palaghat (Kerala).

Despite this long tradition that is linked to the arrival of St. Thomas the apostle in the year 52, this Eastern Church - bishops, priests and nuns - is suffering serious attacks from inside and outside the Church.

Since the start of 2018, Card.  Alencherry (photo 3), who is the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly and President of the Syro-Malabar Synod, has been accused of corruption in selling some lands of his archdiocese.  It is now clear that the sales were arranged by his collaborators and that he gave the final signature to allow the sale.  However, his own priests turned on him even organizing demonstrations against the cardinal.  As supreme head of the Syro-Malabar Church, petitions were even  sent to the Vatican, which the Holy See subsequentley resolved.  But the civil cases continue.

Some deaths have also fomented anger.  Recently, on May 7, the novice Divya P. John was found dead in a seminary well near Thiruvalla.  There were rumors of suicide.  In the same period and in exactly the same way - in a well for drinking water - the body was found of Fr.  George Ettuparayil in his parish in Punnathra (Kerala).  In itself the death of Fr.  George is due to a fire in the parish in which four people died.  But for media TV and social media talk of suicide persist and the higher authorities are discussed and accused of not listening to the priest, who encountered many difficulties in accepting the assignment to the parish.

Fr Noble Parackal, spokesman for the diocese of Manathawady and writer, explained to AsiaNews that the public often does not seek "the truth" and stop at criticism.  It should also be noted that part of these criticisms emerge for the fact that the Syro-Malabar Church is solidly established in Kerala and this generates envy or tension.

In any case, he says, unfounded and unmotivated charges are always disproportionate.

He believes that bishops and priests are continually criticized due in particular to the great influence that these people have in educational and charitable institutions: the Syro-Malabar Church manages 4860 schools;  2614 charitable and health institutions, as well as hundreds of highly organized parishes.

Fr.  Parackal points out that in any case, it is time for the Syro-Malabar Church to carry out structural and qualitative reforms.  The first commitment should be a greater unity of the Synod.  An example: each bishop of the Syro-Malabar Synod has decided to set up the liturgy in his diocese either following the ancient rite, or with "Latinizing" reforms, but they have not reached a "harmonious" decision.  In this way, the hierarchy risks not witnessing the Gospel to the faithful.