Syro-Malabar major archbishop resigns, Francis asks for obedience on the liturgy

Card George Alencherry and the Apostolic Administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, have resigned. In January, the Synod will pick a new leader. The pontiff issued a tough warning to those who continue to reject the uniform rite of the Eucharistic celebration. “Do not force the competent ecclesiastical authority to acknowledge that you have left the Church,” Francis said. "For next Christmas,” he added, “the Qurbana in communion should be celebrated, following the indications of the Synod.”

Kochi (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today accepted the resignation of Major Archbishop Card George Alencherry and Archbishop Andrew Thazhath, the apostolic administrator he had appointed two years ago to head the "rebel" Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, at the centre of a dispute over the uniform liturgy that has long divided this ancient Eastern Church in India.

Pope Francis accompanied this with two other gestures: a personal letter to Cardinal Alencherry and above all a heartfelt video message to the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly in which he strongly calls for the Eucharistic rite to be celebrated next Christmas in all the churches according to the "uniform" mode adopted by the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church after years of discussions, but rejected by the clergy of the primatial see of the Syro-Malabar Church and home of the Major Archbishop.

"You are churches, do not become a sect," Francis said in very clear words. “Do not force the competent ecclesiastical authority to acknowledge that you have left the Church, because you are no longer in communion with your pastors and the successor of the Apostle Peter, who is called to confirm all your brothers and sisters in the faith and keep them in the unity of the Church."

Cardinal Alencherry, 78, was elected major archbishop by the Syro-Malabar Synod in 2012 but was caught up in 2017 in a controversy over the sale of Church-owned land that sparked acrimony in Kerala’s Catholic community, an affair that seriously weakened him.

In his letter to the cardinal, the pontiff nevertheless expresses again his personal respect for the prelate, notes that already in 2019 Alencherry had submitted her resignation, but the Holy See, accepting the opinion of the synod, had rejected it.

Now, in accordance with the rules of the Syro-Malabar Church, the leadership has been entrusted as administrator to Curial Bishop Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, until the election of the new major archbishop, which is expected in January.

As for the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, after accepting the resignation from the office of apostolic administrator of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath (who remains archbishop of Trichur), Francis has appointed as the new apostolic administrator Bishop Emeritus Bosco Puthur of the Eparchy of Melbourne of the Syro-Malabars.

Archbishop Thazhath was strongly criticised for the way in which he carried out the mandate assigned to him by Pope Francis to end the dispute over the liturgy.

A letter he wrote recently raised eyebrows. In it, he says that the eight deacons in the diocese waiting for their priestly ordination would be able to go through with it only after taking an oath in which they agree to celebrate the Qurbana (the Eucharistic rite) only in accordance with the manner established by the synod, which – with a compromise between two different forms in use – provides for the celebrant to look towards the assembly during the first part of the liturgy,  but turns at the altar at the moment of consecration.

It seems clear, therefore, that the pontiff is trying to remove personal disagreements to help re-establish unity in the Syro-Malabar Church. Precisely to avoid misunderstandings, Francis also sent the video message in which he reiterates that the adoption of the unified liturgy adopted by the synod is not in question.

In it (with a translation by the Vatican in Malayalam), everyone can hear the pope's words directly. Francis makes a strong appeal: "I have already written to you several times in the past, but I know that not everyone has read my letters," he says.

“Now I have decided to address you, the holy faithful people of God, the clergy, the men and women religious, and above all, you, dear lay faithful, who have so much faith in the Lord and who love the Church. And I do it in a slightly unusual way, so that no one may have any doubts about what the Pope thinks."

"The Church is communion," the pontiff says. “If there is no communion, there is no Church. It is a cult. I know that for years some people, who should be examples and true teachers of communion, especially priests, have been urging you to disobey and oppose the decisions of the synod.

“Brothers and sisters, do not follow them. Discussion, when it is not dispassionate, breeds violence. And among you there has been and there is violence, especially against those who want to remain in communion and celebrate as your Church has established."

"For next Christmas, therefore, in the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly as in the whole Syro-Malabar Church, the Qurbana in communion should be celebrated, following the indications of the synod. Remember your major archbishop in the liturgy and pray for him.

“This has always been an important sign that you recognise yourselves in the unity of the Church. Then it will be Christmas for all your people, for everyone.

"Please," Pope Francis concludes, "do not continue to wound the body of Christ. Do not separate yourselves from it anymore. And even if you have been wronged, forgive them with generosity. May the Eucharist be the model of your unity. Do not shatter the Body of Christ, which is the Church, lest you eat and drink your condemnation."

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)