FILE - Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church. (Photo | A Sanesh, EPS)
FILE - Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church. (Photo | A Sanesh, EPS)

Kerala church head’s exit not end of dispute

One of the controversies is about the sale of land belonging to the church’s Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese to repay a loan.

Cardinal George Alencherry’s resignation as the head of the influential Syro-Malabar Church marks the culmination of an eventful tenure, but the issues that caused his abrupt exit remain. As major archbishop, he oversaw the Kerala-based church’s expansion beyond its traditional boundaries in reach and influence. But his 12-year tenure also witnessed the church getting embroiled in a number of controversies and the divisions within deepen to the point of a potential split. If these schisms are what brought an end to his leadership, they continue to be a threat to the church’s unity and a challenge for whoever takes his place.

One of the controversies is about the sale of land belonging to the church’s Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese to repay a loan. Inquiry committees and an independent audit found irregularities and the cardinal is facing criminal cases for them. Another was about the church synod’s decision in August 2021 to ensure uniformity in the way the holy mass is celebrated. A group of priests and laity in the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese stood in the way of its implementation, triggering a conflict within the church and necessitating the intervention of the Vatican. Numerous attempts to find a solution at the behest of the Vatican failed, with the liturgical dispute leading even to violence. St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam, one of the oldest churches and the headquarters of the archdiocese, has remained closed ever since a clash broke out on November 28, 2022, during an attempt to conduct mass by the synod-prescribed method.

The group opposed to Cardinal Alencherry may consider his exit as a sort of victory, but Pope Francis made it clear in a video message that he wanted the synod’s decision on the holy mass implemented before this Christmas. He cautioned against attempts to divide the church and asked the faithful to not follow the priests encouraging them to rebel. The Pope’s clear message should have put an end to the dispute. However, there are those who feel the pontiff’s message was an appeal, not an order, and that he has been misled on the facts. They also want restitution of the losses the church suffered due to the land deals. It means there is every chance of the conflicts persisting. The new leadership ought to tread carefully. The resolution lies in dialogues between all stakeholders until an understanding is arrived at.

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The New Indian Express
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