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Turmoil in Syro-Malabar Church after Vatican reportedly dispenses from liturgical changes

November 29, 2021

Tension within the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church increased after a senior church official met with Pope Francis and said that the Vatican had offered a dispensation from liturgical changes scheduled to go into effect on the First Sunday of Advent.

The church (CNEWA profile), an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Holy See, is based in Kakkanad, India.

In August, despite strong opposition from some of the clergy and laity, the church’s leading bishops agreed to impose a uniform method of celebrating the liturgy in all of the church’s eparchies (dioceses). The uniform method envisions the celebrant turning towards the faithful in the initial rites but then turning towards the altar during the Eucharistic sacrifice. In some eparchies, however, including the Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam–Angamaly, the entire liturgy has been offered facing the people.

Pope Francis received Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the vicar of the Major Archbishop, on November 25 and met with him for 45 minutes. Unlike his superior (Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry), Archbishop Kariyil has opposed the uniform method of celebration.

According to Indian media reports, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches said that Archbishop Kariyil has the authority in the archeparchy to dispense from the implementation of the uniform method. After Cardinal Alencherry said he had not received a communication from the Vatican, Archbishop Kariyil made the communication from the Congregation public.

On November 28, as Cardinal Alencherry celebrated the liturgy according to the uniform method, he called for peace and unity in the Syro-Malabar Church. The vast majority of the parishes and religious houses in his archeparchy celebrated the liturgy facing the people.

From 2018 to 2019, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, citing financial scandal, stripped Cardinal Alencherry of his authority over his archeparchy. The cardinal is currently under investigation by the Kerala state government over a controversial land deal.


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