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Pope pleads for unity, obedience as embattled head of Syro-Malabar Church resigns

December 07, 2023

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal George Alencherry, 78, as Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and warned that dissent within the Archeparchy (archdiocese) of Ernakulam-Angamaly could lead to canonical sanctions.

The Pope also accepted the resignation of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, whom he had appointed in July as administrator of the troubled archeparchy in a bid to resolve a bitter liturgical dispute. Bishop Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, a bishop of the church’s curia since 2017, will serve as the church’s administrator until the election of a new Major Archbishop.

In a letter to Cardinal Alencherry, Pope Francis wrote:

Out of love for the risen Lord and his Church, in 2019 you offered to step away from the pastoral governance of the beloved Syro-Malabar Church when faced with divisions and protests. Yet at that time, the Apostolic See accepted the judgment of the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, which did not consider it the suitable moment. The Synod, however, could not fail to recognize in your request the heart of a Pastor who set the unity and mission of the Church above everything else ... Always mindful of the good and unity of the People of God, I have [now] decided to accept your resignation as a sign of your openness and docility to the Holy Spirit.

In an Italian-language video message to Syro-Malabar Catholics, Pope Francis pleaded for acceptance of the decision by the church’s synod to implement the uniform method of celebrating the sacred liturgy.

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 in recent decades—and the decision in favor of ad orientem worship has led to widespread dissent and at-times violent conflict.

“I too have urged you several times to be docile to your Church,” the Pontiff said. “How can it be Eucharist if communion is broken, if there is disrespect for the Blessed Sacrament, amid fights and brawls?”

He added:

Please be careful! Be careful that the devil does not lead you to turn into a sect. You are churches, do not become sects. Do not force the competent ecclesiastical authority to take note that you have left the Church, because you are no longer in communion with your pastors and with the Successor of the Apostle Peter, called to confirm all brothers and sisters in the faith and to preserve them in the unity of Church. With great pain, then, the relevant sanctions will have to be taken. I don’t want it to come to that.

 


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