In an intriguing development, the native Catholics in Kerala have written a letter to the state and home ministry, demanding the deportation of a cleric (appointed by the pope) back to the Vatican. The natives alleged that the appointed Pontifical Delegate (a cleric) was violating the visa norms and was being involved in unlawful activities.
Notably, the archbishop responsible for an area, also called an archdiocese, of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church has been the centre of controversy for a long time now. The natives claimed that the archdiocese used to follow different liturgies (a process of worship). To sort this out, a pontifical delegate, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, was appointed. He arrived at the Church’s headquarters on August 4 to help find a solution to the dispute.
Following his appointment and absurd suggestions, the native Catholics were dissatisfied. They claimed that the Indian Christians can solve their problems on their own and do not need an archbishop from a foreign land. The Catholics associated with the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (ATM), a forum of priests and laity in the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly wrote letters to different authorities. The letter was sent to the president, prime minister, and federal home and external affairs ministers, among others.
What led to these demands?
The matter escalated on August 17 when Vasil asked the natives to follow the liturgies approved by the synod (a special council of members of the Church) and the Vatican. Violating his orders would lead to excommunication.
This raged the locals, and they started questioning the authority and the mandate that allowed Vasil to function in India. He also faced stiff opposition from priests and a section of laymen while entering St Mary’s Basilica, the seat of the Cardinal, which has remained closed since December last year. He had to seek police protection to get in. The protesting priests and laymen had even hurled water bottles at him.
In a letter to the Home and External Affairs Ministry one of the complainants, KM Jhon, wrote, “Vasil, claiming to be appointed by the head of state of Vatican City, started “intervening with the administration” of the archdiocese and “started threatening Christian faithful with dire consequences,”
The protesting group of Catholics, ATM, stated that India and the Catholics living here have enough resources and mechanisms to solve any dispute arising in the Church.
Jhon further added, “As there is enough mechanism existing in India to resolve, adjudicate and decide any dispute originated and existing in India, the external help sought by the head of an alien nation by a synod of the Syro-Malabar Church is unwarranted, unlawful, and amounts to an act against the sovereignty of our country,”
Vasil “is meddling with the internal affairs of the country” in violation of his visa norms, Jhon added further.
The gist of the controversy is that the Catholics who are close to the Vatican’s idea of liturgy want the celebrants (a priest offering the prayer) to face the altar (a big table) during Eucharistic prayer (a special prayer in the Church). On the other hand, the Catholics in Kerala wish to follow their way of the liturgy, where they face congregation throughout the Mass (the central act of worship, or the participants).
Notably, the Church officials introduced the revised liturgy two decades ago to help the Kerala-based Church have uniformity in the liturgy. But disputes delayed its implementation.
Despite the Church’s order, when Vasil arrived at the headquarters, he issued a pastoral letter announcing his appointment as the Pontifical Delegate. In the letter, he mentioned a special mandate that will allow him to implement the disputed uniform mode of Mass in the archdiocese.
Notably, the members of the group ATM claimed that neither the Vatican nor the nunciature has shared Vasil’s appointment letter with the archdiocese, nor was it published anywhere. They claimed he is nothing but an ‘imposter’.
As quoted by UCA News, Jhon, a complainant said, “Vasil who claims to have diplomatic protection misused the state police to resort to force against Indian citizens and thus, he interfered in the domestic affairs of our country to create violence,”
John said he has also sent complaints against Vasil to the Kerala chief secretary and director-general of police, top civil and other police officials in the state, and officials in the immigration department, demanding action be taken.
Notably, the spokesperson of the ATM, Kanjookaran, said that the Vatican embassy did not mention or approve his appointment; hence, they are looking for legal action against him.
Kanjookaran told UCA News, “A Pontifical Delegate should be a neutral person appointed by the pope to listen to us and find an amicable solution to the dispute. Vasil on the contrary, is threatening our priests and so we have serious doubt if he is really a Pontifical Delegate”,
“We will wait for responses from the government authorities and if there is no response, we will file a case against him in court if required”, he added.
It is noteworthy that, Vasil was sent to Kerala after archdiocese administrator Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who assumed office last year, could not introduce the uniform way of offering Mass. Thazhath was appointed administrator after his predecessor, Antony Kariyil, was removed. Kariyil was opposed to the uniform Mass that the Vatican wants to introduce to the Syro-Malabar Church.