Archbishop of Kerala opens up after being demoted for resisting senior church officials
Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who was recently forced to resign as Metropolitan Vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese due to his steadfast stance in the unified mass controversy, explained how he did his best to “resist continued pressure from superiors” in the church.
In a six-page open letter – written from a CMI ashram in Pariyaram, Chalakkudy, where he was forced to retire after tendering his resignation – Mar Kariyil said he was aware that the decision to “protect the interests of the faithful” would cost him dearly.
“I knew I would have to pay a heavy price. I could have protected my place by issuing an ordinance to implement the synod’s decision…but (I) considered my conscience and the spiritual well-being of believers,” Mar Kariyil wrote.
He was charged with dissent for failing to withdraw an exception he granted to the Syro-Malabar Church to implement the controversial “unified mass”.
According to him, the decision of the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church to set up a unified mass across the denomination would have caused a lot of friction as the church went through a period of crisis following the controversy over land deals in which its spiritual leader, Cardinal Mar George Alencherry was a defendant.
“Peace and unity in the church have been ruined to a large extent,” Mar Kariyil wrote of the framework within which the synod, the church’s ecclesiastical decision-making body, decided – last August – to introduce the unified mass which would be against the wishes of the majority of the faithful and a large part of the clergy.
The synod’s decision to conduct the Mass evenly with the celebrant facing the congregation in the first half and then to offer the Mass facing the tabernacle was not a popular choice as the Syro-Malabar Church had followed the Mass facing the congregation for a long time.
“It cannot be said that unity was achieved intrinsically in the few dioceses where the unified mass would have been implemented.
“In this context, as the person destined to lead the believers of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly which is the seat and the largest archdiocese of the Syro-Malabar Church, I have decided that such a situation should not happen here,” Mar Kariyil wrote of his decision to go against the will of the synod.
“I and a few ‘pithakkal’ (spiritual leaders) said firmly before the Synod that now was not the right time to implement the Unified Mass. The majority of priests in the Archdiocese conveyed the same, in writing , to the chiefs. However, the hierarchy chose to implement it.
He says he regularly communicated the wishes of the laity to Cardinal George Alencherry and to Vatican officials. “I also told Pope Francis about the matter, once in person and on other occasions in letters,” wrote Mar Kariyil, who added that the synod chose “to ignore warnings about possible disruptions. and friction in the church”.
“Considering the possible repercussions the decision could cause, I have chosen to give an exception in the Archdiocese. This was done with the permission of the Pope and the Prefect of the Eastern Congregation.
“You happily accepted my decision and the Archdiocese moved forward after dodging possible tension. But citing some technicalities in granting the exception, my decision was declared dissenting and in violation of the synod. Several attempts were made. do to dissuade me from my decision I have been portrayed as guilty of my decision.
“My choices were either to give in to the pressure or to temporarily maintain the exception taking into account the good of the archdiocese and the interests of the laity. I chose the second option. It was not for personal gain. or for disloyalty to the authorities or in opposition to the union of bishops This took into account my conscience and the spiritual welfare of the believers.