Unified Mass: Kerala Archbishop opens up after being demoted for resisting church higher-ups

Archbishop Mar Antony Kariyil
Archbishop Mar Antony Kariyil

Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who was recently forced to resign as Metropolitan Vicar of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese over his unwavering stand in the unified mass controversy has opened up on how he did his best to "withstand continued pressure from the higher-ups" in the church.

In a six-page open letter -- written from a CMI Ashram at Pariyaram, Chalakkudy, where he was forced to retire upon 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 a pay a hefty price. I could have protected my place by issuing an order to implement the synod's decision... but (I) considered my conscience and the spiritual well-being of the believers,” Mar Kariyil wrote.

He was accused of dissent for not withdrawing an exception he granted to the Syro-Malabar Church from implementing the controversial 'unified mass'.

According to him, the decision of the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church to implement a unified mass across the denomination would have caused much friction as the church was going through a period of crisis following the land deals controversy in which its spiritual head, Cardinal Mar George Alencherry was an accused.

Cardinal Mar George Alencherry.

“The peace and unity in the church were ruined to a large extent,” Mar Kariyil wrote about the setting into which the Synod, the ecclesiastical decision-making body of the church, had decided – last August – to introduce the unified mass reportedly against the wishes of the majority of the faithful and a large number of the clergy.

The Synod's decision to conduct the mass in a uniform manner with the celebrant facing the congregation in the first half and later offering the mass facing the tabernacle was not a popular choice as the Syro-Malabar Church had been following the congregation-facing mass for a long time.

“It cannot be said that unity was achieved intrinsically in the few dioceses where the unified mass is said to have been implemented.

"In that context, as the person destined to lead the believers of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese which is the headquarters and the biggest archdiocese in the Syro-Malabar Church, I decided such a situation shouldn't arise here,” Mar Kariyil wrote about his decision to go against the Synod's wishes.

“I and a few 'pithakkal' (spiritual leaders) said firmly before the Synod that this was not the right time to implement the unified mass. The majority of priests in the archdiocese conveyed the same, in writing, to the heads. However, the hierarchy chose to implement it.”

Pope Francis. File photo: Reuters

He said he had regularly communicated the wishes of the laity with Cardinal George Alencherry and the representatives of the Vatican. "I also told the matter to Pope Francis, once in person and on other occasions via letters," wrote Mar Kariyil, who added that the Synod chose to “ignore the warnings about the possible disruption and friction in the church”.

“Considering the possible repercussion the decision might cause, I chose to give an exception in the archdiocese. It was done with the permission of the Pope and oriental congregation prefect.

"You happily accepted my decision and the archdiocese move forward having dodged the possible tension. But citing a few technicalities in granting the exception, my decision was declared a dissent and a violation of the synod. Several attempts were made to dissuade me from my decision. I was painted as guilty over my decision.

“My choices were to either give in to pressure or continue the exception temporarily considering the good of the archdiocese and interests of the laity. I chose the second option. It wasn't for personal gains or due to a lack of loyalty toward the authorities or in opposition to the bishops' union. It was considering my conscience and the spiritual well-being of the believers.”

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