Knanaya church flouts HC order, denies NOC to parishioner to marry 'outsider' bride

  • The Kerala High Court had twice directed Knanaya Church to give NOC to whoever asked for it to marry a non-Knanaya Catholic
  • Knanaya Church in April gave NOC to Justin to get engaged to Vijimol, a Roman Catholic but refused to give NOC for the wedding on Thursday
Knanaya-roman catholic wedding
Justin and Vijimol exchanged garlands in front of the St Xavier's Church. Photo: Special arrangement

Kasaragod: The Knanaya Catholic Church on Thursday refused to give a 'no objection certificate' (NOC) to its parishioner Justin John, an auto-rickshaw driver, to marry a non-Knanaya Catholic woman despite a Kerala High Court order to issue the same.

With this stand, the church missed an opportunity to make history by allowing its community members to marry non-Canaanites. Knanaya Catholic Church has been practising endogamy for centuries.

Justin is a member of St Anne’s Knanaya Catholic Church at Kottody in Kasaragod's Kallar Grama Panchayat. His bride Vijimol is a Roman Catholic and member of St Xavier's Church, Kottody, under the archdiocese of Thalassery.

The couple had planned their wedding in St Xavier's Church. But without the NOC from the Knanaya Church, the Roman Catholic church refused to solemnize the wedding. 

"After the refusal, the couple exchanged garlands in front of St Xavier's Church. But they could not officially marry," said Biju Uthup, vice president of the Global Knanaya Reform Movement (GKRM).

Uthup, who retired as a project manager from Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is spearheading a legal battle to stop endogamy in Knanaya Church. He held the head of Kottayam Archeparchy, Mar Mathew Moolakkatt, responsible for the fiasco. 

"We will take the bishop to court for contempt and demand compensation. We will also demand double the expenses incurred for the wedding," he said.

Had the wedding been solemnized with the consent of the Knanaya Church, it would have been historic. The Knanaya Catholic Archeparchy of Kottayam, exclusively for the Knanaya faithful, comes under the larger umbrella of the Catholic Church headed by Pope Francis. However, the archeparchy does not allow its members to marry a Catholic from outside the Kottayam Archeparchy. 

The church believes its members are descendants of a Jewish-Christian community that migrated to Kerala from southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) in AD 345. According to the archeparchy's website, the migration was led by merchant Thomas of Cana, and so was the name of the community Knanaya or Canaanites.

Canaanites, who want to marry outside the sect, will be forced out of the church by making them apply for 'permission to leave the eparchy of Kottayam’ (PLEK). (Eparchy is a province of a church).

But Justin did not want to give up his membership with St Anne’s Knanaya Catholic Church to marry Vijimol, who is from the same village.

Responding to the reports of the failed wedding ceremony, the Knanaya Catholic Youth League (KCYL) staged a demonstration in support of the archeparchy in front of St Anne's Church at Kottody. Knanaya priests joined the members of KCYL to raise slogans to protect the "centuries-old customs" of the church.

A leader of KCYL said the archeparchy did not stop Justin's wedding or expel him from the church. "Justin came to the vicar around 7.30 pm on Wednesday asking for NOC for his wedding to a non-Knanaya woman. The vicar told him that since the matter is sub-judice he cannot give the NOC," the youth leader said.

In 2015, Knanaya Catholic Naveekarna Samithi (KCNS) moved the additional sub-court of Kottayam seeking judicial intervention to end endogamy in the Knanaya Church. The additional sub-court and the appellate court ruled in favour of KCNS.

The Kottayam Archeparchy moved the high court saying "decisions of the courts would overturn and uproot the practice and custom followed in the Knanaya community for over seventeen centuries".

It wanted a permanent prohibitory injunction and mandatory injunction on the lower court order.

The high court admitted the plea. But in its interim order on November 4, 2020, the high court said: "If any member of a church under the Kottayam Archeparchy wishes to marry a Catholic from another diocese, he/she can make a request to the metropolitan archbishop of Archeparchy of Kottayam for no objection certificate. On receipt of the request, the bishop and the archeparchy shall issue the Vivaha Kuri or no objection certificate, without insisting on any letter of relinquishment of that person's membership with the Kottayam Archeparchy".

The church challenged that interim order again. On March 10, 2023, the high court said the interim arrangement made on November 4 shall continue.

Based on the March 10 order, Justin asked his parish vicar for a NOC to get engaged with Vijimol. The church agreed. As per the norm, the vicar announced the engagement in the parish and then gave the NOC three days before their betrothal.

With the consent of the Knanaya church, Vijimol and Justin got engaged in her parish on April 18. In one month, the Knanaya church changed its stance and refused to issue the NOC for the wedding.
(Justin John did not respond to phone calls.)

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