The long-standing tussle between the Vatican and Catholic archdiocese of Ernakulam in Kerala took a new turn on Thursday, with the former issuing an ultimatum to the priests to stop public offering of the Mass at churches from this Sunday if they cannot obey the Pope’s directive on offering the ritual.
Archbishop Cyril Vasil, deputed by the Pope to resolve the impasse in Kerala over how the Mass should be offered, on Thursday issued a directive to all priests of the archdiocese to implement the 2021 Church Synod decision on uniform Mass from Sunday.
Noncompliance of the order would be considered “culpable disobedience to the Pope (and) non-compliance would inevitably invite disciplinary action”, Vasil said.
Vasil said if priests find it difficult to offer uniform Mass due to threat, violence or menace, they should not conduct public Mass until a conducive situation emerges to implement the Synod decision on Mass.
The crisis has been going on at the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Church for nearly two years. While all other dioceses under the Church had in 2021 implemented a uniform procedure to offer Mass, as directed by the Vatican — the clergy would offer the initial part of the Mass facing the faithful, and the remaining part of it facing the altar and inner sanctum — a large section of priests of Ernakulam archdiocese wanted to offer the entire ritual facing the people.
Priests of the Archdiocese are defying the directive issued by Cardinal George Alencherry after he got embroiled in a real estate deal involving black money.
Vasil, who reached Kerala last week, 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 — protesting priests and laymen had even hurled water bottles at him.
Although Vasil had asked priests to go by the directive of the Church Synod regarding offering of Mass, the protesting priests said that “it is not Slovakia (Archbishop Vasil’s home country), but Kerala”.
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On Thursday, Fr Jose Vailikodathu, spokesperson of the priests, said they will continue protesting until the Vatican allows the archdiocese to continue with their mode of offering Mass facing the people.
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.
Thazhath’s multiple attempts at introducing the uniform Mass have come a cropper due to protests by the archdiocese priests.