Four priests of the Syro-Malabar Church have been ordered out of a seminary in southern India after refusing to adopt the uniform mode of the liturgy.
The instruction is the first act of discipline against local clergy since the August 20 deadline for priests to cease opposition to the liturgical norms set by the pope’s representative last week.
“The four priests under the archdiocese were asked if they would follow the Holy Mass format as approved by Pope Francis and the [Syro-Malabar] Church Synod. They said no. That’s why they have been directed to vacate the premises of the minor seminary,” an official for the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly told the Hindustan Times on Wednesday.
It is not clear from initial reports whether the priests were professors, formators, or simply in residence at the seminary.
The order for the priests to vacate the seminary came in the form of a “transfer,” according to the newspaper, though no new assignment was given to the clerics. The letter of transfer was signed by Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly, on the institution of Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, SJ, the pope’s special envoy to the Syro-Malabar sui iuris Church.
The order follows a public statement by Vasil’ last week, in which he set an absolute deadline of Sunday Aug. 20 for priests of the archeparchy to drop protests against the uniform mode of the liturgy of Holy Qubana, ordered by the Syro-Malabar Church’s governing synod in 2021, in which clergy are to face ad orientem during part of the Eucharistic celebration.
Following years of demonstrations by local clergy and lay faithful, which have seen protests outside and inside the archeparchy’s cathedral as well as mass disobedience to the archeparchy’s governing authorities, Vasil’ wrote to local clergy last week stating that failure to adopt the uniform mode by Sunday “will be considered voluntary, personal and culpable disobedience to the Holy Father.”
In a public statement on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, Vasil’ told local Catholics that they were “with the pope or against him,” and said any further resistance would be an act of schism.
The majority of the priests of the archeparchy have rejected the revised liturgy, which was intended as a compromise to accommodate clergy and faithful attached to the celebration of the liturgy versus populum — a modern innovation adopted in the Syro-Malabar Church following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council for the Latin Church.
The archeparchy is the only one of the Syro-Malabar Church’s 35 dioceses to witness mass resistance to the implementation of the new liturgy, which has taken the form of street brawls, hunger strikes, and the burning of cardinals in effigy.
The Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly is the largest eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, with around half a million members, and also most prominent, as it is the see of the Syro-Malabar Church’s major archbishop, or head.
The current major archbishop, Cardinal George Alencherry, is the subject of ongoing legal action over controversial land sales and has stepped back from the day-to-day running of the diocese.
Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Thazhath as apostolic administrator of Ernakulam-Angamaly in July 2022, with the task of introducing the liturgical change in the archdiocese, but Thazhath failed to make headway due to strong resistance from priests and lay people committed to the liturgy facing the people.
In July of this year, the pope named Archbishop Vasil’ as his personal delegate to “implement the synodal decision on the mode of celebration of the Holy Qurbana.” The archbishop arrived in Kerala, southern India, on Aug. 4 and has since faced crowds gathered outside churches where he has appeared, chanting “Vasil’ go home” and continuing to try to disrupt access to churches for the celebration of the uniform mode.
Despite Vasil’’s warnings and the deadline of Aug. 20, local clergy have continued to speak out against the uniform mode and the papal delegate, including from within Vasil’’s own Society of Jesus.
Fr. George Pattery, former president of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia, told local media on Saturday that Vasil’ “seems to weaponize the Eucharist with his latest warning on the Syro-Malabar liturgy under the guise of obedience,” and called for a more authentic process of engagement with local Catholics.
Archbishop Vasil’ said last week that “Honestly, I am telling you, the only fruit of continued protest and rejection will be great harm to the Church, great scandal before those who observe us, and the spiritual damage that is the fruit of disobedience to God’s will.”
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