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Indian Cardinal resigns amid serious liturgical dispute in his Church

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

I.Media - published on 12/08/23

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Indian Cardinal George Alencherry as head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
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Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of 78-year-old Indian Cardinal George Alencherry from the pastoral government of the Syro-Malabar Church, which is experiencing a serious liturgical crisis, the Holy See Press Office announced on December 7, 2023. This is a rare decision for the Eastern Churches, where, according to the law, leaders are not obliged to resign. For years, the cardinal has been faced with fierce protests from a section of the clergy who refuse to put into practice the liturgical reform voted in by the Church.

In a letter dated November 29, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to Cardinal Alencherry for his “dedication” and “generosity.”

Cardinal Alencherry has been head of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly since 2011, as head of this autonomous Catholic Church, which counts around 5 million faithful in India and the diaspora across the world. According to tradition, it was founded by the Apostle Saint Thomas.

A resignation at the right time 

Faced with strong internal divisions, with some members continuing to reject the liturgical reform voted in by the Synod of this Church – the assembly of Syro-Malabar bishops – the cardinal handed in his resignation in 2019. The Pope recalls in his letter that at the time “the Apostolic See accepted the judgment of the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, which did not consider [the resignation] the suitable moment.”

Four years later, the Pontiff has now accepted the second resignation letter submitted by Cardinal Alencherry, who was made a cardinal in 2012. According to Eastern canon law, the curial bishop – equivalent to the auxiliary bishop – Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, will now become the administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church, until the Synod elects a new major archbishop.

This departure remains a rare occurrence. According to Eastern law, the head of an Eastern Church is not obliged to resign at the age of 75, as is the case for Latin-rite bishops. Pope Francis specifies that the cardinal who resigns will continue to serve the Church in other ways, notably by remaining a member of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches.

Turbulent years 

Cardinal Alencherry’s 12 years at the head of this Church were marked by a number of controversies. The Holy See has repeatedly dispatched emissaries to try and resolve the liturgical quarrel that has been at an impasse for decades. The Cardinal was also temporarily suspended from his diocese in 2018, with Rome appointing an apostolic administrator. He has also been accused of financial malpractice.

Considering this turbulent context, Pope Francis has also sent a video message to the Syro-Malabar faithful, addressing them directly in an attempt to avert a schism. A papal representative that he had sent in, Archbishop Cyril Vasil, was turned down on the spot last August. Peter’s Successor urges them not to become “a sect” by separating from their Church.

“In the name of the Lord, for the spiritual good of your Church, of our Church, I ask you to recompose this rupture. It is your Church, it is our Church. Restore communion, remain in the Catholic Church!” the Pope pleas.

He also addressed priests in particular, certain of whom are at the center of the violent protest: “Do not separate yourselves from the path of your Church, but walk with the Synod, your bishops, the Major Archbishop. Agree to put into practice what your Synod has established.”

IndiaPope Francis
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