The Vatican on Saturday appointed Archbishop Andrews Thazhath as administrator of the Ernakulam archdiocese under the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church after incumbent Antony Kariyil was shown the door for rebelling against Church head Cardinal George Alencherry.
Thazhath is currently the archbishop of the Thrissur archdiocese and would now hold additional charge as administrator of the Ernakulam archdiocese. He would have all powers of an archbishop in Ernakulam, said an official communication from the Church curia (administrative headquarters) in Kochi.
However, the communication did not mention the fate of 72-year-old Kariyil, who has three more years remaining before he superannuates. Kariyil was forced to quit after he failed to implement a uniform method of offering the Mass – the most important form of worship in the Catholic Church – in Ernakulam. The Vatican had recently asked him to step down, but he refused. Subsequently, Apostolic Nuncio Leopoldo Girelli, who is Vatican’s diplomatic representative in India, met Kariyil in Kochi on Tuesday and returned with his resignation letter.
The uniform method of celebrating the Mass was introduced in the Church in December 2021, but Ernakulam defied the directive from the Cardinal in this regard. Kariyil stood with the sentiments of a major section of priests and a section of the laity in the archdiocese, where the Cardinal has been persona non grata. The directive on offering the Mass had come at a time when the Cardinal was embroiled in a controversial land deal of the archdiocese in which he had been facing a probe from the state police as well as central agencies. On many festive occasions, the Cardinal had to offer Mass with police protection at his headquarters.
Reacting to the appointment of a new administrator, archdiocese protection committee spokesperson Fr Jose Vailikodathu said, “As Catholic priests, we have no option but to obey the Pope. But we understand that Pope Francis was misled by the Church synod. We have been raising our voices to ensure that justice and truth prevail in the Church. If things are handled in such an arrogant manner, without hearing the priests and the laity, this would lead to widening of the chasm between the bishops and priests.”
“The Vatican has given scant concern for the issues raised by priests. The Church synod had taken wrong decisions on the land scam involving the Cardinal and the Mass row,” he added.