Pope Francis Accepts Resignation of Head of Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Alencherry

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome.

Cardinal George Alencherry preaches at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India, on Palm Sunday 2021.
Cardinal George Alencherry preaches at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica, Ernakulam, India, on Palm Sunday 2021. (photo: Esthappanos Bar Geevarghese / (CC BY-SA 4.0))

Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignation of Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, based in India, commending the prelate’s faithfulness after decades of leadership in that Church.

At the same time, the Holy Father addressed an ongoing bitter dispute in the archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, directing the faithful there to accept the decision of Church leaders to institute a uniform liturgy. 

Canon law dictates that bishops must submit their resignations to the pope at age 75. Cardinal Alencherry turned 78 this year. In his letter on Thursday, Francis told Cardinal Alencherry he “decided to accept your resignation as a sign of your openness and docility to the Holy Spirit.”

Last year, Francis noted, was Cardinal Alencherry’s “50th anniversary of priestly ordination and 25th anniversary as a bishop.”

“Now that you have reached two significant jubilees and accomplished the pastoral objectives set for the flock entrusted to your care, I consider your resignation not as the conclusion but the fulfillment of your service,” the Holy Father told the prelate. 

The Vatican said Curia Bishop H.E. Sebastian Vaniyapurackal, titular bishop of Troina, would serve as the interim administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church until the election of the new major archbishop. 

The Vatican on Thursday said Francis had also accepted the resignation of Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, apostolic administrator of the archeparchy since July of last year. Archbishop Thazhath remains metropolitan archbishop of Trichur of the Syro-Malabars.

Bosco Puthur, bishop emeritus of the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Melbourne of the Syro-Malabars (Australia), will serve in that role “sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis,” the Holy See said. 

In addition to the letter, on Thursday the Holy Father sent a video message addressed to “brothers and sisters of the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly” in which the Pope confronted a long-standing liturgical dispute in the Syro-Malabar Church in India. 

The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as the Holy Qurbana, has been the subject of a long, complex dispute over which direction the priest should face when celebrating the liturgy. 

Protests against the adoption of a uniform liturgy have included a hunger strike by priests and the burning of effigies of cardinals.

Francis has intervened in the dispute several times, including last year when he asked opponents of the uniform liturgy to take the “difficult and painful step” of accepting the change. In August he appointed Slovak Archbishop-Bishop Cyril Vasil’ to help resolve the ongoing disagreement. 

In his message on Thursday, he urged the faithful of the archeparchy to “recompose this rupture.” 

“It is your Church, it is our Church,” Francis wrote. “Restore communion, remain in the Catholic Church!”

Francis said in the message that Bishop Vasil’ had asked the people of the archeparchy to “put an end to the struggle, put an end to the opposition and sometimes the violence.”

“Do you not see that in this way the Church comes to a standstill and so many good initiatives can no longer be exercised in the service of God’s holy people, in the service of the sanctification of God’s people?” the Pope said. 

The Synod of Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Church based in India approved the introduction of a uniform liturgy in 2021

In his video message, Francis said: “See to it that by Christmas 2023 your archdiocese humbly and faithfully agrees to catch up with the rest of your Church, respecting all the directions of your synod.”

Praying for God’s blessing on the faithful, the pope said: “Let the Eucharist be the model of your unity. Do not shatter the body of Christ that is the Church, lest you eat and drink your condemnation.”

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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