Dispute over Mass sparks clash among priests at Kerala church

Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church dispute over the provision of uniform Masses took a violent turn on Christmas Eve, when rival groups of priests clashed, disrupted services and vandalized the altar in the seat of the head of the church at St. Mary’s Basilica in Ernakulam.

Ernakulam district officials and police were forced to intervene. To avoid tension, the Basilica, the prominent center of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, will be closed on Christmas Day.
But a section of priests from the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese continued to protest at the Archbishop’s house. They sang Christian funeral songs instead of hymns in protest against Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the administrator of the archdiocese.

Tension has prevailed at the Basilica, the seat of the head of the Church, Cardinal George Alencherry, over the offering of a uniform Mass, which has been opposed by a group of priests of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese for the past year.

While all the other dioceses under the Catholic Church established a uniform procedure for offering mass – the priest offered the first part of the mass facing the faithful, and the rest facing the altar and the inner sanctuary – a main section of priests. The archdiocese wanted to offer the whole ritual to the people.

The latest round of protests began on Friday. A group of priests, against the uniform procedure, began the ritual in the Basilica. They continued to offer mass on Saturday as well. On the other hand, the administrator of the basilica, Fr Antony Puthavelil, started the uniform mass.
On Saturday, while the priests who were against the new reforms were offering mass, another section entered the church together with the laity, igniting tension. They clashed in the church and pulled down the altar in front of the police.

The archbishop’s administrator Thazhath, in a statement, said the developments at the Basilica were unfortunate and stern action would be taken against the rebel priests who vandalized the church. “The priests have insulted the Holy Mass. Everyone should repent for the actions of the priests,” he said.

Thazhath was appointed administrator of the archdiocese recently after the dismissal of Antony Kariyil, who opposed the uniform Mass that the Vatican wanted to introduce to the Syro-Malabar Church. Thazhath also made several attempts to introduce the uniform Mass, but failed to implement the Vatican directive due to protests by the priests of the archdiocese.

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