MUMBAI, India – After a scandal over a land deal caused a revolt among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, Pope Francis has permanently stripped administrative power from the cardinal who heads the India-based Syro-Malabar Church.
Cardinal George Alencherry has been accused of losing around $10 million in the 2017 land deal. Last year, Francis named a temporary administrator to resolve the archdiocese’s financial problems and to try and heal the conflict it created within its presbyterate.
In June, the pope reinstated Alencherry, leading to hundreds of priests going on hunger strike in protest.
Matters got worse on Aug. 24, when a court announced Alencherry and two others would face charges over the scandal.
On Aug. 30, the Vatican announced that Bishop Antony Karayil of Mandya would become the Episcopal Vicar of Ernakulam-Angamaly, given the title “Archbishop” and full administrative authority. Alencherry will still officially be the archbishop – his name will be mentioned at Mass – and serve as head of the wider Syro-Malabar Church.
Two auxiliary bishops – Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath and Bishop Jose Puthenveetil – were moved out of the archdiocese.
The Syro-Malabar Church is the largest Eastern-rite Church in India, with over 4 million members. The church also provides many priests and religious for outside its home territory.
In an Aug. 29 letter, Italian Cardinal Leonardo Sandri – the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Eastern Churches – said “the events” related to the governance of the archdiocese and the “attitudes some priests and laity have provoked” continue to cause “a lot of suffering and great concern.”
“Most astonishing are the harsh disputes and divisions on various levels, whose contents, in addition, are unscrupulously spread through the media, disregarding the due respect towards the Church and towards the concerned persons,” Sandri continues.
The Italian cardinal said the administrative changes are being made to find an “in-depth and lasting solution” to the crisis, and said it would be up to the Syro-Malabar synod to decide whether the solution would also apply for Alencherry’s eventual successor.
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