By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Pope Francis on June 22 appointed an apostolic administrator to tackle the prevailing “grave and worrying ecclesiastical situation of divisions” existing in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in Kerala.
The Pope has replaced current administrator of the archdiocese, Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, with Bishop Jacob Manathodath of Palghat.
A terse note from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) says the information about the appointment came from the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and that it was announced at noon in Rome and its corresponding time in India.
Another press release from the Syro-Malabar Church headquarters says Bishop Manathodath will continue to head the Palghat diocese.
The press release says Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, will remain the metropolitan archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.
Bishops Adayanthrath and Jose Puthenveettil will continue in their current post as the auxiliary of the archdiocese, says the press release issued by Father Jimmy Poochakkatt, the Syro-Malabar public relations officer.
The press note says the appointment was made in consideration of the “special circumstances” prevailing in the archdiocese.
Bishop Manathodath is taking over a diocese beset with internal problems. A section of priests had accused Cardinal Alencherry of incurring huge losses for the archdiocese through some questionable land deals. The controversy led to the formation of camps within the Syro-Malabar Church supporting and opposing the cardinal.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, notes a “grave and worrying ecclesiastical situation” in the archdiocese because of division between the clergy, auxiliary bishops and the major archbishop.
“It will be Your Excellency’s task to seek healing for these fractures and eventually to propose solutions that require the intervention of the Synod of Bishop,” says a letter from the prefect addressed to Bishop Manathodath.
Cardinal Sandri wants the new administrator to find those responsible for these divisions and proceed against them for wounding Church unity “with unfounded allegations” that lacked “the spirit of obedience and ecclesial sense” and led to public scandal damaging the Syro-Malabar Church, the larger of the two Oriental Catholic rites in India.
The Vatican official says the new administrator should consult and inform the major archbishop about his decisions, but should not involve him in the decisions regarding Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese. The Vatican congregation allows the administrator to form a synodal committee to assist him in these tasks. However, the committee will have only consultative role and its suggestions will not be decisive or binding on the administrator, Cardinal Sandri clarifies.
The administrator has to send a monthly report on the measures taken to the pontifical congregation. He could also seek counsel and assistance from the Apostolic Nuncio based in New Delhi, says the letter signed by Cardinal Sandri and Father Lorenzo Lorusso, undersecretary of the congregation.
With the appointment of the administrator, archdiocesan consultation group, finance committee, priests’ council, laity council and other group will remain suspended. The administrator could change them or revamp them, Father Poochakkatt’s press note says.
Bishop Manathodath, originally from Ernakulam, was appointed the Palghat bishop on November 11, 1996. The 71-year-old prelate is a member of the CBCI Office for Healthcare.
He was ordained a priest on November 4, 1972 after philosophical and theological studies in Papal Seminary, Pune. He has a doctorate in theology from Gregorian University, Rome. He was appointed the auxiliary bishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in 1992.