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Turmoil in Kerala church as Malabar-Chaldean faction war hots up

D Jose in Thiruvananthapuram

The war between the Malabar and the Chaldean (East Syrian) factions in the 3.5-million-strong Syro-Malabar church in Kerala has taken a serious turn with the former leading a revolt against the Rome-based Oriental Congregation's control over the church.

The Liturgical Action Committee, which is spearheading a struggle for the Indianisation of liturgy besides demanding autonomy for the church administration, on Tuesday accused the congregation of inducing a split in the church through the Chaldean faction.

Addressing the media, the LAC leaders said the congregation was trying to vitiate the atmosphere in the church which runs over 1500 educational and charitable institutions in India.

The congregation, which comes directly under the pope, has now turned its ire against apostolic administrator Varkey Vithaythil, unhappy with his reconciliation efforts, the leaders alleged. Vithaythil has been summoned to Rome to explain his speeches.

Two of Vithaythil's predecessors had to face humiliation and persecution for adopting similar stands, recalled the committee, which asked the congregation to ''quit India'' in October last. While the first papal delegate, archbishop Kattumana had to meet with an untimely death, his successor Antony Padiyara was forced to retire.

To discuss the crisis in the church, the committee has convened a meeting of the faithful at Kochi on May 10. The meeting is expected to proclaim their rights and bring out a charter of demands with a view to preventing the Chaldean faction, hated for its anti-reforms and anti-autonomy outlook, from assuming control of the church.

The committee felt that the congregation was trying to create an artificial majority for the Chaldean faction led by Changanacherry Archbishop Joseph Powathil in the bishops synod in order to get him elected as head of the church. It also alleged that the congregation was filling the vacant and newly created posts of bishops with Chaldean sympathisers. However, in the present bishops synod, the Chaldean faction does not command majority support.

The ongoing war between the two factions has made the neutral sections apprehensive, with many fearing a split in the church. They felt that the church, which faced a vertical split in 1653, cannot afford another one now.

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