"The faithful are given full freedom to choose the type of faith."
Archbishop Mar Bharanikulangara
(MalayalaManorama – Delhi edition. 24 September 2014)
A group of Syro-Malabar faithful against the change of the style in religious and spiritual practices ready to solve all problems through consultations and discussions in accordance with the global catholic laws for many years.
Although the Syro-Malabar Catholics who were in Delhi for many years and practicing different rite prayers are supposed to come back to the Syro-Malabar rite, if anyone finds it difficult to do so, we do not force them to do so. Bishop Bharanikulangara said that each faithful has the right to choose to remain in whatever rite they want to.
“To be a Syrian in Kerala and a Latin in Delhi is not accepted by the Church laws. Lay people have to remain in one rite. Either they join the Archdiocese of Delhi as its member or they must become a member of the Diocese of Faridabad. If any Syro-Malabar person for practical reasons wants to join the Latin diocese, I will whole heartedly accept such a request. This is very clearly stated in the Joint Pastoral Letter”.
An interviewwith Archbishop Mar Bharanikulangara
Q1. There is a group of Syrian people who don’t want to join the Syro-Malabar diocese. They have sent an application to the Pope.
If anybody does not want to join the Syro-Malabar diocese, they need not. Nobody will force them. Let them remain in the Delhi diocese. If they wish to remain in the Latin Church, they have to sacrifice their membership in the Syrian church in Kerala and become a part of the Delhi Diocese. One rite in Kerala and another rite in Delhi is not allowed. This is a decision neither by me nor by the Faridabad Diocese. This is the law of the universal Catholic Church. The church laws are meant for the good of the faithful. They have to be obeyed.
Q2. The group of people says that the Delhi Catholic communitywas peaceful. They say that the founding of the Faridabaddiocese has created problems and divisions among the people.
When the Syro-Malabar diocese was formed in Faridabad, the Syrian Catholics received it with great enthusiasm. It was started in Delhi with the full concurrence of the Archdiocese of Delhi and the CBCI. A small group of people expressed their displeasure. Their problems can be solved through dialogue. I am ready for that dialogue.
Q3. In the Joint Pastoral Letter you and the Archbishop promulgated in November,it was stated that all the faithful will have to go back to their own rites and that they have no choice. Is it not a an application of force?
Once the Syro-Malabar diocese(the Archdiocese of Faridabad) is established in Delhi, all the faithful who are of Syro-Malabar origin have automatically became part of it. It is this fact that has been stated in the Joint Pastoral letter. In the event of the establishment of a Syro-Malabar diocese, all Syrians became a part of it. But those who do not want to be a part of this Eparchy are free to join any religious practice and rite they like. The propaganda that everyone has to compulsorily join Faridabad Diocese is wrong.
Those in Delhi who want to remain in the Archdiocese of Delhi can give me a letter stating this fact and I will immediately accept it and approve it. This is a simple procedure without any expense. There are many Syrian Catholics who has written to me and joined the Latin diocese. They have no complaint in Delhi.
Q4. If some of these people find it difficult to give the letter directly, what should they do?
According to the laws of the church, when a Syro-Malabar faithful is want to change his or her rite has to first approach the Syro-Malabar Bishop with the request. I will sanction the request and send the request to the Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto and also inform the concerned Kerala Syrian Diocese about this change of rite. With the permission of Anil Couto, they become part of the Latin church and at the same time their membership of the Syro-Malabar Church will be removed. If anybody has difficulty in giving the above letter, they can give it to Archbishop Couto. When he sends it to me, I will immediately give permission. There is no need of giving the letter to me. I can do to nothing more help these people.
Q5. Those people who have their roots in the Syro-Malabar families and still have connections in Kerala will not find it easy to leave their religious practices in Kerala and at the same time it is not easy to leave the Latin religious practices which they were practicing for years. Doesn’t the Catholic Church allow religious freedom?
Everyone has full freedom. But according to the Law, one person can practise only one rite. One cannot practise one rite in one city and another in a different place. They have to decide to stay permanently in one rite. The decision is theirs and theirs only. The problems of those people, who have come to the forefront with protests, can be solved amicably and I am willing to make needed adjustments within the framework of the church laws. If they write a letter to me, they can join the Latin diocese as Latin Catholics. After many years, if these people go back to Kerala, if they want to go back to the Syro-Malabar Church, they can write to the hierarchy there and that will be accepted. What more can I do for them? Is it not exactly what they want? I do not understand the purpose of their protest.
Q6. The argument that the faithful has the freedom to choose their religious practices is only a trick or cover up. In reality, many faithful believe that there is no freedom for the people? Why is it so?
They have full freedom. I assure that we do not exert any sort of pressure on the members of the church to join the Faridabad Diocese. They are allowed to choose any rite. But they have to follow certain procedures. This is a part of church laws. Even though I stated that the letter be given to me, I am willing to make exceptions in that also. In spite of the fact that there are many approaches to solving the problems, there is no meaning in protesting.
Q7. What happens if the Pope accepts their petition asking forspecial permission to allow them to remain as Latin Church ?
I will welcome such a decision whole-heartedly. I will accept with open hands any decision which he takes by giving any exception to the church laws. I am only following the procedures of the church laws.
Q8. What are the consequences of such an exception?
They will remain in the Latin Diocese. This is the same offer that Archbishop Anil Couto and I are promising at the local level.
Q9. When the Kalyan Diocese was formed, the Syro-Malabar faithful were given some concessions from the Pope.
The situation in Bombay was different. There it was made compulsory that all the Syro-Malabar faithful should become members of the Kalyan Diocese. Here the situation is different. The faithful are given the freedom to choose the rite they want. They only have to go through the procedures as per the church rules. For 25 years I lived as an NRI outside India. I respect the freedom of faith of the faithful.
Q10. The children of the Syro-Malabar families who are born and brought up in Delhi have followed the rituals and prayers of the Latin rite for many years.Will it not be difficult for these children to study and follow the Syrian rite?
Every rite has its own individuality. Adults have followed the Syrian rite practices in Kerala. I think that after an interval of many years, these adults who have returned to Kerala do not find it difficult to follow the Syrian rite because it is the prayers they followed in their childhood. In the case of their children, in order to avoid any difficulty, the Sunday classes are held entirely in English in the Faridabad diocese. There are Hindi and English masses besides Malayalam masses. We have even started masses in the Punjabi Language.
Q11. A few days back a Delhi Syrian family member had to come back to Delhi to get the permission letter from a Syrian Priest for the marriage of his son. Don’t you think that these kinds of difficulties will trouble the faithful in Delhi?
This is what happens when the faithful want to remain in Delhi as a Latin and in Kerala as a Syro-Malabar follower. When Delhi had only a Latin diocese, for Baptism and for Marriages the letter from the Latin diocese was accepted in Kerala. Once the Syro-Malabar Diocese is established, it becomes compulsory to obtain the permission letter from the Syro-Malabar Church. This is not my decision.
This is a decision taken by the Kerala Bishops Synod with the permission of the Vatican. In order to avoid these problems, the faithful must remain in one single rite. There is no bar for anyone to join the Latin church and there is no compulsion for anyone to join the Faridabad Diocese. In case in future any difficulty crops up in the problem of letters in respect of Baptism or marriage, don’t blame the Syro-Malabar diocese.
Q12. In the synod in Delhi in 2002, only 15% or less people approved of a suggestion of
establishing a Syro-Malabar Diocese. Was Faridabad Diocese a reed ofthe society?
When the population of Syro-Malabar faithful increased, a decision was taken to start a diocese of their own. It was the Pope who took the decision. This decision was taken due to a realisation of such a need. The Church does not take decisions depending on the survey results of a synod. The decisions taken at an Archdiocesan level can be negated by Pope using his unlimited powers.
Discussions and opinions will continue.
Team Rite Coordinating Group to Editor
Eparch Kuriakose’s interview in MM is tragically full of non-existent “laws”, doublespeak and diversion; and this has characterized the entire SM Church’s handling of the reality of migration of Kerala Catholics.But nothing better can really be expected from a Church that has publicly expressed in the public media its disdain for the “inferior” Latins and privately shown utter contempt for an intelligent and educated laity..
The Eparch says a person wanting “to change his or her rite has to first approach the Syro-Malabar Bishop.”Also, “one rite in Kerala and another rite in Delhi is not allowed. … This is the law of the universal Catholic Church.” To begin with, the community in Delhi has made it repeatedly clear that they refuse to change their SM rite. So where is the question of being this rite here and that rite there? Where is the question of approaching him? Clearly these aredeliberate diversions from the issue.
Again, “the situation in Bombay was different. There it was made compulsory that all the Syro-Malabar faithful should become members of the Kalyan Diocese. Here the … faithful are given the freedom to choose the rite they want.” Again, he twists the issue completely! How often does he have to be told that the laity here refuse to change their rite, so the question of choosing a rite does not arise? Besides, what did the Kalyan Indult actually say? Something that the SM Church knows very well indeed but are too embarrassed to admit: that the faithful of SM ancestry could continue obtaining full pastoral care and sacraments from the Latin Church without foregoing their SM ancestry!
Later he says, “according to the Law, one person can practise only one rite … They have to decide to stay permanently in one rite.” This is legal misinformation! The Canons never mention “practising” only one rite. They refer to “belonging”. Besides his “laws” are fiction. Here are the actual “laws” from the Code of Canons of Eastern Churches” (CCEC). Canon 38 is very clear: “Christian faithful of Eastern Churches even if committed to the care of a hierarch or pastor of another Church suiiuris, nevertheless remain enrolled in their own Church.” It seems to be the Eparch who wants them to “sacrifice their membership” and it is therefore he who runs afoul of Canon 31–“No one can presume in any way to induce the Christian faithful to transfer to another Church sui iuris.” The Eparch seems to be “inducing”, either by bluffing or by threatening them.
“The propaganda that everyone has to compulsorily join Faridabad Diocese is wrong.” This is political and bureaucratic doublespeak. You don’t have to join, but if you don’t join, we will see through our SM Synod and our priests in Kerala that your children will not get married in the Catholic Church!
When MM brought up the case of the father who had to fly back to Delhi to get the NOC, what is the Eparch’s attitude? Does he show the slightest regret or concern? No, he blames it on the faithful – “This is what happens…” instead of admitting it was utter bureaucratic insensitivity and callousness.
But what about the teeny tiny minority that would actually like to change their Rite (their experience with the Eparchy having completely disillusioned them about it)? “This is a simple procedure,” claims the Eparch. “There are many Syrian Catholics who have written to me and joined the Latin diocese. They have no complaint in Delhi.” Fiction again! Those who applied were treated like little children, given a lecture and ordered to attend the SM church for 6 months! So why is there “no complaint in Delhi”? Because some of the faithful are so afraid of marriage certificates being refused to their children that they have formally joined the Eparchy against their will. If this one bureaucratic hurdle is removed, are they likely to stay on? The Eparchy is rightly apprehensive that they won’t.
But what if someone really wants to change his rite. Canon 32 - §1 and §2 taken together with Canon 36 provide that such a “transfer to another Church sui iuris takes effect at the moment a declaration is made before the local hierarch or the proper pastor of the same Church or a priest delegated by either of them and two witnesses.” Indeed there is no need for either of the Bishops to be present – they can delegate this power to any or all (Latin and SM) Parish Priests, for instance. But the Eparch will not tolerate that – he insists they come and bow to him.
In the Joint Pastoral Letter of November, the Eparch has actually appropriated powers to himself far over and above the CCEC. Canon 32-§2 explicitly calls for both the Bishops’ consent. But the JPL states that any ”exception” has to approach the SM Eparch; who will then “apprise the Archbishop of Delhi on the appropriate course of action” on the basis of “pastoral exigencies”. To begin with, what “pastoral exigencies” apply to an adult wanting to change the rite? Is the Eparch going to decide for that adult? Second – and here it actually gets offensive – who is this Eparch to presume to “apprise” the far senior Archbishop of Delhi on an “appropriate course of action”? Is this not Eparchial arrogance?
Then a half-truth: “It was the Pope who took the decision.”Well, perhaps the Pope signed the decision to set up the Eparchy; but obviously he was not the one who studied the issue. When an issue comes up to him, he expects that the “consecrated” people below him tell him the truth. What if they suppress the fact that the laity of Delhi had, in accordance with an Archbishop’s Decree of 2005, formally registered not to join any such Eparchy? What if they put up “lies, damned lies and statistics” instead?
Let’s start with the statistics. The Eparch refers to the “increase in the population of Syro-Malabar faithful”. Even today its website and other documents claim a population of 100,000-120,000 people. In our Petition, we have conclusively proved, with the help of Delhi Govt and GOI statistics that the actual figure is barely over 28,000! And this is one of the “facts” presented to the Pope?
Now the lies. “When the Syro-Malabar diocese was formed in Faridabad, … a small group of people expressed their displeasure.” The only published statistics of the Delhi Archdiocese (2002) showed that just about 12% wanted such an Eparchy – and the rest either did not want it or were against it. It is this 88% that the Eparch calls a “small group”! Again, the JPL says this was a “cherished dream”. If it were, why is there such a massive wave of protest against it? In any case, why not just welcome those whose “cherished dream” it was and let the others be happy the way they are?
Finally, to state that “the problems of those people can be solved amicably and I am willing to make needed adjustments”is simply not credible, Every intelligent person knows that “the law” is quite distinct from “procedures”. Where there is positive intent, “canonical requirements“ can easily be met without cumbersome and insensitive bureaucratic procedures (for example by delegating powers to all parish priests, as suggested above). On the other hand, talking down to the laity and using the holy sacraments as means of threat and coercion do not inspire confidence in the Eparchy.