Now or never? Syro-malabar Diocese in Chennai?

P.C. Joseph, Chennai,  email:

(Note: Given below is a letter from a local group of Catholics in Chennai, mostly from Kerala, strongly opposed to the setting up of a Syromalabar Eparchy there, like Kalyan in Bombay and Faridabad in Delhi.

Historically, the first attempt of the Syromalabar Church was to get an Eparchy sanctioned by Rome in Cennai, with all the St.Thomas related sites like, St.Thomas Mount, Little Mount and the Tomb of St. Thomas in Mylapore. For that purpose they built around 30 small and medium size chapels or churches, most of them without the prior permission of the Archdiocese. Eventually they got them approved by Archbishops of the place, some of whom were pliable to coaxing, or reportedly “speed money” (brief case) while others opposed it  tooth and nail. 

The present Archbishop is reportedly a strong opponent of all such inducements, and therefore the “status quo” at present, according to reliable sources is that no eparchy will be permitted immediately at least. The letter below is from P.C. Joseh, a prominent spokes person of Keralites in Chennai, who are opposed to a Syromalabar Eparchy there. It has a long history and the writer P.C. Joseph simply highlights different happenings under various Latin Archbishops. 

The view of CCV is that eagerness to establish Syromalabar dioceses in Major shining, posh cities in India like Bombay, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and in financially rich countries like US, Canada, Australia, Middle East, UK, and Europe, while they are reluctant or unwilling to go to rustic villages and poor countries in Africa, is clear proof of an objectionable mindset, which is as worldly as religious colonialism pure and simple. Evangelization is not promoting a man-made divisive Syromalabar Rite but proclaiming a unifying kingdom of God without borders as  preached by Jesus. Priests and religious zelous about spreading the Good news can go to any diocese and work under the local bishop. But the Syro Rite people don’t want to work under or with any one. They want to Lord it over, establish their authority and Rite-colonies every where which is against all Gospel principles of incarnation into and identifying with the culture of the place. Jesus James Kottorbecame a Jew since he was born in Palastine. If he had to it in India, he would have been a Hindu. But none of these principles seem to deter the Syromalabar troop from their continued effort to conquer and rule. So this fight, this Rite rivalry is likely to go on for long. james kottoor, editor)

Obedient and God-fearing sheep (Goats) in Chennai, are a boon to a shepherd. A little guilt feeling (Like Catholic Guilt) and fear of hell fed to them along with mother’s milk keeps them obedient and cool. Till 1990 there was a “Maharon” (excommunication) sword hanging over them. Vatican removed it by accident.  

There was an attempt for ecumenical unity in 1963-64 by Blessed John 23rd during the Vatican II. Full documents were published. 

The Syro Malabar Rite got the shock of their life, when they read the Vatican II documents. They saw that their separate colour will be merged into the united colour of the universal Catholic Church. They realized that the chance of a Syromalabar prelate becoming a pope is zero. Even to become a bishop or cardinal, they were at the mercy of Vatican bigwigs. To kiss Pope’s hands they have to be on their knee. It is near impossible to get more Malayali Saints. After all, anyone can dream to become a saint. All these are due to poor strength and weak lobby. 

We are different

They dug out from the Vatican II document, that the oriental churches can follow their ancient liturgy and prayers. Since Kerala is east of Vatican they were sure that they are of Oriental Churches. Their planning was meticulous. They managed a fairly strong lobby in Vatican. They were successful in bringing out the canon of the oriental churches which gives the bishops power to make laws, implement laws and interpret and judge (even Idi Amin did not have such powers). They were able to please the Prefect of pontifical congregation, according to his taste.(Seven members of his family were given jobs in “Our” banks.) They got declaration with signature from the heads of all families in few dioceses confirming that all properties of the church belong to the pope and the bishops are the trusties.

They selected 4th century Caldian liturgy which is distinctly different from that of the universal church and similar to that of orthodox churches. Since all could not agree on the form there are three different versions of liturgy for Syro Malabar churches in Kerala. They brought in Claver Cross as St Thomas cross (later some one discovered that it was the prohibited Manikayan Cross). More changes were made to look different. In one of all the changes, they rescued Jesus Christ from the cross, by removing His body from the Crucifix and ordered all churches, convents and homes to do so just like orthodox churches. (They withdrew this decree when some Malabar lay leaders warned that they will cut off the hands, if anyone touches their crucifix)

Diocese within diocese

After all the planning they decided to test the waters in Madras, where the Kerala Catholics have made  name and money.  

The prefect of the pontifical congregation for the Oriental Churches was brought to Chennai to announce the decision on behalf of the Holy See. His eminence said that “I am going to plant a seed in Chennai. It will grow into a large tree to cover all over India." 

A small voice asked from behind, “Will it be a medicinal tree or a poisonous  tree?” The prefect did not like that question. His eminence appointed Mar Padiyara as Pontifical visitor to go around India and find out the minds of the sheep. Mar Padiyara wrote after visiting many places that, “The Syro Makkal are going astray for want of pastoral care. They want it in their language and rite. They do not take annual confessions or say proper prayers. Please give them soon Syro rite dioceses and bishops. Amen”.

44 Latin bishops wrote to the Holy see that it is dangerous to erect parallel jurisdiction. The parish priests wrote. The sheep cried and wrote please allow us to live and pray in peace. They did not get any reply. 

The next would-be bishop of Madras was selected. The 8 ft shepherd’s staff was made. They bought land for the Aramana (Bishop’s Palace). But a small problem came between the cup and lip. To erect a diocese within a diocese, the consent of the local Bishop was necessary. His grace R. Arulapppa said that the migrants are looked after well, and therefore he cannot give the consent. When the attempt  failed, the project was sent to Mumbai, to open Kalyan diocese without informing the sheep. 

In Chennai, bishop of Irrinjalakkuda and 25 priests and many nuns campaigned from house to house. They told the folks that it was the order of the Holy See that one should follow the Rite of their forefathers. Syro children should not mingle with the low caste Latins. Archbishop Cassimir Jnanadhikyam who followed,  said that he cannot issue a consent letter. 

Next Archbishop His Grace Aruldas James said that, another diocese within Madras is a waste of money and manpower. When the pressure from Vatican increased, he reluctantly agreed to sanction six parishes. Before he signed the decree, one P.A. Joseph wrote to him. “Dear Brother. You are a transient  here. You have to go away one day. You have no right to meddle with the spiritual life of the future generations.” The arch bishop withheld the sanction. 

The diocesan synod of 2004 voted unanimously that no parish should be sanctioned to Syro Malabar Church.” Enter through side door if front and back are closed” is the tactic they used to overcome the hurdle.

When many were trying to become the archbishop, after His Grace Aruldas James expired in 2004. There was a vacuum for the archbishop’s chair. The Syro Malabar church in Chennai conducted a Maha Retreat in 28 churches and arranged the concluding session with a Maha yogam (great gathering) at Santhome. A delegation went to Delhi and invited The Pontifical Nuncio to preside over the meeting on 20th February 2005. The Nuncio accepted the invitation. News paper release and advertisements were done for the meeting to gather 20000 faithful. 

There again a letter from Mr. P.A. Joseph reached the Nuncio. “You are only an ambassador to Vatican in New Delhi. It is inappropriate to invite you for this meeting. It is inappropriate for you to accept it. It will be inappropriate for you to preside over the meeting. Do not try to divide the faithful.”

The Nuncio understood the meaning of the letter. Though he was in Chennai on the 20th February, he left for Delhi at without presiding over the: Maha Sammelan” 

10 parishes for  one  'brief case'. 

When His grace A.M. Chinnappa took over as archbishop of Madras Mylapore,  he was asked to keep the unity of the Catholics in the diocese. He surprised all by issuing a decree in Dec 2005 that the syro Malabar church should hand over all the Chapels built without permission of the diocese and asked the Syro priests to work under him. 

It was easy for the Syro Malabar High command to find the taste of the new archbishop. They sent it in a briefcase to Santhome. In 2008 December 10 personal parishes were sanctioned to the Syro Malabar church. The syro church was not satisfied with it even. They wanted Syro Malabar diocese so that it will make all the sheep to  become its members automatically. 

October revolt 

The Archbishop invited the Syro church hierarchy and a few  Latin  bishops of the nearby dioceses to make a formal declaration for a new Syro diocese within Madras Mylapore.  The Tamil Catholic brothren came to know about it. They said no separate diocese for Syros. The Tamil Catholics were clear in their approach. They did not want the meeting itself. Around few hundreds of them prevented the bishops to enter the pastoral center. When the demonstration went up, police arrived followed by news people. 

Live telecast of the physical violence, went viral. The bishops managed to enter the hall but more protesters were inside waiting for therm. Finally the meeting and the declaration were called off. 

The diocesan Laity put up a plaint in the fast track court that the decree of the archbishop is against the resolution of the synod and it may be cancelled. The court rejected the case, saying that Catholics are under Canon Law. The plaintiffs went to appeal in the high court and it is pending for hearing.  

All these events came to the rescue of archbishop Chinnappa. “How can I give diocese when the matter is in the court?” He asked and retired peacefully. When the next archbishop His grace George Antonyswamy, was selected, the Madras Makkal sent to him complete details of the struggle by email and kept him fully informed. Immediately on his arrival in Chennai, the delegation under Syro Malabar hierarchy caught him and asked for separate diocese. “We will See” (Parkkalam), said the new Archbishop  who was a diplomat for long time.

All the money collected from the Syro enthusiasts and crores of Rupees spent  from Kerala dioceses, for the evangelization of the evangelized, were spent in real estate and construction of  few Air Conditioned Chapels. Now special collections are made in churches in Angamaly, Chalakkudy and Trichur for missionary work in Chennai. 

The Lobby in action   

Initially the Latin bishops did not react for the loss of few lakhs of Malayali Catholics. When Delhi diocese was taken over under the new Faridabad Syro Malabar diocese they said they have a strength of 95000 sheep and Delhi Archbishop has only 15000 of migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkand, and Chathiskar. 

The Syro Malabar church is now in the good books of RSS and BJP. Syro Malabar church has convinced them that they no longer convert Hindus to their churches or even conduct mixed marriages just like orthodox churches. They organized a meeting at Vijnan Bhavan for Prime Minister Naraendra Modi who thundered that all Christians are safe under him. The speech was telecasted all over US, to cool down a rumor that BJP was against Christians.

Their hold with the Prefect for the Oriental churches is visible in his instructions in English to the Delhi Catholic sheep to remove 'The sense of disorientation’ of the sheep. He allowed the syro sheep to receive few sacraments in Latin churches.  The catholic church is made of Granite stone and none can change it, even Pope Francis.

To contact: P.C. Joseph Chennai  email;; Mob:9841131372

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1 Response

  1. almayasabdam says:

    Joseph Mattappally wrote: In spite of all the Bishops and the obedient millions behind the banner, Syro-Malabar Church continues to be a mansion of power-crazy autocrats. It is strange to see that they could not so far establish a diocese of their own in Chennai, which is close to Mylapore where St. Thomas is said to have been murdered and buried. What these shephards preach and what they practise behind are different. They misuse Jesus and His name to collect money. It was immediately after a deliberately organized ceremonial Adoration that monthly donation targets were fixed for the parishoners of Parel Church at Chenganaacherry, where construction of a huge attraction has already begun. Remember that the recent Episcopal Assembly has strictly asked to avoid all luxury constructions. Resolutions will continue to be flowing out. Bishops and priests think that they are beyond everything!

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