Syro-Malabar Diocese in Chennai! When? Soon or Never?

Dreaming of Possibilities?    – By dr. james kottoor

   James kottoor  On Aug.30th 2016 CCV (Church Citizens’ Voice) published the article: “Now or never? Syro-malabar Diocese in Chennai?” by  P. C. Joseph, a spokesperson for Catholics in Chennai who are opposed to creating a different, divisivse Rite-specific diocese and new divisions  in the already existing, smoothly functioning and longstanding Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore of the Latin Rite which takes good care of Catholics belonging to various Rites.

Since this scribe had been writing on the subject for long from the sixties, at the request of the that group in Chennai I visited in the last week of September to meet the Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore to find out his thinking and discuss it with the group who were working for a happy solution for the last 50 years. The minds of former Archbishops, starting from R. Arulappa in the 1960ies followed by Archbishops Casimir Gnanadickam sj, Arul Das James, A. M. Chinnappa sdb  have been racking their brains to solve this issue for good, without much success. Now it is for the present Archbishop George Antonysamy, formerly in the diplomatic service, to try his turn and luck.

No Demand from Laity

The meeting with Archbishop Antonysamy took place on September 30th afternoon on St. Thomas Mount. He was just finishing his retreat with the diocesan priests and was very gracious to meet me and express his thinking on the issue. Very frankly he told me, “not a single lay person ever approached him with the request of setting up a Syromalabar Diocese in Chennai.” The clamour for it first and foremost has always been from the part of Syromalabar Bishops and then priests of that Rite, who are going to benefit from such a new Ecclesiastical structure.

By benefits what is meant are positions like Bishoprics, positions of Parish priests and heads of  important institutions in the new diocese. The simple lay people are not the least bothered about these things. It is something like those who form new political parties for the sake of becoming MPs or MLAs or other profitable positions in the new political party. This is beautifully expressed in the complaint of the Syromalabar Church’s oft repeated argument quoted ad nauseam at various occasions: “We produce 70% of the clergy of this country but we control only about 0.04% of the territory. Therefore we are justified in wanting more territory.”

From this as anyone can clearly understand, it is all about Control: financial and political. It is precisely for this reason, writers like me never hesitated to call this “Religious Colonization” pure and simple. True evangelization or spreading the good word is just the opposite, serving the poorest of the poor, and caring for the afflicted and abandoned, not ruling over territories or lording it over people which is diametrically opposed to the spirit of the good news Jesus preached by his words and deeds — especially his mendicant life of three years treading the dusty roads of Palestine, without having even a postal address, let alone Episcopal palaces, or posh air-conditioned rectories or offices to stay in and exert authority.

Evangelization is incarnational

Evangeliztion is incarnational, as Jesus did, becoming one with the people of the place, not importing one’s own culture  and tradition.  Since Jesus was born in Israel, he became a Jew, lived a Jew and died a Jew with the inscription “Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews (INRI) on his cross.  Had he been born in India, he would have been a Hindu,  said this scribe, and the Archbishop readily agreed.

To start a new Syromalabar diocese anywhere the first thing needed is the consent of the Local functioning Bishop. Now that person is Archbishop Antonysamy. His wish is, and it has to be the wish of the people of the place, Chennai, which is overwhelmingly against.  Some 40 years ago when a consultation of the people was done under Archbishop R. Arulappa, all participants readily welcomed Kerala priests and sisters to work in various parishes, as most of them have been known for their  real missionary spirit and zeal. But when it came to entrusting certain parishes to Syromalabar priests, opposition was too strong and reportedly only 2 among the big gathering voted for entrusting. That thinking of the people reportedly continues even today. In any case, it has to be ascertained.

Peoples’ Synod Suggested

So the Archbishop told me, that he is thinking of inviting Cardinal George Alanchery, the head of the SMC, other interested Syromalabar bishops and priests, as well as the people’s representatives in Chennai for holding a Synod in Chennai to asses the general thinking of the people of God and act accordingly. On his own, he cannot, he will not and he should not say “YES” or “NO” to a Syromalabar Eparchy, in Chennai, which is right and proper. No one can object to his stand.

I discussed this thinking of the Archbishop on Oct.3rd with the group headed by  P. C. Joseph, T.J. George, Peter Manavalan and others in Chennai. The right outcome of such a consultation will depend on the  proper representation of the members of the synod, depending on whether the participants are mostly nominated Yes-men and women of the bishop or the Parish priests or elected persons and therefore representing the views of the local people.

When the present Pope ordered a survey of the people of God (lay people) on “Challenges facing Christian Families” all over the world for the last two Vatican Family synods, most of our Indian bishops never conducted any real survey, but sent the opinions of the bishops and their council of priests as the opinion of the laity. That should not happen in this consultation on a SM Diocese in Chennai.

Voting with Slips

To prevent such a mishap, what I would suggest is the following. Once the date of the Synod of the people is fixed, all parish priests may be requested to announce it in their parishes with a sermon highlighting the pros and cons of a new Syromalabar Diocese and request the laity who wish to take part in the Synod to vote by dropping a slip with the voter’s: “Name, postal address and phone and with the inscription: “I am for the Syromalabar diocese” or “I am against a Syromalabar diocese” and drop it in the collection box to be put up in every parish. A period of three Sundays should be given for the laity to drop their votes. Those who voted in this way should be invited for the Synod to discuss various issues. Of course the organisers of the Synod may work out better ways for people’s participation.

The major threats afflicting the Church in India are manifold. Remember the priestly prayer of Jesus “that they may all be ONE” which included not only the believers and followers Jesus, but of the whole world, followers of different religions, unbelievers and atheists. That is why Jesus presented himself as the Son of Man, the ideal humane human being for all times, peoples and places.

Six Major threats

The main threats to this unity in India is: 1. First it’s age-old divisive Caste system and caste mentality afflicting the whole church starting with the Bishops. A clear proof of Bishops and  priests infected with caste mentality was the recent kidnap on last April 26th of Bishop Gallela of Kadappa, a Dalit by his own three parish priests who belonged to the superior Reddy caste. I wrote several articles on it and sent them to all Indian Bishops. A major aberration was that practically no Catholic weeklies wrote on this Kidnap. No area of India is free from this Caste mentality. In Kerala they have the community of  Puthuchristianies (newly converted from Pulayas and Parayas) and separate places and positions allotted to them in the Church in Kerala.  In Tamilnadu and Andhra this caste division is more sharp and biting.

2. Second is the inter-Rite rivalries between various Catholic Rites in India – Latin, Syromalabar(SMC) and Syromalankara Churches. This can be compared to two main political parties – Congress and BJP – and the ever so many skeleton parties sticking to them to get visibility, political and financial benefits. The Syromalabar and Malankara churches may be compared to skeleton parties, which they are sure to object although facts may prove the contrary.

        3. A third threat shattering the quality of the Catholic community is the pure blood marriage (Endogamy) practiced by the Kottayam Diocese in Kerala  which is part and parcel of SM Church and endorsed silently and promoted by word and writing by many Bishops themselves. In the present case we have the latest letter of Bishop Angadiath of Chicago diocese supported by Cardinal Alancherry and Archbishop of Kottayam. We discussed this clearly racist practice, against the decrees and directives of the Vatican, especially of the Easten Rite many times in CCV and sent them to all Indian Bishops, with not a word of response from any of the bishops, except one stay bishop of Faridabad in Delhi.

Clergy-Laity divide

4. Fourth is the sharp Clergy-laity divide in almost every diocese in India where they have not constituted either the Diocesan and Parish Pastoral Council  to guide the spiritual needs of the parish or the Parish Financial council to look after the financial needs and issues which are not to be left to the whims and fancies of the Bishop, Parish priests and their yes-men. This is a directive from the  50 year old second Vatican Council, still to  be implemented in most of the dioceses and parishes in India.

5. Fifth is the exhibition of the pomp and posh living of the Pyramidal structure of the  Church which Jesus turned upside down down when he washed the feet of his disciples and when Pope Francis gave his momentous address on the Synodality of the Church during the two Vatican Family Synods. This scribe wrote it more than 40 years ago as New Leader editor.

Caste system in India has only four grades or steps in the ladder upwards and down wards – Bhramins, Shetriays, Vaisias and Sudras the good for nothing Dalits and untouchables. But the pyramidal government structure in the church has many more steps – from the Pope at the very pinnacle of the Pyramid to the good for nothing laity at the bottom with ever so many descending divisions like –  Cardinals (His Eminences), Archbishops (His Graces), Eparchs, Bishops (His Ecellencies), Monsignors, Priests, Religious, Chevaliers(from the laity) and finally the riffraffs called the laity.

Francis & Inverted Pyramid

When Pope Francis overturned this Pyramidal structure in his epoch making Synodal speech, he placed himself one step below the bottom group laity to truly deserve the title (“Servus servorum”) Servant of Servants. Recall his start at the very outset of his pontificate, calling himself  a sinner (“I am a sinner” in his first interview) not calling himself “His Holiness”. For this and many other things Elton Johnson graphically described Francis as: “Miracle of humility in an Era of vanity.”

His latest description of the laity was that the clock has stopped and now it is the “Hour of the Laity” when every one should look up to (not look down on) the  laity to draw inspiration and listen to what they have to say in pastoral and financial practice. Are the bishops and the clergy listening to these admonitions of Pope Francis? To Solve the burning issue of starting a new Syromalabar Church in Chennai, this is a MUST, that is, listening to the  people of Chennai and drawing inspiration and guidance from them. Readers with different or better views and suggestions are cordially invited to send in their suggestions for publication in the CCV  for further reflection, modification and action.

6. All honorific appellations and different styles of royal dress in red and purple, in silk and satern must be wiped out  as an insult to  the “Behold the Man” half naked and going to be crucified. Jesus never wore a special glitering royal dress of a prince even during his royal ride into Jerusalem on the back of an ass with the accompaniment of olive branches, not gold studded ambrellas and golden or silver crosses. Here the first need of the Church is to evangelize the so-called “Evangelizers”.

There are many more things to say. But it is enough to point out, what is happening to many organised religions, especially to Islam and the start of divisions within Islam into Sunni and Shia, which reminds us of the bitter animosities between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. The Rite rivalries in the Church in India has all the potential to grow into such an open confrontation between Suni and Shia, if the sharpening divisions are not nipped in the bud. Unity is strength, divided we fall, the whole Church in India, both Syro and Latin. Let not misguided zeal for the House God (are they shining posh cathedrals?)  lead us literally to ZERO!

Contact at:, Mob:09445219203

(This write up will be forwarded to all Indian bishops for information, reflection, sharing, reaction and new suggestions. Please do something similar or better for the greater good of the public or (ad majorem Dei gloriam) for the greater glory of God! which in fact is the creation of a humane humanity!

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9 Responses

  1. almayasabdam says:

    Dear Mr. James

    My comment on your article:

    As usual, you have exercised your "prophetic role" by writing this article. As you know very well, today there is NO CHRISTIANITY IN INDIA. There is only CHURCHIANITY in which JESUS IS ABSENT. It is sad to note that even after 2000 years the church's structure is still very much "Pyramidal". The top 10% clergy rule over 90% of the laity. For their own selfish survival, the clergy adopts various strategies which have no meaning for the 90% of the laity. The gap between the clergy and the laity is ever-widening. Moreover, the "exodus" by the laity from the "Roman Catholic Church" is ever-increasing.

    "Nero fiddled while Rome burnt". Likewise our clergy is still very much focused on their Rites, Rubrics, Ceremonies, Rituals and Territories when even today 40% of the Indian population is living below poverty line deprived of their basic necessities like food, clothes, shelter, health and education. Violence, Atrocities, Exploitation and Oppression on the marginalized and excluded communities, especially girl children and women, are on the increase.Corruption and Casteism are two major evils. Human trafficking is another monster that the Indian Society is facing. How many of the clergy are really bothered about these "burning and serious issues"? As per my experience of working in the development sector, more than 95% of the clergy live in "their own dream castles" unconcerned about the dangers that the ordinary people in India face. 

    It is true that Pope Francis doing his best to be the "salt and light" of the world. But….what impact his "prophetic life" has made inside the Vatican is a million-dollar question. The UN is making a hue and cry on the importance of the "Sustainable Development Goals". Has the Catholic Church in India taken the SDGs seriously? How many of the clergy are aware of it? May be just handful of them.The number of TV channels telecasting christian "prayers / worship" 24/7 are increasing day-by-day. Have these prayers / worships brought out "attitudinal / behavioural changes" in Christians and also other viewers? If so, why the social evils are ever on the increase?  No wonder why Rabindranath Tagore rightly said "Whom do you worship in the dark corner of the temple? Open your eyes and see that God is not in font of you.." I am quite convinced that JESUS IS ABSENT FROM EVERY CHURCH TODAY.  

    Warm regards and best wishes for your prophetic ministry,

    Satyan, Bengaluru    

  2. almayasabdam says:

    Thank you so much for the thought provoking and challenging article. I wish our Indian church can heed to the voice of our saintly Pope.

    Beena Thomas

  3. almayasabdam says:

    Dear Dr. James Kottoor,

    I send you loving regards and prayerful best wishes from Lucknow, UP.
    Thank you for your Article which is very apt and inspiring. Such an Article can come only from a heart that loves Christ and His Church deeply. May the living Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God, bless you and strengthen you.

    A spiritual and moral regeneration of the Indian Church is the crying need of the hour. The 'Cross' has to find its central place in the Church and Christian mission once again.

    The Church in India needs to go through a 'death & resurrection' process urgently

    in order to be relevant to the spiritual needs of the era. Christ and Christ alone should be at the core and center of the Church. To bring Christ and His Cross back to the heart of humanity is the task of the era ahead of  disciples of the Divine Master, whether they are baptized members of the Church or not.

    Pope Francis is a gift of God for this very purpose.Go ahead courageously. The Lord is with you. I believe that just as the 'institutionalization' of the Church was a Roman legacy,the 'spiritualization' of the Church will be an Indian legacy.It has to begin with the people of God who are also citizens of India, more so from those claiming the legacy of the 'Christu Marga' preached in India by St. Thomas the Apostle..

    With much love and in union of prayers,

    Swami  Sachidananda Bharathi,  Lucknow, UP.

  4. almayasabdam says:

    Dear Dr.Kottoor,

    A copy of your letter you have sent after visiting the Arch Bishop of Madras Mylapore on the above subject, forwarded to me by Mr.T.J.George ( my son's father in law), has prompted me to take the liberty of this communication.

    I have studied your article in full length and without any reservation I fully agree with your view points. Especially the six dangers you have cautioned against call for deep and serious understanding by the laity concerned.

    Like George I have also been settled in Chennnai for the last 55 years as a member of our Latin parish, living in full harmony with the local parishoners. The syro malabar issue has changed the enviornment drastically unfavourable.

    While considering the pros and cons of the issue, unfortunately what I have been noticing is the absence of an attempt on either side to understand each other and trying to find out a basic solution. The syro malabar eparchy as feared to be established poses a serious threat to our younger generations who are used to Latin religious practices only. At the same time the floating malayalee population, who are in larger numbers, find the syro malabar mass and prayers quite welcome.However the financial greed and positional craving of the clergy have never tried to address this situation in a conciliatory manner and rather prompting a confrontation.

    Mr.V.A.George,nephew of late Mr.V.C.Cyriac I A S, who met the Arch Bishop recently had given some valuable suggestions which he appreciated and he had promised to consider them in the Bishops' Conference to be followed then. No positive outcome has been reported yet.

    I am in U S now after availing an opportunity to meet the Pope in Aug.( on my wedding Golden Jubilee). I could see that " miracle of humility in an era of vanity" quite close and took his blessings. Will our clergy ever make an attempt to heed him? While Christ himself is failing now is there any hope left? With thanks and great regards,

    Joseph K.J. Chennai,

    (I am Chairman of Thejo Engg. Ltd. an international organization)


  5. almayasabdam says:

    Thank you Dr James Kottoor. Very well written.

    For your records, Maj Gen (Retd) Jose J Manavalan, also joined our deliberations.


    Peter K Manavalan, Chennai.

  6. almayasabdam says:


    Excellent article, James.

    God bless

    John Dayal,Delhi

    7th October 2016

  7. almayasabdam says:

    Yes Joe, you are 100% right. If I had more time to reflect perhaps I would have written just that. I came back from Chennai only yesterday and I wanted to finish the report and send it today. I am fully sold on what you say. Perhaps I would have gone one step further and said, he would have been born an "Untouchable", not Dalit. Now I am fully concerned about the untouchables in India whether in society or Church. Thanks for the timely correction. God bless you. 

  8. almayasabdam says:

    Dear James,

    Just one observation. If Jesus were to be born in India he would have  been born as a dalit, not a  high caste Hindu. You  say in your article that Jesus would have born here as a Hindu. No, not a Hindu, but a dalit.

    Joseph Mattam sj, Faridabad, 7th October 2016

  9. almayasabdam says:

    A very pointed article, especially the six points which ail the Catholic Church.  But unfortunately it is our Laity stalwarts like John Dayal who in cahoots with our church authorities, avoid speaking openly against Casteism prevalent among Catholics, while championing Dalit cause at different forums. 

    Both the clergy and the so-called laity leaders conveniently forget that through Baptism, all Christians become one with Christ in body and spirit.  All Christians are therefore equal and there is no higher or lower caste in Christianity.  It is very unfortunate that there are separate castewise queues for communion and even separate walled burial grounds based on castes, among Christians in Kerala, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh.  This is total dichotomy.  The sooner the faithful realise this simple truth (axiom) the better.  They should not allow themselves to be misled by the Church leaders who are only playing caste-cards to be in the leadership frame and on national channel TV discussions.  Can any church leader say on the TV channels or in a court of law (where they are reportedly fighting a case for Dalit cause) that Casteeism is very much prevalent in the Catholic Church?  On a pointed question whether Casteeism is being practised in the Christian Church, the official affidavit given by the Church in Supreme Court  is Casteeism is NOT PRACTISED in the Catholic Church whereas the truth is different. Just as one cannot serve two masters, Christianity and Casteeism (dalits, brahmin, Kshatryiaas, Sudras) cannot co-exist.  Whichever way our power-hungry-jet trotting leaders may try to convince us, it is totally against the Christian or Catholic (which means universal) spirit.


    Isaac, Kolkata

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