July 8, 2019
Kochi: Kerala has landed between the devil and the deep sea after the Supreme Court threatened to put its chief secretary behind the bars if its orders on Malankara church ownership issue was further delayed.
The two factions of the church are at loggerheads and all attempts to buy peace have failed in the past.
The court made the observation as the state was sitting on its judgement issued in 2017 related to a dispute between two factions on right to conduct administration and prayers in churches.
The court made the observation while hearing a matter related to the implementation of its order on giving control of 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church to the Orthodox faction.
The 2017 verdict said that 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines.
Jacobite church followers have been accused of preventing access to the Orthodox faction, ignoring the orders of the high court and the Supreme Court.
The Kerala government was going soft on the church issue as it did not want to antagonise the minorities even as the government ruthlessly implemented the order in the Sabarimala case.
After encountering severe criticism for handling Sabarimala issue, the government tried in vain to implement the Supreme Court order in December last year at St Mary’s Church, Piravom in Ernakulam.
The faithfuls of Jacobite faction scaled the church and threatened to commit suicide when the rival Orthodox Church tried to take over the control backed by police.
The police and revenue authorities backed out and persuaded the rival faction move away due to the tense the situation.
The Christian population of Kerala comprises Catholic, Jacobite Syrian, Orthodox Syrian, Mar Thoma, Church of South India, Dalit Christians and Pentecostal Churches among others. The Catholics form 61 per cent of the Kerala’s Christian population. The disputing factions, Jacobite and Orthodox Syrian, constitute 15.9 percent of the Christian population.
The Malankara Church first split in 1912, into the Jacobite and Orthodox groups. The two Churches reunified in 1959, but the truce lasted only until 1972-73. Since then, the two factions have been engaged in battle over ownership of churches and their wealth.
Of the 1,064 churches, some 15 have been remained closed without worship for several years.
The battle for ownership is very intense in around 200 churches, where both factions are equally strong.
The head of the Orthodox Church is Baselios Mar Thoma Paulose II, based in Kottayam. The Jacobite Church is a part of the worldwide Syrian Orthodox Church, with the Patriarch of Antioch as its supreme head. In Kerala, the Jacobite Church has Mor Baselios Thomas I as its chief.
When contacted, Fr John Abraham Konat told The Covai Post that the church has not received any communication from the government.
He said the church is awaiting for the court order after which it would chalk out its future programme.