In 5 points, all you need to know about Kerala’s Pirovam church stand off
The fight between Orthodox and Jacobite factions of Kerala’s Pirovam St Mary’s Church intensified on Thurday with the police entering the premises to implement the Supreme Court order of handing over the control to the Orthodox group.
The two factions of the Syrian church in Ernakulam have been fighting for the control of 1000 odd churches and their rich coffers. In 2017, the Supreme Court had upheld the 1934 constitution of Malankara church and gave Orthodox group control over 1100 parishes and churches in Kerala but Jacobites, who were controlling majority of the churches, are not ready to give up.
On Thursday, Kerala High Court directed the district collector to take control of the church. The collector said it will remain locked some time to avert further showdown.
Here’s all you need to know about the controversy:
*About the church
St Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral is a major pilgrim centre of Syrian Christians believed to be founded in 6th century. It was rebuilt and modified in 1932. It was with the Orthodox faction but in 2002 Jacobites forcefully took it over after kicking out Orthodox Vicar Father Skaria Vattakattil. Among 1000-odd contentious shrines, it is an important one.
*Christians in Kerala
Kerala is one of the oldest Christian settlements and St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Lord Jesus, is learnt to have visited the state in first century AD. He is believed to have landed in Muzaris (now Kodungalur) and converted many.
Catholics constitute 60 per cent of believers in the state. There are three major denominations_ Syro-Malabar, Latin Catholic and Syro-Malankara . Among them, Syro-Malabar is prominent that controls 5000-odd institutions across the country.
*Genesis of the dispute
The Syrian Malankara Church has two factions -- Orthodox, which is headquartered in Kottayam, and Jacobites, who consider the Patriarch of Antioch, based in Beirut, as their supreme leader. The tiff between two factions over the control of 2000-odd churches and 30 million believers of Malankara church (all over the world) is almost a century old. Some differences between top echelons of the Malankara Church led to divide and it grew over the years.
During a brief period between 1958 and 1970, following a Supreme Court ruling, both factions remained under one roof with Kottayam being their headquarters. But since 1970 they have been at war over control of churches. The issue came to a head on in 2017, when after decades of legal war, the apex court ruled that there are no grounds for Jacobites to claim any of the churches of the Orthodox section.
*What the SC verdict says
In its 2017 verdict, the Supreme Court upheld the 1934 constitution of the Malankara church and gave Orthodox group control over 1100 parishes and churches in Kerala but Jacobites who were controlling most of them were not ready to part with them.
Jacobites say Orthodox group had illegally introduced a series of amendments in original document (1934 constitution of Malankakra church) and they need forensic examination of these documents to prove its veracity. They say Orthodox managed a favourable verdict citing “false documents.”
*The state government’s stand
The state tried to implement the SC verdict a number of times but Jacobites opposed it tooth and nail. Last year, many believers climbed the roof of the Piravom church and threatened suicide when police came to implement the verdict. The State government at one point submitted an affidavit saying there will be bloodshed if the verdict was implemented. It faced serious strictures from the top court. Now it is forced to take action after Orthodox group filed a contempt petition against it.