The church administration row that has been rocking different churches in Kerala has now led to yet another direct confrontation between two rival Church factions under the Malankara Church, this time at the Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church.
The ongoing dispute stems from a controversial 3 July Supreme Court verdict, which ruled that 1100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction, and not the Jacobite faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. However, in many of these churches, the Orthodox faction is a numerical minority to the Jacobite faction. The Jacobite faction, therefore feels that they have the right to manage the Churches, and have been blocking officials from the Orthodox faction from entering the Church and carrying out the rituals.
The spat on this issue between Orthodox and Jacobite factions turned violent in Kothamangalam Mar Thoma Cheriya Palli Church on Thursday after Jacobite faction members blocked the newly appointed vicar of the Orthodox faction, Fr Thomas Paul Ramban, from entering the Church.
On Tuesday, the Kerala HC had dismissed a petition filed by the Jacobite faction against the Muvattupuzha Munsif Courtâ€™s order that police protection be accorded to the Orthodox faction vicar in his attempt to enter the Kothamangalam Church. On Wednesday, the Orthodox factionâ€™s vicar Fr Thomas Paul Ramban sought police protection, and attempted to enter the Church on Thursday morning.
However, when he arrived there, a large number of Jacobite faction members, including women, blocked the vicar and police in front of the Church, causing a tense situation in the area. Eventually, the police arrested 20 Jacobite faction members, including some protesting women, from the gate of the Church.
Orthodox faction vicar Fr Thomas Paul Ramban tried to enter the Church twice, but the protesters continued to obstruct him. "I will not cancel my decision to enter church and do the prayer. I will enter the church soon.â€ť At the present time, Fr Thomas Paul Ramban continues to wait outside the gate of the Church.
Hundreds of Jacobite faction members are also continuing their protest in front of the Church, demanding that the police release the arrested members. Jacobite leaders camped there have asked currently protesting Jacobite faction members not to leave the Church, and to spread the word to invite and call together more Jacobite faction members to swell the number of protesters gathered there.
Speaking to TNM, Jacobite faction head Catholicos Baselious Thomas 1 said heatedly, â€ťKothamangalam Church will not be given to the Orthodox faction. Our laity member's will not tolerate this more. If the government takes steps in initiating talks for a compromise, the Jacobite Syrian Church will surely co-operate with the move. As of now, the Orthodox factions have no right to the Church, and some encroachers are trying to enter the church. Our laity members will not allow this.â€ť
Malankara Orthodox church PRO Fr John Abraham Konattu told TNM, "There is a clear court verdict, and the present situation at the Kothamangalam Church merely shows that the police failed to implement the Court order. If the police wanted to implement the court order, they could have implemented section 144 in the Kothamangalam Church area. But they allowed the Jacobite faction members to enter the church early morning, and then tried to implement the order and failed.â€ť
"We will not withdraw our decision to enter the Church,â€ť Fr Konattu continued. â€śWe will take legal steps to enter the Kothamangalam Church. We suspect that the government has no interest in implementing the Court order.â€ť
He recounts, â€śBetween 1958 and 1974, the church administration was followed according to the 1934 Church guidelines. But in 1974, the Jacobite faction expelled our vicar from the Church. The Supreme Court verdict in 2017 is clearly favourable to us.â€ť
Meanwhile, Jacobite Syrian Church former spokesperson Fr Varghese Kallappara told TNM, â€śThere are a total of 3000 families in the Kothamangalam Church, and only twenty of those families are from the Orthodox faction. The new vicar Fr Thomas Paul Ramban is one of those twenty Orthadox faction families.â€ť
He continued, â€śThe Kothamangalam Church is one of the oldest churches under the Jacobite Syrian Church. The Catholic Saint Baselious Yeldho Baba was laid to rest in this church. The Orthodox faction thinks that if they enter the main Churches like Kothamangalam, Piravom and Manarcaud, it will help them to enter other Churches as well.â€ť
On December 10 at Piravom, where a similar spat between the two factions is raging, an Orthodox faction vicar tried to enter inside Piravom Holy Kings Church, creating a law and order issue in the area when Jacobite members opposed the movie. A group of Jacobite faction members attempted to kill themselves inside the church, which caused the Orthodox faction to cancel their attempt to enter it on that day.