Dispute between two Kerala churches turns so ugly that even the dead can't rest in peace

The rivalry between Orthodox and Jacobite factions of Malankara Church in Kerala is not something new. But the decades-old spat has now reached a new low, with one of the factions raising a demand, that is clearly inhumane.

In an appalling move, the Orthodox faction has approached the District Court, seeking to exhume the body of a person belonging to the Jacobite faction, who was buried in a church cemetery in Ernakulam in August.

Joseph Paily (74), a resident of Puthencruz in Ernakulam passed away on August 20 due to liver disease. In what should have been a peaceful adieu to Joseph by his family members, the funeral turned into a warzone when members of rival faction - the Orthodox - did not allow the final rites to be performed. 

Joseph Paily was a member of the Jacobite Syrian Church, one of the factions of the Malankara Christians. Malankara Orthodox Church is the rival faction that is at present the custodian of St John’s Church in Kanniattunirappu under Thiruvaniyoor gram panchayat limits in Ernakulam district. 


Joseph Paily (74), a resident of Puthencruz in Ernakulam

According to Joseph’s family, the members of Orthodox faction, including the present vicar, had protested against burying Joseph’s mortal remains in the cemetery of St Johns Church. Finally, after much dramatic events and with the assistance of the police, Joseph was laid to rest at his family tomb at the cemetery on August 22.

While the family was still mourning the death of Joseph, in a bizarre turn of events, the Orthodox faction of the church, led by Father John Moolamattom, approached the court on August 26, seeking to exhume the body.

In the petition filed to the district court in Ernakulam, Father John has also asked to take action against those who took part in the funeral rite, including the police officials, for assisting the funeral.

According to the Supreme Court ruling of 2017, the parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church will be under the control to the Orthodox faction. Though Orthodox faction was having control of the St John’s Church for the past many years (since a similar SC verdict in 2002), it was possible for the Jacobite faction to bury the deceased members at the cemetery of St John’s church.

“Since the latest SC ruling, we have been conducting the final rites and prayers at a temporary hall since we are not allowed inside the church. But, we could still bury the person in the cemetery. This, however, was also inhuman as they won’t allow any of our priests to get inside the cemetery. We suffered all this, and now they have become more aggressive. Now, they are not allowing any of the Jacobite members to be buried there,” said John K Mathew, a relative of Joseph.

‘This is not Christian-like’ 

Joseph Paily’s family, most of whom who are settled in the United States, are devastated with the recent developments they are hearing from Kerala.

“Whatever it is, such demands like asking to exhume the body of a person is saddening. It is not Christian-like for them to make these demands,” Joseph’s daughter Jean told TNM.

Joseph is survived by his wife Elsy and three children who are settled in the United States.

“He used to always say not to make him part of any issues related to the church factions. But then he had told us that after his death he wanted to be buried in his family tomb at the cemetery where his father and brother are buried,” said Joseph’s relative John.

Though the funeral took place amidst chaos, Joseph’s family and close friends never expected that such a demand would be raised by the Orthodox faction.

“Uncle was the kindest person one could ever come across. To see this happening to him is very disheartening and the family is now in a sad plight. I hope that the issue reaches the concerned officials and the family is spared this anguish,” said Swetha Vijay, Jean’s friend.