Priests of the Syro-Malabar Ernakulam archdiocese in Kerala began an indefinite hunger strike at Cardinal George Alencherry’s house on Thursday, demanding his resignation.
Alencherry was allegedly involved in a dubious land deal that led to the loss of Rs 90 crore for the archdiocese. In June 2018, the Vatican removed him as the archbishop in a bid to bring truce to the church. However, on June 23 this year, the Vatican reinstated Alencherry as the head of the Ernakulam archdiocese.
For priests, who don’t have any professional union, to openly defy their head at his seat of power is unheard of in the history of the church in India.
Announcing the priests’ decision on Thursday, Fr Jose Vailikodath, the spokesman of the agitating priests, said Alencherry should keep away from administrative responsibilities. "He is an accused in 14 criminal cases (related to the land deal). So such a person should not continue to be the administrator of the archdiocese. He should not preside over the ensuing church Synod, instead a representative from Vatican should preside over the meeting. We also want that a new archbishop is appointed for the archdiocese," he said.
Jose said around 200 priests (out of 450 in the archdiocese), have gathered at the bishop’s house, and ten of them would sit for an indefinite prayer and fasting session, which can be "called as indefinite agitation".
He also said that the priests wanted the suspension of two auxiliary bishops – who had stood with the priests when the land deal came to light – revoked. He added that if the permanent Synod of the church fails to address their demands on Friday, more priests would join the indefinite strike.
All priests of the Catholic Church, at the time of their ordination, take a vow that they will remain obedient to the bishop. But Jose said, "How can we obey a bishop who gives scant respect for the civil and the church rules?"