India: Churches Take Over, Following Court Order

In India: Metropolitans were removed from the Mulanthuruthy Marthoman Cathedral Church in Ernakulam on Monday.

The Ernakulam administration on Monday took over two churches from the Jacobite Syrian Church, prompting a senior clergyman to question why the Church was not being compensated like Ayodhya’s Muslims who have received alternative land for the Babri Masjid.

The two churches are to be handed over to the Malankara Orthodox Church under a Supreme Court order in an assets controversy between the two Churches following their split in the previous century.

Rev. Sleeba Paul, trustee of the Jacobite priests, told The Telegraph: “Where will our devotees go this Sunday? In the Babri Masjid case, the court gave 5 acres to the Muslims. What was given to the 3,000-odd families in Mulanthuruthy?”

The Supreme Court had in 2017 permitted a plea by the Malankara Orthodox Church that 1,064 Jacobite churches be given to it across Kerala.

Of these, 45 have been handed over so far, the process starting last year after a nudge from Kerala High Court.

Paul said the Malankara Orthodox Church did not need so many churches in Ernakulam where its flock was smaller compared to the Jacobites.

“We are the huge majority in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts while they are more in number in Kottayam and southwards,” Paul said.

The Malankara Church had split in 1912 into Jacobite and Orthodox groups. Although the two groups reunited in 1959, the unity lasted only till 1972.

The Ernakulam administration vacated the Mulanthuruthy church at 5am on Monday with the help of police, who scuffled with a human barricade formed by the faithful who had locked the main gate.

Jacobite leaders claimed the police had manhandled their religious leaders who were guarding the main door of the Mulanthuruthy Marthoman Cathedral Church, first built 1,100 years ago.

There was hardly any opposition at the 100-year-old Sahion Church in Onakkoor in the same district.

The district administration had to take over the churches and hand over their keys to Kerala High Court before 10am on Monday.

Paul criticized the Orthodox Church members who had fought a long legal battle to take over the properties. “They need to understand that all the Jacobite churches were built with money from the poor and the Orthodox Church hasn’t spent a penny to build these churches,” he said.

A representative of the Malankara Orthodox Church, Biju Oomen, questioned the attempt by Jacobite church leaders and members to prevent the officials from carrying out their orders.

“Trying to stop officials from carrying out the court order can only be seen as challenging the rule of law,” Oomen, a lawyer by profession, said.

Jacobite leaders questioned the rationale of handing over their churches, including graveyards, to the Orthodox Church.

“More than 3,000 of our families depend on the Mulanthuruthy church while they (Orthodox Church) have only 300 families there. That apart, they have a huge church just 100 metres from the church we lost today,” Boban Varghese, general secretary of the Malankara Action Council for Christian Church Act, explained.

“They want 1,064 of our 1,700 churches. So what do we do? Where do we bury our dead? I don’t see any justice in building churches with the hard-earned money of the poor only for them to be handed over to them (Orthodox Church).”

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