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Is The Catholicate Of The Romo-Syrians In India Canonically Genuine Or Bogus?


Since our last cybercast critically reviewing the so-called Catholicate of the Romo-Syrians in India we have received many reactions from our readers. We do not have the time to elaborately analyze them for responses. However, we attempt to address some of the concerns.


Why did we coin the term “Romo-Syrians”, instead of “Syrian Catholic”? Actually this writer did not coin this term. British writers dealing with this group of Christians in Keralam had already used this term long before this writer was born! However, we give an honest response, and it is true.

The popes used to sign the official documents of the Roman Catholic Church with the title “Episcopus Ecclesiae Romanae Catholicae” (Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church). This used to be the official signature of the popes in the past. Here, the word Episcopus (bishop) signified not just the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, but the head (overseer) of the Roman Catholic Church including the uniates. We believe the Roman Catholic Syrians were and are members of this Church, and are under the Roman Pope? Can they deny this fact?

The Romo-Syrians do profess the faith and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Fundamental Theology textbooks of the Roman Church, the authors have always highlighted the name of the Church as Roman Catholic Church. It is reported that Father Anastasius, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Institute of Theology at Alwaye, Keralam, four decades ago, believed and taught if one deliberately avoided the word “Roman“ when referring to the Church, he would be a heretic! Further, he also condemned the Melkite Patriarch Maximos of Antioch to purgatory because the Patriarch did deliberately speak in French in disobedience to Pope John XXIII who directed participants to use Latin in the Second Vatican Council! If the Romo-Syrians accept the Pope of Rome as their supreme head and follow the Roman Faith why are they ashamed of using the term “Roman” with their name? We believe that the Orthodox are the true Catholics according to the definition of the term”Catholic” as understood by the Fathers of the Council of Nicea who identified and established the four notes of the Church. Therefore the Roman Church does not really qualify for the note of catholicity, as understood by the Council of Nicea.

In connection with this consideration, let me focus on the megalomania of Rome claiming to be the trend-setter of every area of knowledge, although on the majority of cases they were all false. There are many Roman Catholic scholars (?), who think that whatever is spit by Rome is ultimate and authentic, and many of them come from India, and they generally think that scholarship and erudition are the monopoly of the Roman Church, when the truth is that Rome accepts a scholarship that tries to vindicate its claims. In the area of fixing names for a group or a movement, Rome seems to act that it is her prerogative to set names for Churches. Until the Second Vatican Council (1960’s), the phrase “Roman Catholic” was arbitrarily imposed on a follower of the Pope of Rome, and was accepted by everyone without complaint. But the delegates from Middle Eastern and other non-pro-western countries were not happy with that phrase because it reflected a stigma attached to religious colonialism and, to an extent, political colonialism (because Roman religious colonialism is an offshoot of political colonialism). This was one of the reasons why Melkite Patriarch Maximos of Antioch refused to use Latin on the Council floor although he was fluent in that language (instead, he used a popular modern language- French). In order to eliminate the stigma of religious colonialism, justifications to avoid the phrase were found in the New Testament, such as, the Church of Corinth, Church of Galatia, Church of Colossia, Church of Philippia, Church of Smyrna, Church of Thessalonica, etc. Council members from predominantly Orthodox countries pressed this New Testament idea in name coining because they wanted to emphasize that they were still part of the national Church although not spiritually dependent on them.

The Roman Catholic Syrians of the Malankara Rite are the most recent uniate group within the Roman faith, and from its inception in 1930 Archbishop Ivanios deliberately shied away from using the word Roman to his group due to many reasons. Strictly speaking, this writer thinks that he was not dogmatically enamored of the Roman doctrines (about this fact this writer had written in 1966 with evidence as expressed in our previous section of this series). He wanted to present his group as a genuinely eastern group, but definitely needed the financial and legal back up for his personal agenda from an ancient church, which just happened to be Rome. Rome also had its agenda and it used Bishop Ivanios to realize those agenda, which still Rome continues to do through the group initiated by Ivanios. Ivanios was not unhappy about using the word “Catholic”, but was opposed to using the word “Roman”.

On the contrary, the so-called Chaldean (now Malabarese) Roman Catholics were proud of calling themselves Roman Catholics (I have seen school documents of many students verifying this fact). However, Vatican II influenced them also to a new direction seeking an ethnic or national identity like any other eastern churches. In this process of seeking self-identity scholars of both the so-called Chaldean Roman Catholics and the Malankarese Syrian Catholics following Roman agenda, coined two innovative phrases to signify their groups. Although Malankara and Malabar were former names of the southwest part of India, and they both meant the same, each of these groups began to be recognized based on these names. In the mid-1960’s the ecclesiastical and liturgical status of the Roman Catholic Syrians (belonging to the Nestorian rite) was restored (?). (This is a joke, readers. Some of the ancient Nestorian-based liturgical books were brought on surface, and were translated into Malayalam. Vernacularization was the only reform that took place there. Other than that they act like Roman Catholics, their bishops and priests vest like the Romans except for the cope, they have an unbearded clergy, their wedding has no crowning, and the church life is totally western and Roma. The Rosary, the Way of the Cross and the Eucharistic Procession and Benediction are their most important exercises of piety. Their Major Archbishop Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil was totally vested like Roman Catholic Cardinal during the recent conclave to elect the pope unlike three other two other uniate cardinal who looked basically eastern in their vestments! We have to dedicate another editorial for them).

With the so-called restoration came a new name for them, probably as suggested by the scholars of liturgy and history of their Church. Thus the so-called Roman Catholic Chaldean Syrians were renamed the Syro-Malabar Catholic Rite, and the group started by Bishop Ivanios, who defected from Orthodoxy, was rechristened with the name “Syro-Malankara Catholic Rite”, because its close affinity with the name, Malankara. These names went through changes again. There was another movement demanding the status of a Church for them. Thus the word, Rite, was dropped, and it was replaced with the word, Church. Thus we had two Roman Eastern Churches in India, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The confusion did not end there! Was the Church of Galatia, or the Church of Corinth called the Catholic Church of Corinth or the Catholic Church of Galatia? No! “Let us change the names again”, Rome must have mandated, or these groups must have demanded. Now these churches are without a “Catholic” character. They are now simply Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church! God! When a church goes through such a crisis of identity, what kind of character does it possess? Is it independent, self-governed, or genuine at all? This is what happens when you submit yourself as a slave before a foreign lord. He calls you with different names according his pleasure and mood. Yes, Rome has the ultimate authority to give you a name, and you accept it with deep devotion.

How could these groups deny that they are “Roman” Catholics? Let me ask the following:

If these groups follow and accept the above mentioned Roman doctrines, how could they be anything but Roman Catholic? Yes, they are Roman Catholic Syrians.

Just before the new Pope, Benedict XVI, was presented to the faithful waiting in the St. Peter’s Square, the Proto-Deacon of the College of Cardinals, Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estevez , came onto the Loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and announced in Latin:

“Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam, Eminentissimum ac Reverentissimum Dominum, Dominum Iosephum, Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger, qui sibi nomen impisuit BENEDICTUM XVI”

Do not you belong to the Holy Roman Catholic Church that Cardinal Medina Estevez is referring to? Why are you ashamed of using the word, Roman with your name? Or is there a hidden agendum for not using the word, Roman, with your name? There are many churches other than the Roman Catholic Church that constantly use the adjective “Catholic” with their names, including the Anglican Church which is a Protestant Church. Some orthodox churches also use “Catholic” with their names. When all these churches are claiming to be Catholic, it is ludicrous to claim that catholicity is the sole property of the Roman Church. Let us be honest: the only character the Church of Rome can claim for itself is its Romanness, which no other Church tries to claim for itself. When we call the follower of the Roman Church a Roman Catholic, we are indeed more charitable to our brother who follows the faith of the Roman Church!

Is the Romo-Syrian Catholicate Canonically Genuine?

First of all our readers should know that a major archbishop is not the equivalent of a Catholicos or Patriarch. The title of Major Archbishop is a Roman term to signify the head of a semi-independent Roman Catholic national church. I used the word, ‘semi-independent’, because no major archiepiscopate is totally autonomous in the strictest sense like any other national orthodox churches. A Roman Catholic major archiepiscopate is legally under the jurisdiction of the Pope, who has universal jurisdiction over every part of the Roman Church. A major archbishop is mandated to send his periodic reports to the pope and his Congregation of the Oriental Rites (now Churches!). He acts only in accordance with the Oriental code of canon laws accepted by Rome. So there is no such thing as independence. Even a Uniate Patriarch has no independent authority, or otherwise called autocephaly.

Catholicos means universal or common head of a national Church, which is a Patriarchal rank in the East. Important primatial sees within the territories of the Roman Empire were recognized with patriarchates, the heads of which were patriarchs. Heads of primatial sees outside the Roman Empire were called Catholicoi; both a patriarch and Catholicos signified the same canonical ecclesiastical position. The Catholicos of the East was and is a Patriarch, just like the popes of Rome and Alexandria are also Patriarchs. This is very clear in the first diptych of the Syrian Church, where we pray for the living spiritual fathers. We read as follows: “Let us pray for … our holy, revered and blessed Patriarchs (see the plural here) our Farther Mor Ignatius, our Father Mor Basilios, and our Father Mor Gregorios…” This is taken from original Syriac texts. Of course when Patriarch Yakub III of Antioch started his innovative agendum to minimize the functions of the Catholicos in order to make him his suffragan, his group began to use the singular to denote just the Patriarch of Antioch.

When the Orthodox Catholicos of the East, who was a patriarchal functionary, became a Nestorian, there was need for an Orthodox occupant for that See. When an Orthodox Catholicos was reinstalled with the effort and cooperation of the Patriarch of Antioch, he named him, not a Catholicos, but a Mafriano, who is the suffragan of the Patriarch. But the Catholicos of the East independently enthroned by the Holy Synod of Malankara is not a suffragan of any patriarch, but the national head of an autocephalous Church, who enjoys all patriarchal functions de jure and de facto like the Catholicos of the East before the Nestorian heresy. Archbishop Cyril Basilios and his group do not understand this clearly. What the archbishop understood is what Patriarch Zakka I had done the installation of Basilios Thomas I, who is erroneously called the Catholicos of the East by the dissident group that follows the latter. This writer has investigated on this matter very thoroughly. He inquired about it with Syrian leaders in the Middle East and in America. They emphatically state that Patriarch Zakka I has not installed a Catholicos of the East; he installed just a MAFRIANO. Actually the dissident group in India might not understand the difference between a Catholicos and a Mafriano. Archbishop Cyril Basilios got into the same trap or he is just pretending that both functionaries are the same.

When Rome establishes a major archiepiscopate, it does it because it cannot offer anything more than that. For example, the Romo-Ukrainians are demanding for their own Patriarchate parallel to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Kiev. Rome, instead, gave them a major archiepiscopate, and emphatically denied a Patriarchate as long as there exists an Orthodox Patriarchate. The only exception considered is when the Orthodox Patriarch becomes a uniate, and under this circumstance there will be continuity for the uniate Patriarchate. However, it is said that the Ukrainian uniates claim that they possess a Patriarchate de facto. Similarly, it is reported that the Syro-Malabar Roman Catholics are demanding for their own Patriarchate, but Rome is reluctant to give in because there exists an Orthodox Catholicate in India, which is of a patriarchal rank. However, it is speculated that they might get it, because the existing Catholicate does not belong to their ecclesiastical and liturgical traditions.

The Romo-Malankara Syrians always wished that the Catholicos of the East defect to Roman Catholicism. They thought the dissident Mafriano might defect to Romanism. None of them did it. Now their effort is to create a Catholicos of their own. An aggressive and ambitious prelate with the spirit of the late Archbishop Ivanios, Archbishop Cyril Basilios would never rest until he finds himself on the throne of a Catholicos. Immediately after the announcement making him a major archbishop, his dream to become a Catholicos aggressively managed to convince the Papal Internuncio at New Delhi that a major archbishop and a catholicos are the same! What does a Latin prelate, who just happened to be a nuncio in India, know about the Catholicate or the Catholicos? Poor nuncio had to believe whatever the Romo-Malankara Syrian Archdiocese dictated or reiterated. After all, Rome does not care what title any bishop might hold; what concerns Rome is ultimately who he is under. As long as he is under the Pope and as long as he still carries the title Rome has given, no other ornamental title matters much.

Did anyone watch the news-picture of the announcement made by the internuncio at the Pattom Cathedral in Trivandrum? We saw Archbishop Cyril Basilios wearing a pectoral cross with TWO engalpions on its both sides. Can a suffragan Catholicos wear two engalpions? A Mafriano is supposed wear only a pectoral cross and one engalpion. Patriarch Yakub III demanded Catholicos Basilios Eugen I to wear only one pectoral cross and one engalpion, although the Church of Malankara rejected it. Mafriano Basilios Thomas I is authorized to use only a pectoral cross and ONE engalpion, although he sometimes shows off himself with two engalpions! Only a prelate in the Patriarchal rank can wear a pectoral cross and TWO engalpions. Or did Rome make Archbishop Cyril Basilios a Patriarch? What do you think this major archbishop is up to? Is he playing a Patriarch? Can we call it audacious?

Another question: Archbishop Basilios is Catholicos of “WHAT, WHERE”? Catholicos of Trivandrum? Is there a canonical Catholicos of Trivandrum? If so, it is a new invention. Catholicos of Malankara? Definitely Rome does not possess the stupidity to call him the Catholicos of the East.

Another very important concern: Do the canons of the Roman Church, whether Latin or Oriental, accommodate a Catholicos, or do they stipulate that a major archbishop is a Catholicos? I am challenging the Romo-Syrians to show any canonical evidence to substantiate their claim. Nowhere in the Roman Canon laws do we have any evidence to prove that a major archbishop is a Catholicos. If this is so, why did the Romo-Syrian Archdiocese of Trivandrum hastily create this illusion? Who is behind it? We definitely can guess who could be behind this media stunt. Why did not Archbishop Anthony Cardinal Padiyara declare himself a Patriarch or Catholicos (Catholicos was a legitimate patriarchal rank according to the (Nestorian) tradition of the Church of the East to which the Romo-Malabarese Syrians liturgically and ecclesiologically belong?

Let us ask Rome.

Readers, Rome has never issued a mandate establishing a Catholicate under the Pope. Let us quote the report from the Vatican regarding the elevation of Archbishop Cyril Basilios.

“Other Pontifical Acts.
“Vatican City. February 10, 2005 (VIS). The Holy Father elevated the ‘sui juris” Metropolitan Church of the Syro-Malankara to the rank of Major Archiepiscopal Church, and he promoted Metropolitan Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil, OIC of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankara , India to the dignity of Major Archbishop. (He was) born in Ullannor, India in 1935, and was ordained a priest in 1960. He was ordained a bishop in 1978 and was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankaras in 1995. …” Readers, can you find any mention of a Catholicos here? Definitely Rome has never dreamt this title for the head of the Romo-Malankara Syrians.

Then where could be the source of this irresponsible falsehood? Indeed it comes from the audacious and ambitious leaders of this group.
After the announcement, someone had the courage to say without any scruple that a major archbishop is a Catholicos according to the Antiochian tradition. If the Romo-Malankarese belong to the Antiochian tradition, why did they receive an alien title (major archbishop)? Why were they not given a Catholicos by the Pope with patriarchal functions, just like any uniate patriarch. Of course Rome never foresaw this trap.

There is no precedence in the Roman Church to justify that a major archbishop is a Catholicos. There is a saying: “while truth is putting on her boots, untruth and deception have traveled around the earth”. What else can I say about this blatant falsehood!

Is there any precedence or canon in the Eastern Church to substantiate the assumption that a major archbishop is a Catholicos? You will never find it. Why is a major archbishop so enamored of the Antiochian tradition, when he does not follow anything essential that belongs to the Antiochian tradition? Please answer the following question?

These questions can go on. If the Romo-Malankarese do consider the above practices unimportant, why are they so particular that a major archbishop should be a Catholicos? There are two obvious answers; unjustifiable craving for power, and inordinate desire to confuse the faithful of the Church of Malankara. Please do not create new practices when it has no foundation in history or canons.

The story from the fables goes like this: A jackal had a dream to become the king of the forest. He found a way to realize his dream. When somebody left a large bucket of colorful paint behind his house, the shrewd jackal sneaked and jumped into the bucket. He found himself handsome with the colorful paint all over his body. He pretended like a king. He went to the assembly of all wild animals and claimed to be king over them. All animals were very happy that they got a new king. In jubilation every animal shouted in its own natural voice. The self-proclaimed king of the forest could not control himself. Out of his extreme joy, he also shouted along with the rest of the animals in his own natural sounds just like any other jackal. Immediately the rest of the animals realized he was the old jackal, and not a real king… One can imagine what would have happened then. This writer deeply apologizes if this story offends anyone.

A week ago, one of my relatives in India emailed me about the festivities upon the news that the Romo-Malankarese have a “BAVA”. I wondered if they would call their new so-called Catholicos a “BAVA”. Bava comes from the Arabic word, BABA, which is the Arabic version of the Greek word, PAPAS, or PAPA. This is the same as Papa in Latin, which means Pope in the English language. Actually this is the title of the head of a Church. If the Romo-Syrians have a Catholicos and if he is under the Roman Pope, are there two Bavas or popes? Think about it seriously.

To conclude: A major archbishop is not a Catholicos. If the Romo-Syrians still insist that their major archbishop is a Catholicos now, his position is un canonical and has no foundation in Church history. The so-called Catholicate of the Romo-Malankarese is phony. It is indeed BOGUS.