KOCHI: The dispute over the ownership of St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church at Kolenchery seems to be just a dress rehearsal for the rows to follow.
With verdicts on various cases filed by both factions claiming the ownership of many a church expected soon, the dispute at Kolenchery may spark off more problems across the state. The faithful belonging to both sides are awaiting the verdict on the ownership of churches like Kadamattom church, Trikkunnathu Seminary and Kothamangalam Cheriyapally.
The ownership dispute of around 250 churches across the state is to yet to be decided by the court. “The Supreme Court verdict in 1995 that the Constitution of 1934 should be upheld gives an edge to the Orthodox faction,” said Fr Philip, Orthodox Church deputy secretary.
According to the 1934 constitution, the administrative heads of the Church should be elected by the elected bodies of laity and priests. While the Orthodox faction elects their priests, bishops and even Catholicos by the representatives of laity and priests, the process in the Jacobite faction is done as per the directions from Antioch - the Iraqi base of the Syrian Churches’ Patriach.
But the Jacobite representatives argue that the ownership of individual churches can be decided only by the parishioners.
“The Supreme Court order says that the ownership of individual churches should be decided only by the parishioners. So, there should be a referendum for deciding the ownership of individual churches,” said Babu Paul, managing committee member of St Peter’s and St Paul’s Church, Kolenchery.
The verdict by the apex court also states that the supremo of the Malankara Church is the Patriarch. There are agreements for many of the individual churches. As per these written agreements signed in 1913, their ownership rests with the Patriarch.
Though partition seems to be the permanent solution for the vexed issue, both factions are hesitant to go that way.
Around 60 churches in the Malabar area had been partitioned successfully. When the protests on the issue took violent turns, many from the two warring factions had lost their lives. In the event, if both sides agree upon partition as a solution, such violence can be avoided.