Cops break into Kerala church to remove resisting Jacobites

The chief minister said only those religious sites in rural areas have been given permission to reopen where 50 or less people visit per day on normal days. Representation purpose only. Photo: iStock.

High drama unfolded at a sixth century church on Thursday (September 26) when police, to carry out a 2017 Supreme Court order, made a forcible entry into St. Mary Church at Piravom in Ernakulam district, and removed protesting priests of the Jacobean sect, who have been fighting with the rival Orthodox sect, over possession of the church.

The administration, has taken over the control of the shrine. “The keys of the church will be given to the high court on Friday (September 27),” Ernakulam district collector S Suhas told reporters in Piravom soon after the police took control of the church.

In a 2017 order, the Supreme Court had directed that 1,100 parishes and churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction and not by their Jacobite counterpart, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. Although the church at Piravom went to the Orthodox faction as per the apex court order, the Jacobite faction quoting their majority over the rival faction refused to vacate, asserting that being the majority they have the right to carry out rituals in these churches.

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The Kerala high court recently ordered the state government to take control of the St. Mary’s Church before noon on Friday (September 27) and submit a report. It also directed the police to ensure law and order in the area. The state government had sought time till Friday (September 27) morning to remove all persons camped in the premises of the church.

Apprehending eviction, the Jacobite faction of the church on Wednesday locked themselves up in the church, preventing the Orthodox priests from offering prayers.

As the face off worsened, Kerala police on Thursday (September 26) broke open the gates of the church using cutters and forcibly removed the protesting bishops, priests and followers of the Jacobite faction from the premises, while allowing entry to the Orthodox faction.

Before the police entered the Church premises, several priests of the Jacobite faction staying inside the Church complex had threatened that they would jump into the river in front of the building, if they were removed forcefully.

The priests and the followers of the Jacobite church, including a large number of women, had protested, saying if the police used force to remove them, they would witness mass suicide inside the place of worship. Top priests of the Jacobite church including its head Baselios Thomas I were camping inside the church complex along with hundreds of followers.

The Orthodox faction reached the Church on Wednesday to take its possession after the Kerala High Court directed the police to provide protection to their priests to conduct religious services in the church.

Infuriated by their eviction, hundreds of Jacobite bishops and priests courted arrest. The district collector, however, appealed to them to “cooperate” during his conciliatory talks with them.

Also read | Tension at Kerala church after Orthodox priests prevented from taking possession

He managed to convince the bishops that “there was no other option” as the district administration was bound to implement the 2017 Supreme Court directive that those belonging to the Jacobite faction from the premises of the Church, known as Piravom Valiyapalli, be removed.

An untoward incident was averted following the timely intervention of the collector who reached the spot when the police personnel were forcefully removing the priests and followers who prevented them from entering the church.

Sensing that the situation would turn violent, the collector sought to pacify the agitating people and held conciliatory talks with the bishops.

Following the talks, a senior bishop of the church appealed to the followers to let law take its own course. When the bishops yielded to the arrest, others also followed it without much resistance.

The Kerala high court’s directive to the police came while the hearing of a plea filed by the Orthodox faction seeking a direction to the collector to take over the church and implement the apex court’s order. Even though the Supreme Court had nearly two years ago allowed the Orthodox faction to offer prayers at the church, members belonging to the rival faction allegedly prevented them from entering it.

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