The Kerala government on Monday took over two churches, including the ancient Cathedral at Mulanthuruthy, after police removed protesting followers of the Jacobite faction as part of implementation of a 2017 Supreme Court order granting possession of over 1,100 churches to the rival Orthodox group.
The churches in Mulanthuruthy and Onakkoor in Ernakulam district were taken over by the authorities, complying with court orders, police said. The use of force to take over the churches was condemned by opposition Congress-led UDF convenor Benny Behanan.
Police entered the Cathedral atMulanthuruthy, armed with a recent Kerala High Court order directing the District Collector to take over it on a contempt petition filed by the Orthodox vicar. They broke open the church gate locked by the Jacobites, who gathered there since Sunday night, and forcefully removed the priests and followers.
While the Jacobites condemned the police action at Mulanthuruthy, alleging the administration "acted in haste to satisfy the needs of someone", Orthodox faction welcomed the taking over of the church, saying justice had been done.
Kuriakose Theophilos, a bishop of the Jacobite Church, alleged that at least 30 people, including senior priests and children, were injured in the police action. He said Mulanthuruthy Marthoman Cathedral is one of the ancient churches that has got a significant place in the Jacobite Christian faith. "We have around 15,000 parishioners in Mulanthuruthy.
Due to the unmindful police action, our followers have lost one of our important places of worship," he claimed. The priest alleged that the police also used force while taking control of Onakkoor Church at nearby Piravom.
The Orthodox faction alleged that the Jacobite group violated the law with the help of authorities who allowed their followers and priests to assemble inside the church violating the COVID-19 protocol.
The Mulanthuruthy Church had been managed by the Jacobite faction for several years. However, they lost legal possession of the church following a Supreme Court verdict in 2017, awarding control of over 1,100 churches to rival Orthodox faction.
Several other churches had already been handed over to the orthodox faction since the apex court order, overcoming resistance by the priests and Jacobite faithful at many places. UDF convenor Behanan alleged that the administration took over the control of the churches when another case related to the matter was pending before the high court.
Early this month, the Kerala High Court, while considering a contempt petition filed by an orthodox priest, had directed the Ernakulam district Collector to take over the Mulanthuruthy church.
In his petition, the Orthodox faction priest had sought to initiate contempt proceedings against the Ernakulam Collector and others for not implementing the court''s earlier directive to hand over the administration of the church to them.
The court, on August 12, had issued an ultimatum to the Ernakulam District Collector directing to take over the church within five days and submit a compliance report to it.