Maundy Thursday feet washing row: Kerala church refuses to include women in rituals

MARCH 31/APRIL 9, 2017



Maundy Thursday feet washing row: Kerala church refuses to include women in rituals

By T. K. Devasia, March 31, 2017


Former priests in Kerala will observe Maundy Thursday on 13 April by washing the feet of women at Marine Drive in the state’s commercial capital of Kochi.

The parallel religious ceremony that commemorates Jesus washing the feet of his 12 disciples during the Last Supper is being organised by the Catholic Priests, Ex-Priests and Nuns Association as a mark of protest against the non-inclusion of women in the ritual by two Catholic rites in the state.

Pope Francis had in December 2014 directed Catholic churches to open the rite to all the People of God, including non-Christians, as part of his larger endeavour to make the church more open and inclusive.

Even though all the three Catholic rites in the state owe allegiance to Pope, only the Latin Catholic rite implemented the Papal decree. The other two — the Syro-Malabar church (SMC) and the Syro-Malankara church–stuck to their traditional practice of washing the feet of only men.

The current protests followed the final decision taken recently by the synod of bishops of the SMC, the largest Catholic rite in the country, not to include women in the feet washing ceremony. Church head Cardinal George Alencherry said that the synod had felt that the reform was against the Eastern traditions followed by them.

“The Eastern heritage claimed by the two Oriental Churches has come from Hindu and Buddhist culture, which accorded superior status to women. The approach of the two churches towards women is totally against this tradition,” says Shibu Kalamparampil, general secretary of the ex-priests association.

Shibu, who quit the priesthood in 2010 alleging sexual misconduct of priests and financial irregularities in the church, told Firstpost that the Catholic Church in India was treating women as slaves and second class citizens.

He said that the church had also started restricting the movement of women in the wake of the rape and impregnation of a minor girl by Fr Robin Vadakkumcherry, a priest in Kannur district. The Mananthavady diocese, to which the accused priest belongs, was also setting up CCTV cameras in churches to monitor the movement of women.

“This is an open admission that the church does not trust its priests. Instead of taking steps to correct the priests, the church authorities are trying to solve the problem by curtailing the freedom of women. This will alienate the women from the church,” the former priest said.

Association national president Reji Njallani said that the churches were upholding the Eastern heritage only in matters of their interest. He said that the bishops and priests were not ready to follow the Eastern tradition in the administration of churches.

“The churches were governed by committees of laity before the Portuguese established their authority over the church. There has been a strong demand for returning these powers to the democratically elected committees after the church sought to go back to pre-Portuguese days. Unfortunately, the clergy is not ready to shed their power,” he added.

Reji said that the discrimination of women by the church was part of this approach. This, he feels, will lead to the disintegration of the Church. According to Reji, the church is active now because of women.

“They form the bulk of church goers. They are in the forefront in raising funds and implementing various programmes of the church. Many priests even use the women to satisfy their carnal desires. Yet they are treated as untouchable when it comes to honouring them,” Reji said.

He said that Pope was trying to include women and other marginalised sections in the church ceremonies after he saw the faithful deserting the church in several parts of the world. The actions of the church authorities in Kerala will only hasten this process, he added.

Reji pointed out that many Catholics in the state had already started embracing other denominations. This, he said, was because of the wrong acts of the authorities.




He said that the association of ex-priests was trying to establish an open church to retain them in the Catholic fold.

“The open church will not have administrative structures and established churches and related institutions like schools and hospitals. We will meet wherever we can. The ex-priests, who are members of the association, will provide whatever spiritual service the faithful requires,” Reji said.

He said that the ‘rent a priest’ service the association had launched last year as part of the move was already providing sacraments and other spiritual services to the faithful. Many who have been fallen away from the church for various reasons are depending on this service for their spiritual needs, he said.

Reji said that about 200 ex-priests and retired priests had taken membership in the association so far. Most of these priests will be available at Marine Drive at 10 am on 13 April to wash the feet of women. He said that the association was expecting about 1,000 women to participate in the ceremony.

The decision of the two Catholic rites to keep women away from the feet washing ceremony has also evoked protests from women activists. Famous writer and a leader of Aam Admi Party, Sara Joseph, described it as a discrimination against women.

She told Firstpost that the Pope had sought the inclusion of women, members of other religions and several marginalised sections as an act of humanism. The gesture is significant at a time when the world is riven by various conflicts.

“The inclusion of women in the feet washing ceremony by the Pope is also a strong message against the growing atrocities against women and children within the church fold. Our clergy has not understood the spirit of his message. This is one of the major reasons for the growing crimes against women in the state,” she added.

The writer said that these atrocities could be checked to a great extent if the women are given responsible positions in the church. Unfortunately, the church authorities are not willing to accept even the basic rights of women. They are opposing the demand for priesthood for women as they think it will erode their power.


Church authorities have denied that their decision to follow the tradition did not mean neglect of women or discrimination against them. Fr Jimmy Poochakkat, spokesman of the SMC, said the decision was taken in accordance with the Liturgical traditions and practices.

He said that the circular issued by the church head on the issue had enunciated the position clearly. The circular pointed out that Oriental Churches view the Maundy Thursday rites as a sign and example of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross.

“Christ washed the feet of only his 12 disciples with the command to do that in his memory. The Oriental Churches, including those outside Catholic fold, have upheld Jesus’s command by washing the feet of only men or boys. The Syro-Malabar Church wishes to continue this practice in the present pastoral and social situation,” the circular added.




In 1988 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis
* on the celebration of Easter rites. No. 51 of the circular letter states: “The washing of the feet” is a rite that is only performed on “chosen men“. The original Latin viri selecti is crystal clear on the fact that the chosen ones must be male.




Let us recall a few facts.

—At the Last Supper, our Lord instituted two Sacraments of the Church: the Eucharist, and Holy Orders. That is why Church tradition has insisted on the washing of the feet of Catholic men.

—The washing of the feet ritual had always, until 1955, been celebrated outside of the Mass.

—In their later years John Paul II and Benedict XVI had restricted the rite to
12 Catholic priests.


—In 2013, Pope Francis parted with Tradition, set aside the rubrics, and finally changed them to legitimize his actions. 12 priests became just anybody and everybody within just three years:

2013: Two of the 12 juvenile prison inmates were women – a Serbian Catholic and a Muslim

2014: The 12 were elderly and disabled “of different ages, ethnicities and religious confessions“; at least one was a woman and one of the men was a Muslim

2015: Six of the 12 prison detainees were women, six were men; not all of them were Catholic. Francis also washed the feet of a baby boy in his mother’s lap (that makes it 13).

Two of the women were the arrested (I wonder what crime she was incarcerated for) notorious Italian-Congolese showgirl Silvie Lubamba, and the Brazilian transexual Isabel Dias/Lisboa.


2016: 11 were migrants and one was a volunteer. Of the migrants, four were Catholic, three were Coptic Christian women from Eritrea, three were Muslims, and one was a Hindu.




Syro-Malabar church sticks to roots for Maundy Thursday, women not included in washing of the feet ceremony

Kochi, March 31, 2017


Sticking to its Eastern tradition, the Syro-Malabar Church, the second largest congregation of the Catholics, has decided not to include women in the washing of the feet ceremony performed on Holy Thursday, that is observed before Easter Sunday.

Syro-Malabar Church head Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, in a circular, has made it clear that it was under the theological perspective of the Eastern tradition that the Church will wash only the feet of men in the Maundy Thursday ceremony.

In January 2016, Pope Francis had issued a decree revising the rules for the washing of the feet, a ritual that is usually only performed on 12 men or boys. The revised rules allow churches to include women and young girls. Going by the revised rules, feet of women were washed at many Latin parishes last year.

However, the Syro-Malabar Church, with 45-50 lakh faithful around the world and large numbers in Kerala, did not wash women’s feet last year, citing that the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Vatican body that oversees Eastern Catholic churches clarified that the Pope’s approval was for changes only in the Roman Missal, therefore applicable only to the Latin Church.

The Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church has also decided that the church will follow liturgical tradition and wash the feet of 12 men or boys.

Washing of the feet during Maundy Thursday recalls the New Testament account of Jesus washing the feet of the 12 Apostles during the Last Supper.



Syro-Malabar church eastern way, not to wash women’s feet on Maundy Thursday

Kochi, March 29, 2017


The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church will stick to the traditional practice of performing foot-washing on Maundy Thursday on men only with the Vatican exempting it from its decree allowing participation of women in the ritual.

Head of the Syro-Malabar Church cardinal George Alencherry has issued a circular stating that the Church wished to keep the Eastern tradition and the ritual will be performed only on men.

The ritual is said to have been performed by Jesus as one of his last acts on Earth to his disciples before he was crucified to signify an act of humility.

Last year, Pope Francis had issued a decree changing the way that the Maundy Thursday foot-washing was performed in the Church and said it should no longer be limited to men.

The decree did not go down well with the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which comes under Vatican.

It sought clarification from the congregation for the Eastern churches in Vatican when the issue came up for a debate.

“It was clarified that the decree is meant for the Latin Church only. Both the decree and the letter of the Holy Father, which prompted it, mention specifically only ‘Roman Missal’.

Thus, this change does not concern the liturgical practices in the Eastern Churches”, the circular said.

The Synod of Bishops in the Syro-Malabar Church has decided that the church will wash the feet of only 12 men following the age-old liturgical tradition as the Vatican has exempted Eastern churches, it said.

Last year, the Syro-Malabar Church did not follow the Papal decree that women should be included in the foot-washing ceremony. However, a parish priest of Blessed Sacrament Church under Syro-Malabar Church in Thrikkakara, had violated the position taken by the eastern Church by including 12 women in the foot-washing ritual.



Maundy Thursday: Oriental Churches to wash only male feet

New Delhi, March 28, 2017


India’s two Oriental Catholic Churches will continue to follow the tradition for the washing of the feet ritual on Maundy Thursday.



The religious rite commemorates Jesus washing the feet of Apostles during the Last Supper, a day before his crucifixion and death on the cross on a Friday. Maundy Thursday this year falls on April 13.

The Syro-Malabar Church’s Synod of Bishops has instructed its parishes to continue the practice of the washing of 12 men or boys on Maundy Thursday, says a circular Cardinal George Alencherry issued on March 26.

The cardinal, who heads the larger of the two Oriental rites, addressed the circular to the priests, religious and laity of his Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese. He is based at Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, southern India. Bishops of other Syro-Malabar dioceses such as Thamarassery have also issued similar circulars.

However, no such circular will be issued by the other Oriental rite, the Syro-Malankara Church. “We have not yet issued such circulars. I think there will not be such circulars in future. In Malankara tradition only bishops conduct washing of the feet. We normally do it in the cathedral,” its spokesperson Father Bovas Mathew told Matters India on March 27.

The priest, who is based at Thiruvananthapuram, the Church’s base and Kerala’s capital, says the faithful of his Church are “very much aware” of the tradition. “Bishops in the place of Jesus wash the feet of 12 men in the place of 12 disciples. At the end of the liturgy one of the 12, representing Peter, washes the bishop’s feet,” he explained the ritual in his Church.

The priest indicated there could be changes in future. “It does not mean that this custom will last until the second coming of our Lord,” he said.

The Churches’ stand assumes significance in view of growing pressure on them to follow the example of Pope Francis. The pontiff included women and members of other religions for the ritual from 2013, the year he was elected to head the Catholic Church. On January 6, 2016, Pope Francis brought changes in the Maundy Thursday rites to include all sections of people for the washing of feet.

As the papal move evoked mixed reactions the Congregation of the Oriental Churches clarified that the changes apply only the Latin rite, Cardinal Alencherry notes.

The Oriental Churches view the Maundy Thursday rites as sign and example of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross, the cardinal explains. The prelate says the Eastern Churches understand the feet washing not just a symbol of humility and equality but a means to reach the redemptive mystery to all human race through the chosen people.

The Syro-Malabar major archbishop also points out that Christ washed the feet of only his 12 disciples with the command to do that in his memory. The Oriental Churches, including those outside the Catholic fold, have upheld Jesus’s command by washing the feet of only men or boys. “The Syro-Malabar Church wishes to continue this practice in the present pastoral and social situation,” the cardinal explains.

He says the Maundy Thursday rites help his people to have God experience and the feet washing for them is a heart touching practice.

Last year, a Syro-Malabar parish priest in Kerala created history when he included women for the washing of feet ritual, defying his Oriental Church’s diktat.

Fr Jose Vailikodath of the Blessed Sacrament Church, Cardinal Nagar, Kochi, justified his decision to include women saying he was “just implementing a revolutionary decision” taken by the Pope.

Father Vailikodath’s act did not go down well with his Church leaders, who probed the priest’s action.




Two Kerala Catholic Church branches won’t wash the feet of women this Maundy Thursday

This despite Pope Francis’ decree to include women and people of other faiths in the ritual that comes ahead of Easter.

April 9, 2017


The Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church of Kerala have said they will not allow women to participate in the washing-of-the-feet ceremony on Maundy Thursday – a re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of his 12 disciples during the Last Supper, which is performed by a senior member of the clergy during mass on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. The decision comes days ahead of Maundy Thursday on April 13.

However, the Latin Church, which is in communion with the Roman Catholic Church headed by the pope, has decided to include women in its liturgical ceremony.

The participation of women in the ritual became a topic of discussion after Pope Francis washed the feet of female inmates of a juvenile detention centre in Rome in 2013, and followed it up with a papal decree in December 2014 calling for the inclusion of “all people of God”, including women and people from other religions, in the ritual. Implementing his decree, the bishops of Latin Catholic churches in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi washed the feet of women for the first time in 2016.






But the Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church kept the instructions in abeyance. After a year of deliberations, Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, issued a circular last week. “The papal decree is against the traditions followed by the Eastern Churches,” it read. “The decree is applicable only to the Roman Missal. Thus, the change does not concern the liturgical practices in the Eastern Churches.”

The Syro-Malankara Church, too, decided against implementing the papal decree. Its public relations officer Father Bovas Mathew told that the Church had come to this conclusion after considering the liturgical and theological dimensions of the issue. “We didn’t consider the social implications of the decision,” he said. “Our laity never raised concerns against the decision of the Church.”

Thus, Maundy Thursday in Kerala will see priests washing the feet of women only in Latin Catholic churches.

The three Catholic denominations account for half of the state’s 61.4 lakh Christian population.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India refused to comment, with its spokesperson Theodore Mascarenhas only saying, “The churches have the right to take a decision [on] liturgical matters.”


‘Anti-woman move’

But the decision of the Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church has not gone down well with a group of former priests, who have termed it anti-women and accused the Church of going against the papal decree. They have also announced that the Open Church Movement, a forum set up by the Catholic Priests, Married Clergy and Nuns Association six months ago, will organise a parallel ceremony in Kochi on Thursday.

“We will wash the feet of 12 faithful, including women,” said Shibu Kalamparampil, general secretary of the association. “We deplore the anti-women policies of the Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malankara Church.”

Kalamparampil was a priest for 12 years with the Vincentian Congregation, a clerical society of the Syro-Malabar Church, before he was defrocked in 2010. He published a memoir, Oru Vaidikante
Hrudayamitha (Here is the Heart of a Priest), the same year, detailing the alleged sexual misconduct of priests and financial irregularities in the Church.

“According to rough estimates, around 500 people leave priesthood and nunnery in all Christian denominations every year, unable to bear the inhuman treatment meted out to them,” he said. “A majority of them are coming to our fold.” He claimed the Catholic Priests, Married Clergy and Nuns Association had 200 members presently and “we are expanding by the day”. He added, “Mostly people who were ostracised by the Church seek our services. We are still priests and we conduct services for all Christians, irrespective of their denomination.”


Church controversies

The decision not to include women in the Maundy Thursday ritual is the latest controversy to hit the Catholic Church in Kerala. Three days ago, media reports said Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil*, the bishop of the Idukki diocese, had in a pastoral letter* exhorted girls to avoid wearing clothes that came above their knees while coming to church. “Dress should help keep girls pure,” the letter, which will be read out to the congregation during mass on April 29, said.

It went on to ask parents to train their children to respect priests: “Do not to blame priests and clergy in the presence of children as it will affect their interest in pursuing faith.”

Father Jimmy Poochakkat, official spokesperson for the Syro-Malabar Church, defended the bishop’s letter, saying, “His instructions will help girls to feel safe and secure when they are out in public.”

Anikuzhikattil is no stranger to controversial statements. During the Christmas season in December, he had encouraged couples to give up birth control and multiply competitively till their biological cycles permitted them to do so.


Taking the same line, the bishop of Thamarassery diocese, Mar Remigiose Inchananiyil, had in January exhorted the congregation to get their boys married off before the age of 25 and girls before they turn 23 as late marriages have an adverse impact on the birth of children and the well-being of the family.


Kalaparambil, however, said priests did not have the right to dictate how the laity should dress. He also pointed out that the Church was worried about the fallout of the arrest of a priest, Robin Vadakkumchery, in Kannur in February for allegedly raping a minor girl, getting her pregnant and bribing her father to take the fall for the crime. “Implementing a dress code or keeping women away from liturgical services will not cleanse the church in Kerala,” he asserted.

“Change will happen only when the clergy sheds their arrogance and returns their powers to democratically elected Church committees,” he said.



Washing the feet of women on Maundy Thursday is an attack on the (male) priesthood of the Catholic Church and is led by feminists, liberals and modernists who want to see women ordained.

The Latin Rite Church has capitulated and acquiesced.

So, let’s all hail the bold, firm stance of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches.



CDW, JANUARY 16, 1988



APRIL 2011/APRIL 2012/17/28/29 MARCH/2 APRIL/JULY 2013


28/29 MARCH/4/9/15 APRIL/17 MAY 2013

APRIL 2015

27 JANUARY/15 MARCH 2016

4 APRIL 2016

4 APRIL 2016




JANUARY 24/31, 2013


15 FEBRUARY 2013

16 FEBRUARY 2013

25 JUNE 2013

13/25 FEBRUARY 2013


26 FEBRUARY 2013




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