George Alencherry

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George Alencherry
Metropolitan and Gate of all India
Cardinal and Head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
Mar Alenchery.jpg
Church Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church
Appointed24 May 2011
Installed29 May 2011
PredecessorMajor Archbishop Maran Mar Varkey Vithayathil
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of San Bernardo alle Terme Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly
Ordination18 December 1972
by  Mar Antony Padiyara
Consecration2 February 1997
by  Mar Joseph Powathil
Created cardinal18 February 2012
by Pope Benedict XVI
Personal details
Born (1945-04-19) 19 April 1945 (age 74)
Thuruthy, Travancore, British India
Denomination Syro-Malabar Church (Saint Thomas Christians)
Previous post Catholic Bishop of Thuckalay (1997–2011)
Styles of
George Alencherry
External Ornaments of a Cardinal Bishop.svg
Informal style Cardinal
See San Bernardo alle Terme (titular see)

Maran Mar George Cardinal Alencherry (born Geevarghese Alencherry) is an Indian prelate of the Catholic Church. He is the current Major Archbishop (Head) of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and is also Cardinal and member of the College of Cardinals. As Major Archbishop, he holds the title of "Metropolitan and Gate of all India and Head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church". With this position, he also holds the position of Major Metropolitan Archbishop of the Church as well. The title is essentially equivalent to that of Patriarch. [1] He was elected by the Holy Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church in 2011 to succeed Cardinal Maran Mar Varkey Vithayathil (1999 - 2011). He was created a cardinal of the Catholic Church on 18 February 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. He was the first bishop of Thuckalay from 1997 to 2011.


Early life

Cardinal George Alencherry was born on 19 April 1945 as the sixth child of Philipose and Mary Alencherry in Thuruthy in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Changanassery. Geevarghese is his baptismal name. Alencherry had his primary schooling at St Mary's School (Thuruthy) and secondary education at St Berchman's High School (Changanacherry). He began his priestly formation in 1961 at the archdiocesan minor seminary at Parel, Changanacherry. While he pursued his studies in the minor seminary, he obtained his BA in economics with second rank from St. Berchmans College Changanacherry. After the minor seminary studies he was sent to St Joseph's Pontifical Seminary (Aluva), where he completed his philosophical and theological studies.

On 18 December 1972 Mar Antony Padiyara, the then archbishop of Chanagancherry, ordained him priest at Marth Mariyam Church (Thuruthy) for the archdiocese of Changanacherry. Later he continued his higher studies at the Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy from where he obtained his master's degree in first rank. While Alencherry was pursuing higher studies at Aluva he served also as vicar of the filial church at Periyarmugham in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly. After completion of studies at Aluva, Alencherry was appointed as assistant vicar at the Cathedral church of Changanacherry and Director of the Archdiocesan Faith Formation department. Thereafter he served three years as secretary of the Commission for Catechism of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC). After his tenure in KCBC he was sent to Paris for higher studies. There he pursued his studies at Sorbonne University France and the Catholic Institute from where he obtained his doctorate in biblical theology. On returning to India in 1986, Alencherry was appointed director of the pastoral Oriental Centre (POC) at Palarivattom and deputy secretary of KCBC. He served the Church in Kerala in that capacity until 1993. Simultaneously he had served also as professor at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary (Vadavathoor). He continued to teach at Vadavathoor until 1997. From 1994 to 1996 he was the protosyncellus of the metropolitan of Changanacherry. [2]

Bishop of Thuckalay

Pope John Paul II elected the Diocese of Thuckalay by the papal bull Apud Indorum on 11 November 1996. It was formed by separating the territory of the Archdiocese of Changanassery that extended over to the state of Tamil Nadu. Alencherry, who was Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, was appointed the first bishop of the new eparchy. The establishment of the diocese and Alencherry's appointment were promulgated on 18 December 1996. Alencherry was consecrated bishop on 2 February 1997 by Joseph Powathil, Metropolitan Archbishop of Changanassery, with Mathew Vattackuzhy, Bishop of Kanjirappally, and Lawrence Aprem, Bishop of Marthandam, as co-consecrants. He was installed as bishop on the same day by Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church. [3]

Metropolitan and Gate of all India

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Bishops' holy synod that began on 23 May 2011 at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia at Mount St Thomas (Eranakulam) elected Alencherry to be the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and Metropolitan of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly. The news of the election was announced in the Vatican as well as at Mount St Thomas, the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Curia, on 26 May 2011. Alencherry was elected as the successor of the deceased Major Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil. He is the first head of the Syro-Malabar Church to be elected by its synod. When Pope John Paul II made the Syro-Malabar Church a major archiepiscopal church in 1992, appointing Antony Padiyara as its first major archbishop, he reserved the power to appoint the major archbishop and bishops. However, in 2004, the Holy See granted full administrative powers to the church, including the power to elect bishops. [2] [4] [5]

On 23 May, the first day of the synod, the synod elected George Valiamattam, the Archbishop of Tellicherry, to preside over it. Then followed the procedures of election of the new Major Archbishop. Thereafter the president of the session asked Alencherry whether he accepted the election and in the following sitting the newly elected expressed his acceptance by reading it out before the synod. Immediately the request was sent to the Pope, through the Apostolic Nunciature in New Delhi, for the approval of the election of Alencherry. The papal approval was given on Wednesday, 25 May (evening), and it was communicated to the Administrator, Bosco Puthur, on Thursday, 26 May (morning). The papal approval of the election of Alencherry was announced in the synod by George Valiamattam. Thereafter the newly elected Major Archbishop, in accordance with canon law, made his oath of fidelity and communion to the Holy Synod and the Church. Thereafter all the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church expressed their respect and ecclesial communion with the new major archbishop. Alencherry said his services would be for all people of India. He stressed inter-rite relations, inter-faith harmony and ecumenism. [2]


On 18 February 2012, Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the rank of cardinal during a ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica, [6] creating him Cardinal-Priest of San Bernardo alle Terme. Earlier cardinals belonging to the Syro Malabar Catholic Church were Joseph Parecattil (28 April 1969), Mar Antony Padiyara (28 June 1988) and Mar Varkey Vithayathil (21 February 2001).

His visit to Rome for that consistory coincided with the arrest of Italian merchant marine officers on board the Enrica Lexie who shot and killed two Kerala fishermen on a fishing vessel. [7] Alencherry provided a statement to the Italian news service Agenzia Fides that "This episode must be investigated: if there is a guilty action, it must be treated legally and the guilty must be punished. We must fully respect truth and justice." He denied any interest in serving as a mediator. [8] He had previously been quoted accusing some Kerala politicians of exploiting the incident for their own purposes and seemed to suggest he was actively seeking to resolve the dispute. [9] Upon his return to India, he expressed unreserved sympathy for the families of the dead fishermen and ascribed any other misunderstandings to misquotes by Fides. [10]

On 24 April 2012, Alencherry was made a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Catholic Churches. [11]

Alencherry participated as a cardinal-elector in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. [12] During the conclave, Alencherry (along with Coptic Catholic Patriarch-Emeritus Antonios Naguib, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, and Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis) was one of the four cardinal-electors from outside the Latin Church who wore different vestments, proper to their respective churches. [13]

He underwent angioplasty on 8 December 2017. [14]


Pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar Catholics outside the "proper" territory

Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the Apostolic Nuncio to India (Latin Church) presenting the elected Major Archbishop, Alencherry, with the papal gift Mar George Alencherry with Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio.jpg
Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the Apostolic Nuncio to India (Latin Church) presenting the elected Major Archbishop, Alencherry, with the papal gift

Historically the Prelates of St. Thomas Christians were called Archbishops of India. The titles used for them were "Metropolitan and Gate of All India" or "Gate of India". This indicates the highest rank of authority in the Indian Church and the extent of its jurisdiction. He enjoyed an All India jurisdiction, the ruler of the entire Holy Church of Christians of India. [15] The Vatican Codex 22, written in Cranganore in 1301, gives the titles as Metropolitan and director of the entire holy church of Christian India. [16] [17] In 1564, Pope Pius IV created the Archdiocese of Angamaly (with jurisdiction over all India). For the Catholics, in 1600 the Metropolitan status of the see of Angamaly was abolished and was made suffragan to Goa, with far-reaching consequences. Later, the Metropolitan status was restored to the see of Angamaly but never the title of "All India". [18] In 1896, Syro-Malabar Catholics got their own hierarchy, but instead of re-establishing the old jurisdiction over all India, three Apostolic vicariates were established in Trichur, Ernakulam and Kottayam.

By the second half of twentieth century, members of the Syro-Malabar community have emigrated in big numbers to other parts of India and to foreign countries. According to Vatican II and subsequent documents, their pastoral needs must be met by the priests of their own rite and in their own rite. For the pastoral care of these Syro-Malabar Catholics, there exist a Diocese of Kalyan, a Diocese of Chicago, and others. Big cities of India like Delhi, Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta have many Syro-Malabar Catholics. [19]

The faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church are about four million, of which 3 million and 400 thousand live in the twenty-eight dioceses in India. Of these dioceses, eighteen are in the territory of the Syro-Malabar Church itself (Kerala, part of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka). We have a territorial jurisdiction only in these eighteen dioceses. And we'd like to have a territorial jurisdiction covering the whole territory of India: this is one of our appeals to the Holy Father and for us it is an important request. We believe it is our right. Before the arrival of Western missionaries – the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century – the jurisdiction of us ‘Catholic Christians among St Thomas' was extended to all of India. Then the Western missionaries, because of the influence of European monarchs, took jurisdiction of India, restricting ours to the areas where we were more concentrated.

George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, 2011 [20]

Pope Francis resolved this issue to some extent in October 2017 with the creation of the Eparchy of Shamshabad to encompass all the areas of India not included within the jurisdiction of an existing eparchy. [21]

Christian unity and Petrine ministry

The Catholic Church through the Council for Christian Unity, has already begun a dialogue on the primacy. I think we should continue the dialogue and seek a common agreement with the Eastern Churches, as there was in the first four centuries of Christianity. At that time there was a common understanding of the primacy. Now the Orthodox Church argues that it is impossible to go back to theology before the Council of Chalcedon because we do not possess any documents from that era. But I think that from the documents and statements subsequent to the time of Chalcedon there would be the possibility of dialogue and agreement on the Petrine ministry. Because there is the phrase primus inter pares. We all need a Petrine ministry of unity, which is a reference for all the Churches. I hope that a halfway point is found where the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches could come together in full communion with the Church of Christ.

George Alencherry, 2011 [20]

Land sale controversy

Following complaints against the office bearers of Archdiocese of Ernakulam - Ankamali, about a series of real estate transactions dating as far back as 2015 that reportedly resulted in financial losses for the archdiocese, on 29 November 2017 Alencherry named a committee to investigate. The committee submitted its report on 4 January 2018. Later that month, at the recommendation Syro-Malabar Bishops' Synod and Mar George Alencherry, Vatican appointed an Apostolic Administrator for the Archieparchy

In March the city police initiated an investigation into the real estate transactions after a private citizen, a lay Catholic, lodged a complaint against Alencherry, two priests, and a real estate agent. The Kerala High Court observed that there was prima facie evidence to indicate criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and misappropriation of money. [lower-alpha 1] [22] [23] A single bench judge of Kerala High Court found the complainant had standing to bring the lawsuit because the property at issue was not private property, but assets held in trust with Alencherry as caretaker. [24]

On 16 March 2018, the division bench of Kerala High Court stayed a court order requiring the police investigation because the complainant had sought the order without first allowing the police [lower-alpha 2] to follow their procedures and removed some verbal comments of the single judge. [25] Later that month, a group of 90 priests out of 400 staged a street demonstration calling on Alencherry to stand aside, pending resolution of the legal procedure, and more than 200 lay Catholics responded with a demonstration in support of Alencherry. The Vatican's proper role and its failure to intervene was decried and defended as well. [26]

On 22 June 2018, Pope Francis named Jacob Manathodath, Bishop of Palghat the Apostolic Administrator seda plena of the Archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly under the recommendation of Mar George Alencherry. [27] His appointment, according to Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, reflected Vatican concern about the real estate transactions as well as "ecclesiastical division" among the clergy and the archieparchy's bishops. He noted that Alencherry had supported the idea of naming an administrator. According to the letter Prot. N. 157/2018 dated 22 June 2018 from Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the powers granted to the auxiliary bishops of the Archieparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly are also suspended.

Cardinal Mar George Alencherry has come back at the helm of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese on 27/06/2019 after Vatican terminated the appointment of Apostolic Administrator. This was announced by the Syro-Malabar Church in a press release issued here. Citing it as the decision of Pope Francis, the Church also suspended the two auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese.

“The Pope has terminated the appointment of the apostolic administrator sede plena of the archieparchy of the Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malabars, India, carried out by H E Msgr Jacob Manathodath, eparchial bishop of Palghat, thanking him for his work (sic),” the bulletin issued by Vatican News (Information system of the Holy See) stated. According to the Church, with the expiry of administrator’s mandate, the administration of the Archdiocese will be headed by Cardinal Alencherry. Auxiliary Bishops of the Archdiocese, Bishop Mar Sebastian Adayanthrath and Bishop Mar Jose Puthenveetil were suspended following the Vatican’s directive. However, Bishop Jacob Manathodath will continue as the Bishop of the Eparchy of Palaghat.

“The Papal decisions were taken after having seriously studied the report as well as the directives submitted by the apostolic administrator Bishop Mar Jacob Manathodath. During the period leading up to the Synod of the Syro Malabar Church, the permanent Synod of the Syro Malabar Church will assist the Major Archbishop in the Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly, derogating the normal canonical procedures but respecting the civil laws in force,” said Syro-Malabar Church Media Commission chairman Bishop Joseph Pamplany. The news has come as a jolt for a section of priests in the Archdiocese, who had protested against Mar Alencherry.

Forged Documents

A 24-year-old man, Adithya Valavi, has been arrested on 19 May 2019 for allegedly forging documents against Syro-Malabar Catholic Church head Cardinal George Alencherry, following which a row has erupted in Syro-Malabar church with a section of priests protesting against the arrest. Three bishops of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese have come out openly against the arrest of Valavi, who is a post-graduate from an IIT, claiming that he is not a criminal and he had no role in forging documents. The priests have claimed that the man, a faithful, while working as an intern with a reputed business group in Kochi, had taken a screenshot of documents allegedly having Alencherry's name from the computer server of the firm and brought it to the notice of a church priest Fr. Tony Kalookaran. The priest reportedly shared it with another priest, who allegedly submitted it to a Synod of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The priests, including auxiliary bishops of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese, have demanded a high-level probe into the forgery case.

Police have said the documents, purportedly linking the Syro-Malabar church head with the accounts of a private bank, were found to be forged during their investigation. According to them, the cardinal was found not operating any account in the bank named in the documents.

The priests, including Bishop Jacob Manathodath, who was appointed as the administrator of the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese by Pope Francis on 22 June 2018, have urged the government to order either a CBI or a judicial probe into the case. Meanwhile, the police made Father Kallookaran also an accused in the case on 21 May 2019. Former Auxiliary Bishops Sebastian Adayanthrath and Jose Puthenveettil had also joined Bishop Manathodath at a press conference held on 20 May 2019 to raise the demand. Refuting the allegations of torture in custody, the police said they were carrying out a "scientific probe" into the case. Major detractors of the archbishop have allegedly made fake documents to show he has secret personal bank accounts and of depositing church money into it [28] to defame the Major Archbishop of the church and damaging the image of the church.

Court case

n August 29, 2019, it was announced that the Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court had ruled on August 24, 2019 that Alencherry, along with the former financial officer of the archdiocese and a real estate agent will face charges that the cardinal sold archdiocesan land at undervalued prices, for a loss of $10 million. Bishop Antony Kariyil of Mandya was then appointed as the Episcopal Vicar of the Major Archbishop and given the personal title “Archbishop". [28] Another case has been registered against Cardinal George Alencherry in connection with unlawful land dealings. Apart from the Cardinal, the then finance officer of Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese, Fr. Joshy Puthuva is also booked. The Kakkanad Judicial First Class Magistrate Court registered a case against George Alencherry and the former finance officer Fr. Joshy.


  1. The others accused were two senior archdiocesan officials, Father Joshy Puthuva and Father Sebastian Vadakkumpadan, and Kochi-based real estate agent Saju Varghese. [22]
  2. The police are referred to locally as the SHO or station house officer.

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  18. St. Thomas Christians under the Portuguese Padroado
  19. Pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar Catholics Outside the Proper Territory
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  28. 1 2
Catholic Church titles
Diocese erected
Bishop of Thuckalay
Succeeded by
George Rajendran Kuttinadar SDB
Preceded by
Varkey Vithayathil
Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly