Thattil’s election comes amid an ongoing bitter dispute over a decision by Church leaders to institute a uniform liturgy.
The Eucharistic liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church, known as the Holy Qurbana, has been the subject of a long, complex conflict over which direction the priest should face when celebrating the liturgy. Protests against the adoption of a uniform liturgy have included a hunger strike by priests and the burning of effigies of cardinals.
Thattil, 67, will be faced with the challenge of leading a divided flock as he takes on responsibility for the second-largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches in full communion with Rome.
Born in Kerala — India’s most Christian state — in 1956, Thattil was ordained a priest at the age of 24 in the archeparchy of Thrissur. He holds a doctorate in Eastern canon law from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and speaks Malayalam, English, Italian, and German.
The new Syro-Malabar leader has served as a bishop since 2010. He was auxiliary bishop of Trichur until 2017 when Pope Francis appointed him as the first bishop of the newly created eparchy of Shamshabad, which has a population of about 130,000 Catholics.
Thattil succeeds Cardinal George Alencherry, who resigned as major archbishop last month at the age of 78 after leading the Syro-Malabar Church for more than a decade.