Thiruvananthapuram, July 28: The National Commission of Women (NCW) has called for abolishing the ritualistic practice of confession in the churches in view of the growing incidents of molestation of women by the priests in the churches. The advise of the NCW has come under fire from the Church.
The NCW suggestion was, however, vehemently opposed by the Christian organisations including Kerala Bishops’ organization. Even the Union Minister of State for Tourism K Alphons has also expressed a negative opinion in this regard.
The NCW in its report on the sex scandals that rocked the Catholic church in India, has recommended to abolishing the practice of confession in the churches as they harm the security and honour of the eves.
“The practice of ‘confession’ should be abolished as it can lead into blackmailing women,” the NCW team recommended in its report. The NCW further said that these confessions “come in way of security and safety of women”.
The Commission has also suggested that a central agency investigate the increasing incidents of sexual harassment and rape in churches.
“The priests pressure women into telling their secrets and we have one such case in front of us, there must be many more such cases and what we have right now is just a tip of the iceberg,” NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma told news agency PTI.
The NCW has constituted an inquiry committee to look into alleged sexual assaults against women in churches, and has sent its findings to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and the DGP of Kerala and Punjab.
The recommendations come at a time when allegations of sexual abuse have hit churches in India. Last month, two such incidents came to the fore — one where a woman was abused for 20 years by priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church in Kerala who used her confessions to blackmail her and the other where Franco Mulakkal, the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar was accused of rape by a Kerala nun.
The incident in the Malankara Orthodox Church came forward after the woman’s husband wrote to the church, alleging that the priests blackmailed and abused his wife, a school teacher.
In the case of Mulakkal, a nun, in a complaint to the Kottayam district police chief last month, alleged that he raped her and had unnatural sex with her multiple times at a small town near Kottayam between 2014 and 2016.
However, the NCW recommendation came under severe criticism from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and its affiliate Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Conference (KCBC) who saw this as an affront on the churches and the priests.
The CBCI President and Archbishop of Mumbai Oswald Cardinal Gracias has expressed ‘shock’ over the NCW recommendation while Union Minister of State for Tourism K Alphons said that the central government rejects the recommendation and insisted that it would not interfere in the religious matters of the citizens.
The CBCI Chairman said: “I was shocked to read in the press about the demand from the National Commission of Women for a ban on the Christian Sacrament of Confession. This demand betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this Sacrament for our people; and also ignorance of the strict laws of the Church to prevent any abuse”.
Union Minister K Alphons wrote in his Facebook post: “The central government has no connection with the stand taken by Rekha Sharma. It’s a personal opinion of the NCW chairperson… It’s not the official stand of the government”.
The Minister said that he has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister requesting them not to accept the NCW report submitted by the women’s body on two sex scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in India recently.
Indian Express quoted Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) chairman Archbishop Soosa Pakiam who said that the NCW recommendation was an infringement on the religious freedom of the Christians. “Confession is an integral part of the Christian faith and the priest who hears the confession is only a representative of God and it is the God who absolves the sins of a person”, he said.
He alleged that the NCW recommendation only showed the “ulterior political motive and communal agenda” of the NCW Chairperson.
Senior Congress leader from Kerala Ramesh Chennithala also criticised the NCW for interfering into the religious affairs of the Christian community.
The Christian community in Kerala too has opposed the NCW recommendation. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church leader Baselios Marthoma Paulose II described this recommendation as violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. The Thrissur Archdiocese and diocese of Irinjalakuda also criticised the NCW recommendation to ban confession in churches terming it as an insult to the Christian community.