CNA Staff, Dec 15, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court of India agreed Monday to consider a petition that the requirement of annual confession in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church violates its members’ privacy rights.
Three members of the Church, which is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, have petitioned the court after some of the Church’s priests allegedly used information learned in the confessional for blackmailing and both sexual and monetary exploitation.
India’s Supreme Court agreed to hear the case Dec. 14.
The petitioners called the Church’s requirement of confession a “serious intrusion into the privacy of a person.”
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church codified its constitution in 1934. That constitution requires that all Church members over 21 years go to Confession annually. It also requires that a confession register be kept in each parish.
The petitioners argue that the requirement of confession violates the protection of life and personal liberty and freedom of conscience and free profession found in articles 21 and 25 of the Constitution of India.
They also took issue with the Church’s ability to remove members from its registers for failure to support the Church financially.
Fr. Johns Abraham Konatt, a spokesman for the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, said that “confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Church.
He told UCA News, “There might be a few instances of misuse of confession, but that does not mean that the sacrament should be done away with.”
The petition comes amid reports of some priests using the confessional to exploit women for sexual purposes, and men for monetary purposes.
In mid-2018, five priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church were accused of using confession to blackmail and sexually abuse a 34 year-old married woman. They have since been suspended.
At the time, a proposal to abolish confessions in all Churches in the nation was put forth by India’s National Commission for Women, a government advisory agency.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said at the time that he was “shocked” by the proposed ban.
“(The ban) betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this Sacrament for our people; and also an ignorance of the strict laws of the Church to prevent any abuse,” he said. Such a ban would be a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the country’s constitution, Gracias said.
“Millions of people from all over the world, over the centuries, have testified to the spiritual benefit of this Sacrament and to the grace, pardon and peace they have experienced as a result of receiving this Sacrament,” he added. “I am confident the Government will totally ignore this absurd demand from the Commission.”
According to local media, the National Commission for Minorities vice-chairman George Kurian also criticised the proposal during a TV discussion, calling it unconstitutional and saying that it unnecessarily provokes division and misunderstanding among minority communities.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches rejected the 451 Council of Chalcedon, and its followers were historically considered monophysites, those who believe Christ has only one nature, by Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is based in the Indian state of Kerala, where most of its dioceses are located.
The government of India is officially secular, while nearly 80 percent of the population identifies as Hindu. About 2.3 percent of India’s population is as Christian.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom earlier this year recommended that India be designated by the State Department as a “country of particular concern” — a designation reserved for the worst violators of religious freedom or the countries where the worst abuses are taking place and the governments do not stop them. USCIRF had not recommended India for the CPC list since 2004.
Christians have been subject to increasing attacks by mobs in India, with national and state governments failing to protect them and administer justice to perpetrators. A 2020 Open Doors report noted at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes committed against Christians in India in a year, many of them by radical Hindus.