The National Commission of Women (NCW) has recommended abolishing the practice of "confessions" in churches as it can lead to the blackmailing of women, leading to a backlash from the Christian community in Kerala. The move comes in the light of the Kerala sex-for-silence case where four Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church have been accused of raping a woman for more than ten years, after blackmailing her after her confession.
The issue came to the fore after the victim's husband wrote to the church, alleging that the priests blackmailed and abused his wife, a school teacher. When she "confessed" about an affair before marriage affair with another priest, he allegedly blackmailed her, sharing her contact with a fellow priest after which she was sexually exploited by five of them.
A central agency also needs to do a proper investigation into the increasing incidents of rape and sexual assaults in churches of Kerala, NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma said. "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," she said.
“We have recommended that confession should be abolished from the church. It is being misused by the priests. Many women are suffering. Women cannot share their private life with priests,” Sharma told The Indian Express.
According to the rules under the Roman Catholic Church to which the Kottayam-based Episcopal MOC belongs, the Seal of Confession (or Seal of the confessional) makes it the absolute duty of priests not to disclose anything that they learn from penitents during the course of the Sacrament of Penance (confession).
The need for confession is frequently stressed in the Bible.“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9, is a verse in the bible. Confession is one of the seven sacraments of the Church, the sacrament of Penance. For Christians, the activity of confession is not simply the mentioning of various sins, but a sorrow over sin in their life.
“Confession for Christian Churches is a Sacrament. It is the path for spiritual growth and eternal salvation. Confession has been in vogue in Christian Churches for centuries,” Mangalore Today quotes a press release by Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) as saying.
Catholic bishops in Kerala on 26 July slammed the National Commission for Women’s call for abolishing the practice of confessions in Christian Churches.
"This is ridiculous. The move seems communally and politically motivated and it is the political strategy of the ruling government," told Father Varghese Vallikatt, Deputy Secretary General of KCBC, to Firstpost. Stating that they are anxious to see the response of the government, Verghese said that the move is totally unwarranted. "The chairperson is going beyond her constitutional power by proposing the abolition of confession. The case is being investigated by the police, I don't know how NCW got the power to do so," he added.
The press release says the NCW chairperson has no idea about confession or its purpose and her recommendations violate the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. “They are part of attempts to create religious animosity and spread tension and violence in society.”
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 woman was socially harassed. She left her job after the incident as her photograph was circulated on social media. The two priests are at large and they need to be nabbed," the NCW chairperson said.
The women members of Kerala Church Act Action Council have also sought reform of the centuries-old method of the sacrament of confession, saying nuns be allowed to perform the penance for women. They said that there was a possibility of intimate confessions by women being "misused" in the present form.
Vice-chairperson of the Kerala Church Act Action Council, Indulekha Joseph termed the practice of only priests performing the sacrament of confession an example of gender bias in the Church. "Why are nuns not being allowed to perform the same? They are also strictly adhering to the church rules and following the prescribed norms. Hence, they should be allowed to perform the penance for women and minors instead of priests," she said.
In another incident, a nun, in a complaint to the Kottayam district police chief last month, alleged that Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal raped her and had unnatural sex with her multiple times at a small town near Kottayam between 2014 and 2016.
According to NDTV, at least 12 priests have been arrested in the last 18 months in different cases related to sexual abuse. Since May, three such cases have surfaced.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jul 27, 2018 17:45 PM