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Catholics face bigamy risk

Christians may be breaking the law if they remarry after Church annulment

A delegation of Catholic lawyers met federal Law Minister Veerappa Moily A delegation of Catholic lawyers met federal Law Minister Veerappa Moily
  • Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore
  • India
  • March 16, 2011
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Godwin D’Souza is happy that some lawyers and businessmen in Mangalore have taken up the cause of Catholics who face criminal cases for remarrying after Church annulment.

“My former wife has filed a case of bigamy against me and it is still on,” said D’Souza today.

The electrical engineer’s first marriage took place in 1999, but his wife deserted him within three days. Later the police traced her with her former boyfriend.

D’Souza approached the Mangalore ecclesiastical tribunal that annulled the marriage with the girl’s cooperation. He remarried three years later and has two children from the second marriage.

However, the former wife filed the bigamy case in July 2010 “through no fault of mine,” said D’Souza who has been granted bail “lest I should be arrested at any time.”

Clarence Pais, a lawyer who handles the case, says there are several such cases because of a conflict between the canon law and the civil law.

On March 13, Pais led a delegation that urged the federal government to amend the law on divorce to sanction Church annulment of marriages.

Section 494 of the Indian penal code makes bigamy an offence.

Catholics would violate the law if they remarry after the Church annuls their marriage but fail to get civil divorce.

Pais says if the law is not amended even the priest and the second wife could be prosecuted. The court could send offenders to jail up to seven years.

D’Souza says the “very court procedure is torture and punishment in itself.”

The Church “fully” supports the demand for an amendment, says Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore who heads the Catholic Church in Karnataka.

The prelate has written to the law minister on this matter and asked the bishops’ conference to support the cause.

“For it needs lots of pressure, persuasion and lobby to get this done. But it is a need,” he added.

Ivan D’Souza, another lawyer in the delegation, said this was the first time Christians have approached the law ministry with this demand.

He said the minister assured them that the government would amend the law after ascertaining whether it is a “genuine need” of the community or whether such a move would harm others.

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