Indian law body wants female confessors

But the church defends the practice of it being retained as a male domain
Indian law body wants female confessors

An Indian priest hears the confession of a nun at S.t Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad on July 28. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)

A Law Commission of India suggestion that women be allowed to hear confessions, to ameliorate the exploitation of confidentiality involving sexual matters, has met with church opposition.

However, the commission, a government body that reviews the nation's laws, did not support a recent call for the hearing of confessions to be outlawed.

"It's the misuse of confessions by select priests that needs to be checked," the commission argued in a family law consultation paper released on Aug. 31.

"It is a far more progressive and sensible suggestion to eventually also include nuns who can hear confessions."

Such a reform need not be enforced by law as it could be done through "consensus building" within communities.

The stance came in the wake of a proposal from the National Commission for Women, a body tasked with representing the interests of women, for the practice of confession to be made illegal in India.

The call arose from a June investigation by the organization of a man's claim that four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church used confessional secrets of his wife to sexually exploit her.

However, the Law Commission called this a knee-jerk response and instead contended that allowing females to hear confession could inhibit men from sexually exploiting women.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), said confession is not something that any governmental bodies should be making decisions about.

It was an issue for the church, its laws and time-tested traditions, he said, adding that the Law Commission and other such bodies should not overstep the boundaries of their mandates.

Bishop Jose Chittooparambil of Rajkot said those battling for changes in the practice of confession were "ignorant" of Christian teachings.

"Confession is not something forcefully implemented," he told

"It is a matter of individual choice.

"People must understand this fact."

Meanwhile on Aug. 2, the state of Kerala's High Court struck down a public interest action seeking a declaration that the hearing of confessions is unconstitutional.

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The court observed that no law compelled anybody to join a religion or to confess to a priest.

Any person disagreeing with a practice or ritual in a religion could opt out of it, the court said.

The petition was filed amid controversy in the Kerala-based Orthodox Church over the alleged compelling of parishioners to confess their sins before a priest. It has been claimed this constituted an infringement of the rights of both men and women to privacy.

Several Church leaders see federal interventions in the affairs of the church as part of Hindu groups trying to intimidate Christians since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections in 2014.

Hindu groups allied with BJP have been accused of engaging in anti-Christian activities aimed at enhancing Hindu hegemony.

And many Christian leaders complain that harassment of Christians has worsened under incumbent BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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