The steady increase in cases of AIDS across India has spurred a regional Catholic priests' conference in Kerala to urge the Church to insist on HIV blood tests before solemnising marriages.
The Nazrani Catholic Priests' Conference, a powerful body of the Kerala-based oriental Syro-Malabar Church, said the apex Kerala Catholic Bishops Council must incorporate a law to empower parishes to ask for HIV-negative certificates from couples before solemnising marriages.
"We have submitted a proposal to the Church. It must frame a law to make AIDS tests mandatory for marriages in India," Father Francis Karippery, the NCPC general secretary, told rediff.com.
According to him, bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, who are attending a synod meeting in Kerala, are expected to discuss the AIDS proposal.
The Church in India comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. The Latin laity follow Roman liturgy introduced by European missionaries in the 15th century, while the other two, based in Kerala, follow oriental liturgies and customs and trace their origins to Saint Thomas.
The Syro-Malabar Church accounts for 3.5 million of India's 16 million Catholics.
Karippery said in several European countries and the United States medical check-ups and blood tests for AIDS are obligatory for Catholic marriages. "We need to establish a similar social system because of the alarming increase in AIDS cases across the country," he said.
"Most bishops agree to our proposal that only youngsters with proper AIDS test certificates should be allowed to get married. This will revolutionise the health system," Karippery said.
The Church considers marriage a 'sacrament' and insists aspiring couples must undergo a marriage preparation course before tying the knot.
Karippery, vicar of the Koonammoochy parish in the Thrissur archdiocese, disclosed that the death of a young Catholic couple by AIDS in a nearby village prompted the NCPC to take up the proposal with the Church.
The priest said the NCPC believes mandatory AIDS tests for weddings will spread awareness about the dreaded disease.
The World Health Organisation estimates HIV, which has no known cure, has infected 5 million people in India. About 90 percent of the country's HIV positive cases are in the 20-45 age group, the most economically productive segment of the population.