A day after the National Commission for Women said it has recommended a ban on confessions in churches over fears they could lead to blackmailing of women, a Kerala bishops body has petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the move, calling it 'shocking'.
Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam, a Kerala native and a Christian, meanwhile 'rejected outright' the NCW's recommendation, insisting that the Modi government would never interfere in religious beliefs of people.
"It was shocking not only for the Christian community but also to everyone who stands for the freedom of religion," Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council president Archbishop Soosa Pakiam told a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram.
He said a memorandum has been sent to the prime minister against the recommendation.
Pakiam said the NCW had 'abused' its powers by submitting a 'one-sided' report to the Centre without consulting the church. He called it an 'irresponsible' act done 'with ulterior motives'.
Pakiam also wrote to George Kurian, Member Secretary of National Commission for Minorities, requesting him to raise before appropriate authorities the concerns of the church.
Kurian was learnt to have forwarded the letter from Pakiam to the prime minister and home minister.
'We strongly feel the recommendation is unwarranted and intended to tarnish the credibility of the Church. It is unfortunate that people in responsible positions make such statements which deeply wound the religious sentiments of the Christian minority community,' Pakiam wrote in the letter.
Kannanthanam came out against the NCW recommendation after the Church in Kerala protested.
'It is not the official stand of the government. The Union Government has no connection with the stand taken by the NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma. It is a personal opinion of Rekha Sharma,' Kannanthanam, Union Minister of State for Tourism, wrote in a Facebook post.
'The Narendra Modi government would never interfere in religious beliefs,' he insisted.
The minister said there was no need for making such a recommendation.
"Since it has come, the Modi government rejects it outright," the minister told Malayalam news channels in New Delhi.
Sharma had said the NCW had recommended abolishing the practice of 'confessions' in churches as it can lead to blackmailing of women. She said a central agency needed to do investigate the incidents of rape and sexual assault in the churches of Kerala.
"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.
The recommendation came in the backdrop of a rape case against four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who were accused of sexually exploiting a married woman by using her confession made before a clergyman.
The issue came to the fore after the victims husband wrote to the church, alleging that the priests blackmailed and abused his wife.
Pakiam told the press conference that a confession was a sacrament for the Christians and denying it will hurt their religious sentiments.
"It amounts to insulting the practice of sacrament of confession in the name of an isolated incident which is yet to be proved. It also amounts to violation of the freedom of faith and religion guaranteed by the Constitution," he said.
Pakiam said banning the practice of confession will trigger 'anxiety and suspicion' among the Christian community.
Central agencies like the NCW have the right to point out errors but they cannot control the centuries-old practices and traditions of the church which,he said, was committed to adhering to the laws of the country.
On the alleged sexual exploitation of the woman by four priests, he said, "Church is a body of humans. So, it is not beyond errors. The mistakes will be corrected within the church and the offenders punished."
The NCW had constituted an inquiry committee to look into incidents of alleged sexual assault of women in churches and sent its findings to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and the police chiefs of Kerala and Punjab.