India’s highest court has agreed to hear a petition by three members of the Kerala-based Malankara Orthodox Church. Under a 1934 rule, the Church requires its members to confess at least once year and enters the names of penitents in a register. The three petitioners claim that the confession is often used to extort money or sexual favours.
Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India accepted yesterday to examine a petition presented by three members of the Kerala-based Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
In their plea, the petitioners claim that the annual mandatory sacramental confession is a violation of a person’s privacy, and that women confessing their sins expose themselves to abuse and blackmail.
For Mathew T Mathachan, Shaji P J and Jose C V, “The compulsion to confess is a serious intrusion into the privacy of a person.” Their argument points to a 1934 Church rule that requires members of the Orthodox community to confess at least once a year. The names of the penitents and the confession are then recorded in a “Confession Register”, which is regularly updated.
According to the three petitioners, vicars and priests use the register as “a tool for exploiting men and women”. They do so by threatening to make their confessions public unless men pay money for their silence and women offer sexual favours.
In 2018, the Orthodox Church suspended five priests following allegations that they sexually abused a mother of two, using her sacramental confession. One priest taped a sexual encounter and threatened to expose her confessional secrets to her husband. The video was used by other priests for blackmail.
The petitioners allege that “such misuse and abuse” have “been going on for several decades,” with believers “forced to remain meek and quiet out of fear of removal from parish membership, excommunication, social ostracism, etc.”
Speaking on behalf of the Church, Fr Johns Abraham Konatt acknowledged that “There might be a few instances of misuse of confession, but that does not mean that the sacrament should be done away with” since it is “an integral part of practising our Christian faith.”
In a similar case, the Kerala High Court heard a petition in 2018 that argued that the confession violated the Indian constitution, which guarantees “the right to life and personal liberty”. However, the court dismissed the request, noting that the “constitution also mandates that a person has the right to join or leave a religion as per his choice and there is no compulsion on this.”