07/28/2018, 15.01
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For Card Gracias, the National Commission’s call to ban confessions 'violates our freedom of religion'

by Nirmala Carvalho

The government agency wants to prevent priests from pressuring “women into telling their secrets women". Two cases of alleged harassment were reported in Kerala and Punjab in the past month. For the president of the Bishops’ Conference, “There are very many issues concerning women that the Commission should pay attention to”.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The National Commission for Women (NCW) has called on the Indian government to ban the sacrament of confession throughout the country. For the agency, this would stop harassment and blackmail by Catholic clergy against women.

“I was shocked to read in the press about the demand from the National Commission for Women for a ban on the Christian Sacrament of Confession,” said Card Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

“This demand by the Commission betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this Sacrament for our people and also an ignorance of the strict laws of the Church to prevent any abuse.”

The NCW, which is chaired by Rekha Sharma, is a government agency that advises India’s central government on policies and actions in favour women in India.

On Thursday, it issued a statement calling for a ban on confessions because they can lead to blackmail. In its statement, the NCW claims that “priests pressure women into telling their secrets”.

The request follows two recent cases involving churchmen in Punjab and Kerala. In the first one, Mgr Franco Mulakkal, bishop of Jalandhar (Punjab), stands accused of raping a nun in Kerala between 2014 and 2016. The second case concerns four priests of the Syro-Malankara Church in Kerala who are accused of harassing and blackmailing one of their parishioners.

In the first case, the nun is suspected of acting out of personal revenge. In the second case the investigation is under way and two priests are free on bail.

According to Card Gracias, "Such a ban will be a direct infringement on our freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

“Millions of people from all over the world, over the centuries, have testified to the spiritual benefit of this Sacrament and to the grace, pardon and peace they have experienced as a result of receiving this Sacrament.

“I am confident the Government will totally ignore this absurd demand from the Commission.”

What is more, “There are very many issues concerning women that the Commission should pay attention to: empowerment of women, their capacity building, prevention of domestic violence, organising rescue systems, and so on, instead of dabbling in religious matters about which it understands nothing.”

At the same time, "The Church wishes to promote even more the advancement of women in society and is ready to collaborate with the National Commission for Women for this, as it does with other agencies.”

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