SC to hear plea against compulsory nature of confessions to priests

Forced confessions violated the right to privacy, says Mukul Rohatgi, for the petitioners

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to consider a petition filed by a group of women against the compulsory nature of sacred confessions to priests in Christianity.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the petitioners, said “confessions are being abused”.

But Chief Justice Bobde said the veracity of such allegations would depend on the individual facts in every case.

“There cannot be a rule to impose confessions on a worshipper… Ladies are forced to confess before the priest… The court has to see whether confessions are an integral part of the religion,” Mr. Rohatgi went on to submit.

The senior lawyer said forced confessions violated the right to privacy.

Earlier interventions

When asked by the court why it should intervene in an obviously ecclesiastical issue like this, Mr. Rohatgi reminded the court about its interventions in questions concerning the personal laws and customs of communities like the Bohra Muslims and Parsis.

He said the court could examine the issues in the petition as they came within the ambit of the questions of faith, rights of women and equality referred to a nine-judge Constitution Bench in the Sabarimala case.

He sought more time to amend the petition and add more facts.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, when asked for an opinion by the court, said the whole issue stemmed from the Jacobite-Orthodox dispute. The Supreme Court had upheld the validity of the 1934 Constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church to govern the parishes under the church.

He suggested that the Kerala High Court should hear it. “The Kerala High Court knows the entire case history,” he said.

Similar plea

Earlier, the court had agreed to examine a separate but similar plea by members of the Malankara Syrian Church in Kerala seeking a declaration that forced confessions were unconstitutional by nature.

The petition had said these confessions may involve sexual exploitation of parishioners. “Church is forcing the members to mandatorily confess and mandatorily make payment of monies/dues and the said practises indulged in by the church are of public nature, affecting human dignity and liberty of thought and that the believers have been forced to remain meek and quiet out of fear of removal from parish membership, social ostracisation, etc,” it had stated.

“This pernicious practice of forced, compulsory and mandatory confession [not being voluntary] from every member, both men and women, is causing several other problems, including sexual exploitation of women and blackmailing,” the petition, filed by Mathew T. Mathachan and two others, had said.

It had sought a judicial declaration that mandatory confession is a violation of the right to privacy, liberty and dignity of the parishioners.

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