Catholic leaders in India have forcefully denounced a proposed government ban on the sacrament of confession, saying it is unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said in a statement late last week he was “shocked” by the idea of a ban on confessions, which had been put forth by India’s National Commission for Women (NCW), a government advisory agency.
Gracias said that suggesting such a ban “betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this Sacrament for our people,” and moreover would constitute a violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Indian constitution.
The proposal formed part of a broader report on church sexual abuse and came as a reaction to two recent scandals in India involving the sacrament of confession, one in which a bishop was accused of raping a nun and another in which four priests were accused of using confession to blackmail and sexually abuse a 34-year-old woman.
“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,” Gracias said in his statement.
“I am confident the Government will totally ignore this absurd demand from the Commission,” he concluded.
In an interview with Vatican News Monday, Gracias said the ban would be “an infringement of our human rights,” while expressing confidence that the ban would not pass, since a government minister openly said he does not agree with the ban.
Cardinal Gracias was not alone in his sharp criticism of the proposed ban and was joined by several other religious leaders in the country.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the major archbishop of Trivandrum and leader of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, said that the ban was a disproportionate response to a few specific criminal incidents.
“You can’t generalize things citing some incidents. If there is a crime, the law of the land should deal with it. You can’t blame religious customs citing this,” he said.
The spokesman for the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference, Father Varghese Vallikkatt, said the ban displays anti-Christian animus and constitutes “an attack on the Christian faith and spiritual practice.”
“We strongly feel that the recommendation is unwarranted and violates the honour and credibility of the Christian community,” he said.
The National Commission for Minorities vice-chairman George Kurian said the proposal would be unconstitutional, while noting that it provokes division and misunderstanding among minority communities.
Earlier this year, Open Doors, a watchdog organization monitoring Christian persecution, said that harassment of Christians by “Hindu extremists” in India is on the rise, resulting in deaths and rape of Christian women.
In the roll-out of its 2018 World Wide List (WWL) of the top 50 “most dangerous” countries for Christians, David Curry, the president and CEO of Open Doors, said that a “shocking trend” was emerging in the world watchlist, namely the increase in persecution of Christian women.”
“The data seems to prove that Christian women are the most vulnerable population today with sexual harassment and rape and forced marriage being prime tactics from extremists against the world against Christians,” he said.
In India, which is ranked 11 on the persecution list, each day Christian women reportedly face sexual harassment, rape, and forced marriage, a phenomenon that has grown worse under the rule of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Modi only wants one religion,” Curry said, adding that justice for Christians in India is “poor,” with 635 Christians detained without trial last year alone.
The permissive attitude of a Hindu nationalist government has allowed for the escalation of violence against these communities, some of the oldest Christian congregations on earth, the Open Doors report stated.
Only a little over 2 percent of India’s population identifies as Christian, with almost 80 percent of the population being Hindu.
Last May, Indian Bishop Joseph D’Souza told Breitbart News that violence against Christians in India has grown in the past decade together with the rise of “radicalized religious groups.”
“The major challenge facing Christians in India is violence at the hand of radicalized religious groups,” Bishop D’Souza said. “In many cases these groups attack churches and Christians, including pastors, with virtual impunity.”
“State and local governments are not acting fast enough to bring the culprits under the law and provide protection for Christians,” he added, noting that violent groups “have become bolder and more mainstream.”
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