The National Commission of Women's controversial push for abolishing the practice of "confessions" in churches sparked a huge row on Friday with Kerala's top Catholic Church body complaining to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the "shocking" statement and wondering if there was a hidden "agenda" behind the recommendation.
Soosa Pakiam, the Arch Bishop of Trivandrum Catholic Archdiocese confirmed the decision to send the memorandum to PM Modi.
He told NDTV that PM Modi and other government leaders often spoke about their commitment to the constitution and respecting religious rights of minorities.
"But in practice when we see such statements, we are tempted to suspect a hidden agenda and this is what we want to bring out in open to people concerned," he said, describing the National Commission of Women chairperson Rekha Sharma's recommendation "irresponsible".
Rekha Sharma, the NCW chief had led a probe team into the rape charge levelled by a woman against priests of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The 34-year-old woman was allegedly forced into sex by a priest when she was a teenager in the 1990s. She confessed to a second priest, who along with other priests, allegedly blackmailed her into sex.
After inquiring into the incident, the NCW chief said "there must be many more such cases" of priests pressuring women into telling their secrets and recommended abolishing the practice across the country.
"We believe that the motive of the Commission is to spread tension and religious unrest among the minorities and to create division and polarization among people for political gains," the Kerala Catholic Bishop's Conference said in a statement.
"We strongly protest this unbecoming move from the part of a person in a responsible position of the Government," the letter to PM Modi said, calling the recommendation to scrap the practice of confessions "an attack on the Christian faith and spiritual practice".
"We suspect communal and political motives behind this unconstitutional interference into the internal spiritual affairs of the Church," it added.
The "strange recommendation", the church body said, had been made without considering the moral, theological or psychological aspects of the centuries old spiritual practice of confession among the Christians.
Confession, according to the Christian faith, is a Sacrament. It is a way to spiritual progress and salvation. It is a practice inherited from the early Christian communities. The sanctity of the seal of confession was held so high in the history of the Church that there are instances of priests having sacrificed their lives to protect it, a statement by Kerala's top church body said.