Kerala high court dismisses PIL against confession

KOCHI: The Kerala high court on Thursday dismissed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to declare confession among Christians as unconstitutional and a violation of right to privacy. Dismissing the PIL at the admission hearing itself, a division bench led by acting chief justice Hrishikesh Roy said no law in the country compels anyone to join a religion or undergo confession before a priest.

One has the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion, subject to public order, morality, and health, and if a person disagrees with the rituals or practices in a religion, he or she has the right to leave it, the bench said.

‘Confession not announced in public’

 However, having accepted the beliefs of a religious sect, one cannot insist that the sacraments or rituals be practiced in the manner in which one wants it, the court said. The court also pointed out that a confession is made by a parishioner to a priest and not announced in public.
The petition was filed by CS Chacko of Varikoli in Ernakulam. According to the PIL, Latin Catholic Church, Syro Malabar Catholic Church, Syro Malankara Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Malankara Marthoma Syrian Church insist that believers confess before a priest. A member of these churches who doesn’t confess has to live in apprehension that his spiritual and temporal needs – associated with birth, death and marriage –will be denied by the church, the PIL said.

“The threat of undeclared sanction by the church and isolation from society in which he lives creates a feeling of fear in the minds of those members,” the plea stated. Such compulsion by church on members to confess is nothing but violation of right to privacy and other fundamental rights, it was alleged. The PIL also argued that though the bible speaks of confession, it does not specify any rigid practice, procedure, formalities, maintenance of register, middleman, penal action or any denial of right associated with it.

Specifically citing provisions in Canon Law (988 and 989) that makes it obligatory on the part of the faithful to confess, the PIL contended that such an obligation is violative of right to privacy, which is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The test of right to privacy should also be applied to two other provisions of Canon Law (959 and 965) that says the faithful must confess their sins individually to a minister and that only a priest can be a lawful minister, the petition said.