Catholic leaders in India Friday slammed the national women’s rights watchdog for seeking to ban church confessions after two priests were arrested for allegedly raping and blackmailing a woman over 20 years.
Two more priests are being investigated in the scandal that has rocked the Syrian Orthodox church in the southern state of Kerala since the 34-year-old woman reported her cycle of abuse earlier this month.
The woman told police that the priests at the church used her confessions to blackmail her into having sex with them.
India’s National Commission for Women on Thursday called on the government to scrap confessions in all churches, saying they were being used to blackmail vulnerable women.
The recommendation was made in a report to the government on sexual abuse in the church.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council said the demand had hurt the religious sentiments of India’s Christian minority.
“It is an attack on the Christian faith and spiritual practice. We strongly feel that the recommendation is unwarranted and violates the honor and credibility of the Christian community,” said bishops’ council spokesman Varghese Vallikkatt.
“We suspect communal and political motives behind this unconstitutional interference into the internal spiritual affairs of the Church.”
Hindu-majority India is officially secular, with Christianity the third-biggest religion according to a 2011 census.
Christians make up 2.3 percent of the 1.3 billion population, or about 28 million people.
Christians have highlighted a rise in attacks on churches and devotees in recent years, fueling tensions in the diverse country.
They blame the violence on Hindu hardliners, who they say have been emboldened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government which swept to power in 2014.