Kerala HC Dismisses Plea Against Sacramental Confession Before Church [Read Judgment]

Kerala HC Dismisses Plea Against Sacramental Confession Before Church [Read Judgment]

A division bench of the High Court of Kerala has dismissed a petition seeking to declare the practice of ‘Sacramental Confession’ to be unconstitutional.

Through a public interest litigation, the petitioner, who professes Christianity, contended that by virtue of his religious practice, he had to undergo ‘Sacramental Confession’ before a priest. Such a practice, it was stated, was requisite to relieve oneself of his sin and was a condition precedent for fulfilling the temporal and spiritual needs of being a Christian. A person who does not undergo such a procedure would be denied the benefit of such services from the Church, it was contended.

The above practices, according to the petitioner, violated his rights of privacy and his religious freedom and guaranteed rights under Articles 21 and 25 (1) of the Constitution of India. Hence, he sought for a direction to declare the practice of ‘Sacramental Confession’ in Christian faith as unconstitutional.

The bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice AK Jayashankaran Nambiar repelled the contentions put forth by the petitioner.

The bench said the practice of ‘Sacramental Confession’ formed one of the quintessential practices of following Christianity. The apprehension of the petitioner that even though by remaining as a Christian not adhering to such a practice would disable him from receiving temporal and spiritual services cannot be a said to be any violation of his fundamental right, the court said.

The court, through Acting Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy, observed: “The case of the petitioner, as discernible from the submissions of his counsel, is that by virtue of his birth into a family that owes allegiance to the 6th respondent church, he is a member of the said church and is obliged to adhere to the rituals and practices prescribed by the church, for attaining spiritual salvation. The sacrament of confession is stated to be one such ritual by which members of the church believe they will be restored with God’s grace. The belief is that confession reconciles a person to God in that through confession, one acknowledges his/her sins, repents for them and asks God for forgiveness. Through this ritual, which is conducted through a priest before whom the confession is made, grace is restored to ones soul so that he/she can thereafter resist sin. The catholic believes that the sacrament confers the graces that helps one to live the christian life and it is therefore essential that he receives it at least once in a year. Moreover, it is also believed that the sacrament of confession was instituted by Christ as the proper form of forgiveness for one's sins.”

The bench further said: “By expressing his disenchantment with the said practice/ritual, the petitioner no doubt indicates that he does not want to adhere to the said ritual. He does not, however, want to part with his membership of the Church since that, according to him, would deprive him of certain rights/privileges such as a right to be buried in a particular cemetery or the right to have his children baptised in the church. While we sympathise with the peculiar dilemma faced by the petitioner, we are unable to attribute his predicament to the violation of any right that has accrued to him, under the Constitution.”      

Touching upon the religious freedoms and practices guaranteed under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, the bench said the above provisions do not compel anyone to choose any particular religion over another. The petitioner has chosen to follow Christianity by choice and it cannot be said he had been forced to do so in any manner. The bench made such a mention with particular reference to the apprehension of the petitioner that by remaining a Christian, he had to undergo ‘Sacramental Confession’, which according to him was compulsory.

The court said by choosing to remain with a particular faith or religious belief, one had to adhere to the norms prescribed under its religious tenets. The petitioner embraced Christianity voluntarily being fully aware of the factum that by remaining to be one such, he had to strictly follow its religious practices and etiquettes which may include ‘Sacramental Confession’. If the petitioner chooses to disregard any such practice, he is voluntarily giving up or ceases to be a member of such religious faith.

The approach of the petitioner to remain as a Christian and his apprehension that by not undergoing ‘Sacramental Confession’  would disable him from receiving temporal and spiritual services of the church cannot be resolved through a proceeding under Article 226, the court said.

Repelling further contentions of the petitioner, the court said that it would be highly improper for a court to transgress into the constitutionally guaranteed rights of religious dominations (herein churches) in managing their own religious affairs which would certainly include the practice of ‘Sacramental Confession’. The court opined thus: “We cannot overlook the fact that the respondent churches also have the constitutionally guaranteed rights under Article 26, to manage their religious affairs and it would, therefore, be highly improper for the Court to intervene and declare that confession cannot be made a condition precedent, for enjoyment of any of the spiritual and temporal rights of the member of a Christian church and denial of any such right would thus amount to denial of fundamental right. Therefore, such intervention is found to be constitutionally impermissible.”

Read the Judgment Here