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Knanaya Church Case: Kerala High Court Grants Interim Relief To Members Marrying Outside Diocese

Hannah M Varghese
1 Nov 2021 8:25 AM GMT
Knanaya Church Case: Kerala High Court Grants Interim Relief To Members Marrying Outside Diocese
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The Kerala High Court on Monday ruled that any member of the Kottayam Archeparchy marrying outside the diocese shall be issued a marriage certificate without insisting on a letter of relinquishment of their membership until the first appellate court decides on the matter. Justice VG Arun issued the order on a petition filed by a reformist group within the church, Knanaya Catholic...

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The Kerala High Court on Monday ruled that any member of the Kottayam Archeparchy marrying outside the diocese shall be issued a marriage certificate without insisting on a letter of relinquishment of their membership until the first appellate court decides on the matter. 

Justice VG Arun issued the order on a petition filed by a reformist group within the church, Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana Samithy, challenging the stay order of the Additional District Court, Kottayam.

The trial court had held that the Kottayam Archeparchy cannot expel members for marrying outside the diocese.

The High Court found it appropriate to dispose of the petition by modifying the trial court's order:

  • If any member of a church under the Kottayam Archeparchy wishes to marry a Catholic from another diocese, he/she can make a request to the respondents for issuance of a marriage certificate or no objection certificate;
  • On receipt of the request, the respondents shall issue the certificate or no objection certificate without insisting on any letter of relinquishment of that person's membership with the Kottayam Archeparchy;
  • The question of whether the person has relinquished his/her membership in the Kottayam Archeparchy on account of the marriage will depend upon and abide by the judgement in the appeal.

The Court clarified that the directions issued above are an interim arrangement and without prejudice to the contentions of the parties:

"I am constrained to restrain from considering those contentions as that would impact the decision in the appeal. All learned counsels are in unison that the judgement in this original petition should not fetter the liberty of the appellant court to decide the questions independently.

Therefore, the Court directed the first appellate court to dispose of the appeal within a period of three months.

"The appeal shall be decided uninfluenced by the observations of the impugned order of the appellate court or the observations in the impugned order issued by this court." 

Background:

Knanaya Church is a sect of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The Knanaya community takes distinct pride in their ancestral heritage, which they trace back to Syrian Christians who are believed to have migrated from South Mesopotamia to Kerala during the 4th century.

They distinguish themselves from other Catholics on account of their unique lineage and rigorously follow endogamy, and violation of it will lead to expulsion from the community, even if the person married is a Catholic of another church.

The petitioners had moved the Sub Court seeking the reliefs of prohibitory and mandatory injunction, restraining the Metropolitan Archbishop and church authorities from expelling members of the Archeparchy of Kottayam, on marrying a person from outside the Diocese.

The petitioners challenged the act of termination as unholy, unlawful, illegal, inequitable, unconstitutional, unethical and inhuman.

In April this year, the Sub Court decreed the suit, restraining the church from expelling members for marrying non-Knanaya Catholics.

This decree was stayed by the Additional District Court, Kottayam, in an appeal filed by the Diocese. Against the stay order of the Additional District Court, the plaintiffs approached the High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution.

Case Title: Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana Samithi v. Metropolitan Archbishop, Archeparchy of Kottayam

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