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Knanaya Church Case : Kerala High Court Stays Appellate Court's Stay On Decree Against Expulsion Of Members For Marrying Outside Diocese

Hannah M Varghese
9 Sep 2021 3:13 PM GMT
Knanaya Church Case : Kerala High Court Stays Appellate Courts Stay On Decree Against Expulsion Of Members For Marrying Outside Diocese
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"In my considered opinion, there should be sufficient cause for the court to stay the decree of the trial court, thereby suspending an individual's right to marry a partner of his choice", Justice VG Arun said.

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday stayed the operation of an order of a District Court in Kerala which had in turn stayed a declaration given by a civil court that the practice of endogmay in Knanaya Catholic Church was unconstitutional.The High Court passed the stay order while issuing notice in a petition filed by a reformist group within the church, Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana...

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday stayed the operation of an order of a District Court in Kerala which had in turn stayed a declaration given by a civil court that the practice of endogmay in Knanaya Catholic Church was unconstitutional.

The High Court passed the stay order while issuing notice in 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 said group had filed a civil suit before the Kottayam Sub Court in 2015 against the endogamy practice in Knanaya Catholic Church. 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.

The High Court noted that the appellate court had not indicated any reasons for granting the stay. The Court noted that Order XLI Rule 5 of the CPC mandated the Court to provide sufficient reasons to stay the operation of a decree. Also, the Court noted that the issue involved was the curtailment of the right of an individual to marry a partner of one's choice, which has been recognized as a fundamental right as the per the Supreme Court's judgment in the Hadiya case.

"In my considered opinion, there should be sufficient cause for the court to stay the decree of the trial court, thereby suspending an individual's right to marry a partner of his choice.

For now the issue stands decided in favour of the petitioners. Being so, the Appellate Court should not have stayed the operation and execution of the decree, that too without assigning valid reasons", a bench of Justice VG Arun said while issuing notices to the respondents.

"The issue involved is regarding curtailment of the fundamental right of a citizen to marry a person of his/her choice, by insisting that the partner should also be a member of the Archeparchy of Kottayam", the High Court observed in the order.

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 Mesapotamia to Kerala during 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.

What was the civil suit about?

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 the decree passed on April 30, the sub court had ruled that this practice of expulsion from the Knanaya Catholic Church for marrying outside the community was unconstitutional for being violative of the right to marry under Article 21 and right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

In its order dates 30th April, the trial court had observed:

"It is hereby declared that by entering into the sacrament of marriage with another Catholic from any other Diocese, a member of Archeparchy of Kottayam will not forfeit his/her membership in defendant No.2, the Archeparchy of Kottayam."

The trial court observed that this practice of expulsion had no Biblical basis and was against the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Its judgment stated :

"How a Catholic Diocese can expel its members if their teacher had the view "everyone whom my father gives me will come to me. I will neverturn away anyone who comes to me, because I have come down from heaven to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me" not answered and explained before Court"

"On close analysis of Bible, Canon Law, Particular Laws and Article of Faith, it is crystal clear that Jesus Christ stood for unconditional love without any discrimination among human beings. He had no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and freemen, between men and women. He stood for tolerance and forgiveness.He advised to his followers to consider all human beings without any discrimination. He considered even the persons who pierced his chest without any discrimination and prayed for them. A person who identify himself in another or who identify God in another can only pray in that score. So the Christian religion cannot encourage discrimination as Jesus stand against it".

Aggrieved by the decision, the Diocese preferred an appeal and sought an interim stay of the said judgment and decree. Accordingly, the Appellate Court stayed the operation and execution of the judgment and decree till the disposal of the appeal. 

The petitioners herein have moved the Court assailing the interim stay imposed on the execution of the decree.

Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj appeared for the petitioners before the High Court.

Case Title: Knanaya Catholic Naveekarana Samithy v. Metropolitan Archbishop & Ors

Click Here To Read/Download The Order

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