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Vatican in dock for human rights violations in India


Paulose Vareed


Vatican in dock for human rights violations in India


On 21st September 2022 the Human rights watchdog in India the National Human Rights Commission registered a complaint filed by Ms. Anna Shiby that bears Archbishop Antony Kariyil’s name as the victim (https://www.hrcnet.nic.in/HRCNet/public/CaseStatus.aspx).



This has stirred a hornet’s nest in the social media groups supporting Cardinal George Alenchery. As per news paper reports the complaint is regarding the conditions attached to the forceful resignation of Archbishop Antony Kariyil. As one may recall, he was ordered to shift to a monastery outside the territorial limits of Ernakulam - Angamaly Archdiocese and was banned from entering its territorial limits by the Vatican representative in India Nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli. In an earlier post the legality of Nuncio’s action was discussed (https://www.laity4justice.com/post/colonial-vatican-and-independent-india).

National Human Rights Commission was established by an Act of Parliament, the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (https://nhrc.nic.in/acts-&-rules/protection-human-rights-act-1993) in accordance with the Paris Principles (https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/principles-relating-status-national-institutions-paris). Its major function is to promote and protect human rights. The registration of a complaint is the first stage in an investigation about a human rights violation. Though it is crystal clear that the Nuncio’s actions were serious human rights violations and an affront on India’s Constitution and sovereignty, there are many procedural issues that may arise as the complaint is taken up. But even a general adverse observation by the Commission will put Vatican in a difficult spot and would severely affect its diplomatic relations with India. This becomes even more serious as there are calls for severance of diplomatic ties with Vatican from a prominent BJP politician (https://www.republicworld.com/india-news/politics/scrap-all-ties-with-the-vatican-and-close-its-embassy-says-dr-subramanian-swamy-to-pm-modi-heres-why.html)

The social media handles that support Cardinal Alenchery is trying their level best to mount a spirited defense of Nuncio’s actions. Their main argument is that there is no restriction for Archbishop Antony Kariyil to travel and settle in Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese as an ordinary citizen. Such a defense does not stand up to neither legal nor logical scrutiny. The question to be asked is what would happen if Archbishop Kariyil defied Nuncio’s order? The obvious answer is that further punishments including excommunication may be imposed on him. Even Vatican would not want to be seen as an institution that excommunicates an Archbishop in complete disregard for notions of human rights. As was discussed earlier, Archbishop Kariyil was punished for not obeying an order that was a clear violation of the secular laws of India and Canon law of the Church.

Those who argue that Church has power to prescribe its own rules forget the fact that freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. Catholic Church as a religious denomination is guaranteed the fundamental right to manage its religious affairs under Article 26 of the Constitution. But the protection of that Article is available only to those practices that are essential religious practices (ERP). It is nobody’s case, one would assume even that of the Syro-Malabar Synod, that imposing punishments in complete disregard for human rights for a ‘crime’ of not obeying instructions that are against the secular laws of the country and canon law of the Church is an essential religious practice of Catholic Church. The prescription of celibacy of priests and religious is protected under ERP but not the current actions of the Nuncio.


Further, under Article 25 an individual has freedom of religion. Inhuman punishments like the one imposed on Archbishop Kariyil is a violation of his freedom of religion. Arguments like ‘Catholic Church functions like this, whoever does not approve such actions can leave the church’ does not stand the test of Indian laws. This was made amply clear by a District Court in Kerala, which nullified the excommunication order issued by the Kottayam Knanaya Catholic Archdiocese for marrying outside the community (https://theprint.in/judiciary/violates-art-25-kerala-court-on-knanaya-church-expelling-members-marrying-outside-community/1133582/).

As observed in an earlier post, the ultra-conservatives of the Syro-Malabar Church has made Vatican a laughing stock. Now they have gone a step further and Vatican and the Pope is painted as autocrats who have utter disregard for notions of human rights.


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