Catholic Church’s adjudicating power challenged in court

The petitioner said marital relationship could be dealt with or adjudicated only by civil court as per the law of the land.

Posted on March 15, 2016, 4:15 PM

Kochi (UCAN): The Catholic Church in Kerala is facing yet another test with the authority of Diocesan Tribunals being challenged before the law of the land. 

Ruffling the Church’s feathers, Dr Cherian Jobof Thiruvananthapuram has approached the High Court alleging that the Church’s parallel adjudication machinery is ‘improper and illegal’.

The petitioner said marital relationship could be dealt with or adjudicated only by civil court as per the law of the land. He has also sought a directive to ensure closure of all tribunals and systems run by religious institutions, parallel to civil courts, to adjudicate marital disputes.

Cherian, a member of the Syro Malabar Church, approached the HC after the Church Tribunal of the Changanassery Archdiocese issued a decree nullifying his son’s marriage while a divorce petition was pending before the family court. 

“The effect of the so-called decree by the Church Tribunal amounts to labelling my son as a divorcee in front of the Christian community and a married person in front of others,” Cherian said. 

Catholics, whose marriages have been annulled by a Church Tribunal but not a civil court, face the risk of being prosecuted for bigamy under the IPC if they remarry in church. Besides, without a civil annulment or divorce, the children from a second marriage would be considered illegitimate and the spouse could face criminal charges. Even the priest who solemnises second marriage can be prosecuted for abetment. 

"To avoid these risks, the Church Tribunal grants annulment only after the civil court grants divorce. This is not such a common case. Usually, annulment from Church Tribunals is granted within a period of six months to one year, depending on the cooperation of both the parties. In this case, a religious remarriage will be difficult for both parties till the civil court grants divorce," pointed out Fr James Perepadan, Adjutant Vicar Judicial of the Metropolitan Tribunal of the Ernakulam Angamali Archdiocese.

Referring to the allegation of parallel adjudication system, Fr Perepadan said civil courts and the Church Tribunal were different forums.

"While the Church Tribunal deals with only religious matters, civil law is applicable to issues such as custody of children and dowry. The Church Tribunal is in no way a parallel system to the civil court," Fr Perepadan said.

Meanwhile, Justice C N Ramachandran Nair, former Kerala High Court judge, pointed out a petition against the decision of the Church was unlikely to sustain."There is a conflict only if any provision of religious law is against the civil law," he said.

Source: New Indian Express

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