Social activist Agnivesh said on Saturday he supports the National Commission for Women’s recommendation that the government abolish the practice of confession in churches. However, the commission needs to be consistent and adopt a similar stand on “far greater sexual offences” by other “godmen”, he said.

Agnivesh, an Arya Samaj leader said he welcomed the commission’s stand on confession in churches in the interest of protecting women from “exploitation by the immoral and predatory clergy of the church”.

The commission had said that the practice, meant to be a secret under church laws, was allegedly used to blackmail people, and hindered the “security and safety of women.” The commission made the recommendations following two scandals that surfaced in Kerala last month – one involving four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church blackmailing and sexually abusing a woman, and the second one in which a Catholic nun accused the Bishop of Jalandhar, Franco Mulakkal, of rape.

“I endorse, further, the stand of the commission that crimes committed by the clergy must be investigated urgently and in a credible and transparent fashion,” Agnivesh said in a statement. “Given the political clout of the church in Kerala, it is imperative that this task be entrusted to the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation].”

Agnivesh further said the practice of confessing to clergymen should be abolished also because the belief that priests can forgive anyone’s sins is “hollow and heretical”. “The pretensions underlying this practice of manly pride cannot stand rational scrutiny...No man can forgive anyone’s sins; for sins are committed against God. God alone can forgive sins, if at all,” he said.

The social activist said he, however, wondered why the women’s commission had chosen to “look the other way” when cases of sexual offences came forth against religious leaders such as Rampal, Asaram and Gurmeet Singh. “If this is not done, the intention of the NCW would come vitiated with bias, prejudice and politically nuanced opportunism,” he said.

Agnivesh urged the commission to educate women about dangers that could be present in “man-dominated religious establishments”.

“It is disappointing that even basic things like running helplines for women in distress with mechanisms for speedy response are not in place,” he added.

Archdiocese of Bombay Diocese, Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church have objected to the commission’s recommendation. Archbishop of Bombay Diocese and President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India Cardinal Oswald Gracias said there are several issues concerning women that the commission should attend to instead of “dabbling in religious matters about which it understands nothing”.