TIMES NEWS NETWORK, MAY 20, 2006
NEW DELHI: The Christian missionaries engaged in proselytisation received a major boost on Friday when Pope Benedict came out in the open to oppose the law banning conversion.
Agency reports from Paris said Pope Benedict, in an unusually strong language, told India’s new ambassador in the Vatican that efforts in some states to outlaw conversions were unconstitutional and should be rejected.
The papal assertions comes in the backdrop of Rajasthan government’s efforts to enact an anti-conversion law. The Bill, passed by the state assembly, was forwarded to the governor last month.
Reports from Jaipur said state governor Pratibha Patil has not given her assent. She has referred the Bill to the President for his advice. It will be interesting to watch the Presidential response in the context of the strong statement from the Pope.
The Pope on Friday also appeared to be endorsing a section’s claim that religious intolerance was rampant in India. “
The disturbing signs of religious intolerance which have troubled some regions of the nation, including the reprehensible attempt to legislate clearly discriminatory restrictions on the fundamental right of religious freedom must be firmly rejected,” the Pope told India’s ambassador Amitava Tripathi.
New Delhi swiftly rejected the Papal assertions. “It is acknowledged that India is a secular and democratic country in which adherents of all religious faiths enjoy equal rights. The Constitution of India states that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion,” a statement issued by the external affairs ministry said.
The BJP also reacted sharply to the papal assertions. “The constitutionality of anti-conversion laws in India may be best left to India’s legislative and constitutional processes.
Indian laws which prohibit conversion — caused by duress, undue influence or bribery — are not merely legitimate or constitutional, they are also morally and ethically correct,” BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said. Pope Benedict’s assertions are not surprising as he is known to hold ultraconservative views.
Before becoming the Pontiff, for 25 long years, he was the head of the Vatican office that oversees doctrine.
The Pope has been controversial for his hard-line views and had never shown any flexibility on the Church’s views on priestly celibacy and contraception.
, he had invited controversy when he described rock music as the “vehicle of anti-religion”; dismissed feminist interpretation of the Bible; and asked bishops to deny Communion to those who support abortion. This hard-line positions earned him nicknames such as Panzercardinal, God’s Rottweiler and the Grand Inquisitor.