From Our Own Correspondent "Confessional secrets shall not be divulged even for the sake of avoiding capital punishment."
Such were the words used by the Rev. Fr. Paul, Parish Priest of St. Joseph's Church, Cantonment, Trevandrum, in his reply to a police officer who demanded from him the disclosure of the name of one of his penitents in connection with a case of theft under police enquiry.
The attitude of the priest has moved the ire of the police authorities; and they have launched a charge against him, as per section 172 of the Travancore Penal Code " for concealing information that would materially help the authorities of the State in the administration of justice."
It would appear that about three years ago certain ornaments of value were stolen from the residence of one, Mr. Krishnan Pandalay, an employee in the Government Account Department. All attempts to trace the thief or to recover the stolen goods being of no avail, the incident of the theft faded out of the memory of all except those immediately interested in it.
Thief Returns Jewels
Two years passed, and then a penitent at the confessional declared to Fr. Paul that he was the thief in question, The priest made him realise the duty of returning the stolen goods to the owner for clearing his conscience, and the man soon after entrusted the jewels to Ir. Paul with the request that they be returned to the owner. This was duly done.
The police came to know of the return of the articles through Mr. Pandalay; and Fr. Paul was eventually asked to disclose the name of the thief. He pleaded his inability to comply with the demand con sistent with the teaching of the Church and his avowed duties as a confessor. The officer in charge of the case al the time dropped the matter, saying that he could not proceed any further owing to " religious reasons."
He was superseded, however, by another, who took up the enquiry again. He demanded from Fa Paul once more the disclosure of the thief's name; and the priest once more refused.
Confessor Charged The next step the police took was to frame a charge against Fr. Paul as per provisions of the Penal Code referred to above.
The case is pending before the Town Magistrate of Trevandrurn, and has created much sensation among all classes of people. Even among the Hindus, there are people who feel disappointed that the selfless services of Fr. Paul both to the State and to the owner of the ornaments should have been requited in this manner, dragging him unnecessarily to the Court of Law.
Since our correspondent sent the above report a cable from Madras states that the Travancore police have dropped the charge against Fr. Paul. In defence of their previous behaviour a spokesman of the Travancore Government pointed out that the privilege of confessional secrets is not written in the Indian Penal Code and that the police were therefore acting not from any antagonistic motives, but merely under that law as it is written.
The charge, however, has meant an interesting test case and the wide publicity it has received in India will, it is expected, result in an amendment or revision of certain clauses in the Indian Penal Code.