A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court has held that Christian priests and nuns have right to ancestral property and that denying them the right would amount to violation of constitutional right to property.
This is considered to be a landmark judgement as there were no such ruling from the Supreme Court or any High Courts of India.
The division bench was deciding on an appeal filed by a Roman Catholic priest Xavier Chullickal alias CR Xavier of Thoppumpady in Kochi. He had challenged a sub court's decision that he cannot claim right to ancestral property.
Commenting on the custom of priests and nuns being kept away from ancestral property, the court said: “That one would suffer civil death and be deprived of his property on entering into the Holy Order would be a naked infringement of Article 300 A (right to property), of the Constitution of India. Of course it is the volition of a Hindu ascetic or a Christian priest to relinquish his right over his personal property in favour of a Mutt or Monastery in a manner known to law. But there cannot be any automatic deprivation of property acquired by way of intestate or testamentary succession by the mere fact that one has entered into the religious order and renounced his worldly pleasures”.
The court said that if a nun and priest can acquire a job, then they could have property too.
“The canon law is after all a body of principles, standards, rules or norms internal to the church distinguished from the civil law. The canon law can no longer be treated as customary law after its codification by the Vatican Council in the year 1918…. It will be preposterous, therefore, to decide the civil rights of the parties based on the canon law,” the court observed.
(This article was originally published in The News Minute)
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