The Kerala High Court has held that Christian priests and nuns cannot be denied their rights over personal property merely because they have entered into the religious order and renounced worldly pleasures. There was absolutely no statutory prohibition for a Christian priest or nun in the matter of intestate or testamentary succession of property in his/her personal capacity, a division bench ruled. In the judgement delivered on June 7, the bench comprising Justices V Chitambaresh and K Ramakrishnan wondered how a priest or nun would suffer a “civil death” for the purpose of succession alone when he/she was very much alive and competent to accept a job on salary or practice as a lawyer receiving fees.
The court gave the verdict on an appeal filed by a Christian priest challenging a principal sub-court’s order that he cannot claim right to ancestral property. Some of the kin of the priest who inherited a certain property from his parents, had approached the lower court arguing that he was “at best a manager only who had suffered a civil death on becoming a priest and his property should be divided eschewing his share.” The high court said neither was any specific plea made nor any issue framed or evidence let in as regards the alleged custom amongst the diocesan priests to desist from holding property on entering into the Holy Order.
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To hold that one would suffer a “civil death” and be deprived of his property on entering into the Holy Order would be a “naked infringement of Article 300-A of the Constitution, it said. “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,” it said.