The Indian government should ban the sacrament of confession in the country, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has proposed, saying Catholic clergy use it to harass women, AsiaNews reports.

The state advisory body said in its statement that confessions can lead to blackmail and that “priests pressure women into telling their secrets”.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said he was “shocked” to discover the demand in the press.

“This demand by the commission betrays a total lack of understanding of the nature, meaning, sanctity and importance of this sacrament for our people and also an ignorance of the strict laws of the Church to prevent any abuse,” he said.

According to Catholic news agency UCAN, Indian bishops see the new proposal as “unwarranted interference in the affairs of Christians”.

“It is none of their business to interfere with the religious matters of Christians,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said.

“Generalising and stigmatising a whole community for the alleged misdeeds of a few people is totally unfair and uncalled for,” Mascarenhas added.

The bishops’ council in India’s Christian heartland, Kerala, said the proposal violated the freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution and that it was aimed at creating “sectarian tension and violence”.

Cardinal Gracias said that the commission should instead focus on other aspects of women’s lives in India: “There are very many issues concerning women that the commission should pay attention to: empowerment of women, their capacity building, prevention of domestic violence, organising rescue systems, and so on, instead of dabbling in religious matters about which it understands nothing.”

The NCW’s proposal followed two incidents in which priests allegedly harassed women using information they heard through their confessions against them. In the first case, the bishop of Jalandhar was accused of raping a nun in Kerala between 2014 and 2016. The other case involved four priests from Kerala who are accused of blackmailing and harassing a parishioner.