French bishops to issue digital IDs to prove priests’ identities, validity to celebrate sacraments – LifeSite

(LifeSiteNews) — In a move intended to help protect the Catholic faithful from fake priests and religious predators, the French Bishops Conference has decided to replace the printed “celebret” badges needed to perform priestly functions outside a home diocese with a digital ID card containing a QR code that will not only give information about a cleric’s canonical status but also will note any restrictions that may be applicable for a variety of reasons.

The announcement was made May 10 by Bishop Alexandre Joly of Troyes, the spokesman for the conference, who said the French bishops have already received their digital Celebret IDs while France’s 17,000-18,000 priests and deacons will be issued theirs by the end of this year.

“Celebret” means “should” or “may” celebrate.

Church authorities will be able to scan the visiting priest’s or deacon’s ID card, which will include a photo, name, date and place of birth, ordination date and diocese where it occurred, and a personal identification number. The QR code will be linked to a national database and the bearer’s status will be revealed on the scanner’s screen via a color code: green for valid ordination and absence of restrictions, orange for valid ordination but with restrictions, and red for a priest who no longer has his priestly faculties for any reason.

The nature of restrictions will not be identified on the screen and will only be available online after the cleric enters his pin plus a four-digit personal and confidential code offering access to the national database.

The restrictions are as follows: a ban on celebrating the Eucharist in public, preaching, baptizing, confessing or having one-on-one pastoral conversations (mentioning the restricted audience if applicable, such as men/women/boys/girls/outside congregations-institutes); preparing for and celebrating weddings; preparing for and celebrating the anointing of the sick; celebrating funerals; supervising youth groups alone; being alone with a minor, even in a visible space; participating in broadcasts via radio, television or the internet; and restrictions not included on the list. This information will appear in French, English and Latin, but no reason will be given for the applicable restrictions to ensure the cleric’s right to privacy.

This is one of the reasons that vocal groups of abuse victims in France have slammed the measure as “one of the Catholic Church’s top three most stupid ideas,” claiming that it did not address the causes of abuse. The last claim is true, but being able to prove one’s identity, credentials and habilitations was never a way to stop undue behavior.

The abuse victims’ groups want more, including full and public lists of clerical abusers, but this would infringe upon individual rights in a country where no such public records exist for sex offenders. It would add force to the claim that the Church includes an exceptionally high proportion of abusers, which is not true. The proportion is roughly the same as in other social and professional groups. The main difference is that there is a much higher proportion of male victims among clerical sex abusers.

Many have instead applauded the move.

Such was the case of a member of a traditional institute who writes for leading conservative weekly Valeurs actuelles and the Catholic fortnightly magazine L’Homme nouveau under the pen name of  “Père Danziec.” In an interview with CNews on May 11 (shortly after the 44th minute), he commented that “the ecclesiastical authorities have every reason to maintain strong vigilance on ministers in order to avoid that those who are under sanctions should be able to dodge restrictions.”

These restrictions are not necessarily the result of sanctions, however. Recently ordained priests may not have received the faculty to hear confessions; priests who are unable to hear or understand a confession may also have been banned from doing so.

While the card will be valid indefinitely (unless its bearer’s place of incardination should change), its information will be updated once a year, and in case of sanctions, the update will take place immediately. If a diocese forgets to do the yearly update, a priest visiting a parish or sanctuary outside of his diocese would not be able to celebrate the sacraments there. A PDF version of the celebret will be available for priests to print out for use in places with no internet connection.

The French bishops decided to update the traditional form of the Celebret in the wake of the independent report on abuse of minors by priests, religious and employees of the Catholic Church over the last 70 years that was published in October 2021. While many of its findings, based on unwarranted extrapolations of internet surveys conducted with paid respondents, are disputable, the “CIASE” report did reveal a troubling number of sexual abuse cases.

The creation of an “unfalsifiable” Celebret was not among its recommendations (these included an attack against the seal of confession and measures aimed at “desacralizing” the priestly function), but it was one of the first steps taken by the bishops conference that is now coming to fruition.

What was not said at the time is that the new national card, which will replace printed cards that vary from diocese to diocese, would use a digital, “credit card” format and make potentially sensitive information available regarding sanctions and restrictions incurred by priests.

The traditional celebret, which is classically required under Church law as proof of valid ordination and the capacity to celebrate Mass and hear confessions, is in theory issued yearly bears the signature of the bishop and the stamp of the diocese of its bearer, and the latter can be asked to produce it when seeking to celebrate Mass in another diocese, another country or a sanctuary center.

In practice, priests are seldom required to show their credentials, as they are usually known in the parishes that invite them for a liturgical function. This is less true in pilgrimage locations and abroad, and in these places the Celebret is more often demanded to check the canonical status of its bearer.

Cases of bogus priests are not unheard of and include men seeking a way to obtain funds or accommodation, or the opportunity to commit a crime thanks to the priestly status. Oftentimes, their imperfect knowledge of doctrine or the liturgy would lead to their unmasking.

In the Diocese of Toulon in the south of France, a spurious Franciscan brother was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment in 2018 for having scammed a local Catholic lady who gave him 2,500 euro (about $2,700 US) to finance the hiring of a teacher in an African orphanage.

Others pretend to be Catholic priests in order to celebrate the sacraments in Catholic churches, such as a bishop of a schismatic church in France who celebrated a funeral in a crematorium while passing himself off as a Roman Catholic priest. One of the major reasons for requiring priests to have a celebret is to protect the sacraments themselves from abuse, as well as the rights of the faithful to obtain valid sacraments.

Celebret originated in the Middle Ages under the form of a “mission letter” issued to traveling clerics in order to help identify “gyrovagues,” or monks who would travel from monastery to monastery without belonging to any single one. The practice of the celebret was extended to the universal Church by the Council of Trent.