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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - Clerics in France are being issued electronic identity cards that can be scanned to check if the priest has been charged with sexual abuse or stripped of his clerical status.
Bishops, priests and deacons will be required to produce the wallet-sized plastic swipe cards on public demand to ascertain they are not potential sex abusers, a move that clerical sex abuse victims have derided as a public relations stunt.
A QR code embedded in the card will use a traffic light system to indicate the cleric's eligibility to celebrate the sacraments: green if the priest has no restrictions, orange if the cleric is barred from being with children and red if the cleric is banned from ministry.
Bishop Alexandre Joly, spokesperson for the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) told a press conference on Wednesday that the ID card would modernize the celebret — an ecclesiastically authorized document certifying that the holder is a validly ordained priest.
The celebret traces its origin to the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which ruled that "no foreign cleric may, without a commendatory letter from his own Ordinary, be admitted by a bishop to celebrate the Divine Mysteries."
By 1917, the celebret had become institutionalized as the priest's identity card and was used at the time to fight clerical sex abuse, particularly abuse perpetrated by priests in the confessional.
"Until now, the celebret was a paper document, falsifiable, and complicated to update," Bp. Joly told reporters. "It seemed essential to see what we could change ... to make the Church safer."
The measure also aims to "respect victims who can't understand, and rightfully so, why someone who has committed serious acts can continue to perform Mass or confess," the bishop added.
The cleric's safeguarding status on the digital ID can be accessed by scanning the QR code with a smartphone or by connecting to the celebret.cef.fr site and keying the priest's name and ID number and entering his confidential code, the CEF website stated.
"Thanks to the QR code, the new card gives access to the secure national directory of clerics which contains all the information of clerics on French territory," the CEF noted. "If the ordained minister refuses to present his card, he will not be able to celebrate."
Anyone supervising a religious event (a gathering, a pilgrimage, a Mass) and who is responsible for welcoming the ministers (a sacristan in a church, the host priest in a sanctuary) is entitled to ask an ordained minister to show his card, the website noted.
But victims of clerical sex abuse dismissed the move as a public relations stunt.
"It's quite an exceptional measure which, in my opinion, is one of the Catholic Church's top three most stupid ideas," François Devaux, former president of the clerical abuse victims' group, La Parole Libérée (The Liberated Word), told France 24.
"This new ineptitude is a sign of the Church's idleness. It has not understood the criticism it has faced, nor does it want to. In any case, the initiative is a far cry from the measures that were recommended in the CIASE report," he explained.
"If we have to scan the QR codes of clergy members to reassure Catholics, it means the Church has hit a new low," Devaux observed.
"It's nothing more than a publicity stunt, and it shows the extent to which trust has been broken between the faithful and their hierarchy," he added.
"This idea has rightly been described by victims' groups as a stunt," Richard Scorer, head of abuse law at Slater and Gordon, told Church Militant. "I'm afraid that this stunt is entirely in keeping with Pope Francis' cynical response to clerical sex abuse to date — more PR, but no real substance."
Scorer, who acts for many victims of abuse in the Catholic Church, stressed that "priests who commit sex offences, or are credibly suspected as having done so, should not be priests at all."
"Those who do commit sex offences but try to stay in the priesthood are inherently dishonest and therefore unlikely to admit their offences to lay Catholics or members of the public in any event," Scorer remarked.
"The Catholic church needs to have a zero-tolerance attitude to clerical sex offenders, but this stunt simply reinforces the reality that far too often, offenders remain in the priesthood for a long time," he lamented.
The final report by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) made 45 recommendations, but there is no mention of a digital ID card. The report found that some 216,000 children, mainly boys, were abused by clerics since 1950.
All 18,000 priests and deacons across France will receive their QR codes by the end of the year, the CEF stated. Bishops have already received them. Every diocese and religious congregation will annually update data concerning its bishops, priests and deacons.
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