Could this be coming to a diocese near you?
Rattled by repeated cases of sexual abuse over the years, the French Catholic Church will soon provide digital ID cards with scannable QR codes that will offer colour-coded background information – ranging from green to orange to red – on bishops, priests and deacons. But the new measure is raising eyebrows.
Old sins cast long shadows. After centuries of secrecy, the French Bishop’s Conference (CEF) has decided it will be more transparent by equipping priests, bishops and deacons with digital, scannable identification cards. No bigger than a bankcard, the IDs will certify whether or not its holder is fit to perform a sermon or has the right to hear confession.
Essentially, the cards identify whether or not the Church member is facing a sexual abuse charge.
When the announcement dropped on Wednesday 10 May, it sparked a mini revolution within the French Catholic Church. The bishop of Troyes, a town in eastern France, called it a “cultural shift”.
By simply scanning a QR code on these IDs, anyone can access color-coded information on a clergy member. Green means there are no restrictions on them leading a mass or hearing confession. Orange indicates that some restrictions are in place, but not necessarily that the clergy member is an abuser (for example, a young priest may have been recently ordained and is not yet qualified to lead mass or confession). Red is reserved for someone who can no longer preach or practice, or that they have been stripped of clerical status – but the nature of the sanction isn’t specified.
An ID card for bishops, priests and deacons isn’t an entirely new idea. French Catholic Church clergy have always had what’s called a “celebret”, a paper document certifying their profession. But French bishops deemed the system “too easily falsifiable … and complicated to update”, so have now opted for a digital version.
French bishops first decided to use the new cards during a 2021 conference following a damning report published by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (Ciase). “It seemed essential to see what we could change … to make the Church safer” in terms of sexual abuse, explained Alexandre Joly, a Troyes bishop and conference spokesperson, at a press briefing.
Christine Pedotti, who runs the Christian weekly magazine “Témoignage Chrétien” (Christian Witness), said the paper IDs “had always been used by priests while travelling, for example, to prove to another priest that they were authorised to co-lead a mass”.
“Today’s updated digital version is more modern and has a new feature that allows someone to check whether the priest has been suspended. It’s a good idea given the current context, and should prove quite useful,” she said.