Will a Church-issued scannable ID help rid France of abusive priests?
(For Immediate Release May 15, 2023)
The French Bishops' Conference has just introduced its "in-house" scannable ID card which will replace the "celebret", a paper document proving the holder's credentials. The card provides color-coded background information on priests', bishops' and deacons' suitability to perform their duties or hear confession. While green and orange indicates the holder is fully or partially qualified, the main goal is to wave a red flag at those who are no longer allowed to officiate.
The Conference has finessed the context for this move by not spelling out the possible reasons for a red flag. However one can assume that the goal of this attempt at greater transparency is to weed out impostors and better keep track of those found guilty of sexual abuse - folks who often manage to evade detection and continue their criminal activities unabated.
Culturally speaking this initiative reflects an acceptance in France of an Identification Card that must be carried at all times and shown at polling stations or to any law enforcement officer who asks. Still, it has been met with dismay by some French survivors of clergy sex abuse who have years of well-founded skepticism vis-à-vis the Church.
A couple of questions come to mind. First, how can we be sure that this digital celebret will be properly updated in real time and thus reassure society that the carrier can be trusted? One is also left wondering about a profession, a "milieu" so rife with criminal behavior that its members need to carry proof of their decency and credentials. Abuse happens in all professions but we don't know of a hospital or university where doctors or university professors carry a card certifying that they have not abused patients or students in the privacy of their office.
The second question is who gets to scan the QR Code if a priest is about to take a group of children on a "pilgrimage". Is it me, a parent petrified at the thought of leaving my child in the hands of an institution known for its treatment of children (example taken from a real testimonial in the recent independent report on clerical sex abuse in France)? Even if I did have the right, would I so openly signal my suspicions to people who have crushed me with their moral authority and supposed superiority since I was myself a child? No risk of that: only the organizer of the pilgrimage will have that right. Will he/she really exercise it, knowing the implied suspicion? On balance, SNAP feels the initiative is well-meaning although damning. We give the benefit of the doubt but fear that survivors' skepticism is amply justified.