Enhanced clergy identification cards implemented for French priests

The French Episcopal Assembly has revealed a fresh celebrat a type of identification card for clergy members, with the aim of enhancing the battle against sexual misconduct within the Church. On Wednesday, May 10, 2023, the French Episcopal Assembly (CEA) unveiled the novel “celebret” that will be carried by all priests. This decision was made during the Lourdes Plenary Assembly in November 2021, following the release of the CIASE’S report on sexual abuse within the Church. The intention is to establish a national and updated model of the celebret, which will undergo regular revisions.

The celebret is an official document issued by a priest’s ecclesiastical authority (the bishop of their diocese or their major superior) certifying their priestly status, authorization to perform Mass, and the faculty to hear confessions. It exists in the form of a document that can be requested when a priest travels or during significant events. Since 1917, it has also served to identify any criminal offenses committed by the priest. Although the celebret has been in existence since the Council of Trent (1542), it has largely remained underutilized.

What is undergoing alteration? The objective of this fresh celebret model is to encourage its widespread adoption, as well as to “standardize the document across dioceses” and “provide a means for real-time updates of authorizations and restrictions,” as explained by the CEA. Moreover, it aims to “prevent impostors (false priests or deacons) from deceiving the faithful and conducting fraudulent activities by forging a celebret.”

The new celebret will be in the form of a personal identification card, identical in size to a national ID card or driver’s license. This card will feature a photograph, the priest’s first and last name, their diocese or religious community, a unique identifier, and a scannable QR code that grants access to the contents of the digital version of the celebret. The general public will not have the right to request viewing the card. Only bishops, priests from other dioceses, or shrine rectors, for instance, will be authorized to demand its presentation.

Color-coded system By scanning the QR code embedded on the priest’s card, churches and clergy members can ascertain whether the priest in question possesses the authority to administer sacraments. The color orange will indicate the presence of restrictions (“celebret ex parte”). The color green will signify that the priest is fully entitled to perform all sacraments. Conversely, the color red will indicate a complete prohibition on the priest’s sacramental activities or the revocation of their clerical status. Dioceses and major superiors plan to update the celebret annually to ensure the accuracy of the information. In the event of civil or canonical sanctions, an immediate update of the celebret will be required.

Bishops have possessed their national celebret cards since March 2023. Currently, the 13,000 priests and 3,000 permanent deacons in France are in the process of collecting their data to operationalize the system by the commencement of the 2023 academic year.

According to the comprehensive eight-page document outlining the new system, issued by the Episcopal Conference of France, the laity will not be granted the authority to request a priest or deacon to present their card. These cards are intended for use by dioceses and individual parishes, primarily for verifying the identity of visiting priests. The document compares the ID to “a press card for journalists or the professional identity card for lawyers.”

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