In a gay-friendly move, a French bishop has scrapped the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ from baptismal registers in favour of gender-neutral terms for parental relationships.

Driving the news

In a December 13 letter, the Bishop of Langres in north-eastern France, Joseph de Metz-Noblat (59), recommended to his priests that the references to “father” and “mother” on diocesan baptismal certificates be replaced with “the name of the parents or other holders of parental authority”.

De Metz-Noblat, Bishop of Langres since 2014, made specific mention of the fact that the change was being suggested to accommodate same-sex parents and their children into the Church’s initiation rite.

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“The situation in France is becoming more and more complex. This makes certain Catholic acts difficult, in particular, those that concern baptism”, de Metz-Noblat explained.

“Following canon 843, ‘ministers can’t refuse the sacraments to people who properly ask for them’, and since children should not be disadvantaged by their parents’ situations, a number of chanceries have found problems relating to what kind of vocabulary should or could be used”, the bishop continued.

Why it matters

De Metz-Noblat’s advice has special weight given that he’s the president of the Council for Canonical Questions of the French Bishops’ Conference.

He instructed his clergy and the bishops of other dioceses to take up the new gender-neutral baptismal record formula, “since it seems the most culturally appropriate” in a France where same-sex marriage and adoption have been legal since 2013.

Into the future, in baptismal records, “we will simply acknowledge the context of the child’s family situation, without making any moral judgment”, de Metz-Noblat wrote.

“Up to this day, in the baptism records, it [name of each parent] was stated… From now on, we will only find … names and first names of parents or other holders of parental authority … followed by the civil status mentions”.

For the record

Critics of the gender-neutral baptismal language in the Langres diocese are blasting the local Church’s new policy as a capitulation to political correctness, and an attempt to avoid likely future discrimination lawsuits.

Since the beginning of this year, France’s Parliament has been on a concerted drive to replace in official settings what it termed the “obsolete” terms ‘father’ and ‘mother’ with more gender-inclusive language, such as ‘parent’ or ‘custodian’.

Despite Bishop de Metz-Noblat’s grounding of the new gender-neutral decree in canon law – “sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them” – critics are also warning taking ‘father’ and ‘mother’ off baptismal certificates is a measure that will be difficult to enforce.

That’s because de Metz-Noblat’s decree apparently conflicts with another directive in Church law – in canon 877 – which stipulates that the names of the child’s biological parents must be recorded in baptismal registers: a stipulation that is beyond the powers of a diocesan bishop to amend.

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