The bishop charged with handling questions of canon law in France has encouraged his episcopal colleagues to use gender-neutral language on baptismal certificates in an effort to be more welcoming to LGBTQ parents.
Bishop Joseph de Metz-Noblat of Langres made his recommendation in a December 13, 2019 letter to France’s bishops in his role as president of the national episcopal conference’s Council for Canonical Questions. Metz-Noblat wrote that the “increasingly complex situation of families in France” has raised challenges for pastoral practice, particularly in regards to baptism. He continued:
“Knowing that, according to canon 843, ‘ministers cannot refuse the sacraments to people who request them properly’ and that children cannot be held responsible for the situation of their parents, many chancelleries have been confronted with vocabulary problems in the expressions to be used.
“Joint work was carried out by the Commission for the Reform of Administrative Acts of the Church of France, the Commission for Pastoral, Liturgical, and Sacramental Work and the Council for Canonical Questions. Approved by the Permanent Council, the attached form is mainly concerned with the baptized person, making a simple statement of their family situation, without making a moral judgment on it.”
Metz-Noblat concluded his letter by asking fellow bishops to adopt a gender-neutral practice on baptismal certificates in their dioceses as it seems “most appropriate for our time.” His letter included an attached template for such a certificate. Instead of reading the “son/daughter of ______ and _____,” as had been the case previously, the proposed certificate reads “Names and surnames of parents or other holders of parental authority” with spaces below and an area to note the parents’ civil status. The signatory lines for godparents, however, still read “Godfather” and “Godmother.”
Baptizing the children of LGBTQ parents is an opening for more welcoming pastoral care, efforts supported by an increasing number of church leaders including Pope Francis. Changes similar to that proposed by Metz-Noblat could easily be expanded worldwide within the parameters of existing canon law and doctrine, as has happened in Colombia and in Spain. And beyond helping parents in same-gender relationships, making church records gender-neutral and adaptive to LGBTQ needs could greatly help transgender and intersex Catholics, too (as evidenced in the Philippines).
While many pastoral ministers have offered such baptisms for some time, structural reforms like adapting baptismal certificates are necessary to be fully inclusive. France’s bishops would be wise to adopt the proposed gender-neutral language and to open their doors even wider so that all who wish to be baptized feel welcome.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2019