Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Can the State De-Baptize?

The Washington Post has an interesting article from January 18 entitled “Flood of ‘de-Baptisms’ Worries European Church Leaders.” [HERE] The article recounts, through several personal accounts, the large number of western Europeans who are asking civil officials to remove their names from Catholic and Protestant baptismal records.

As the report states,

A decade ago, Rene Lebouvier requested that his local Catholic church erase his name from the baptismal register. The church noted his demands on the margins of its records and the chapter was closed. But the clergy abuse scandals rocking Europe, coupled with Pope Benedict XVI’s conservative stances on contraception, hardened Lebouvier’s views. Last October, a court in Normandy ruled in favor of his lawsuit to have his name permanently deleted from church records — making the 71-year-old retiree the first Frenchman to be officially “de-baptized.” “I took the judicial route to get myself de-baptized because of the church’s excesses,” said Lebouvier, speaking by telephone from his village of Fleury, near the D-Day beaches. “It’s a sort of honesty toward the church because they have a guy on their register who doesn’t believe in God.”

The questions here are: does the civil authority have the competence to do this? Should the civil authorities have the competence to do this?

My point does not address nor do I intend to address the European matter where citizens can add or remove their names from state registers stating that a percentage of their taxes are to be paid to a particular church or religious organization as is permitted under the positive law. As this circumstance does not exist in the United States, I am not tackling this issue today. But I am raising concerns about the state inserting itself at the request of a citizen into a matter that is purely ecclesiastical. Here it seems that the state is ordering the Church to remove from its baptismal records the name of an individual who no longer chooses to remain in the Church. That is his business that reflects the exercise of his free will. But can the state reorder history and command deletion from the records that the Church has maintained for ecclesiastical purposes indicating that M. Rene Lebouvier on a certain date received the sacrament of baptism? I, for one, do not think the state has this authority because it has no role in the administration or revocation of the sacraments of the Church. Should it insist otherwise, the state is then exercising an authority for which it does not have the competence. M. Lebouvier asked that he no longer be considered Catholic, and the parish where he was baptized respected his request to apostatize. That matter should have properly stopped there.

RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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