It used to be standard practice to assume that every child was being raised by a father and mother.
The Catholic Church in France is slowly coming to recognize that many families, even within their own parishes, don’t fit that assumption. Same-sex couples have been legally allowed to marry and adopt children since 2013. Last October, the National Assembly approved state funding for medically-assisted conception for lesbians and single people seeking to have a child.
While the Church has predictably opposed all these developments, the French Bishops’ Council for Canonical Questions has taken an important step towards equity for less traditional Catholic families by approving a recommendation to remove gendered parental terms — “mother” and “father” — from baptismal certificates.
Certificates will instead refer to “parents or other holders of parental authority” — which means the Church in France is also taking steps to include families in which the child’s parents are not their guardians or caregivers.
But in spite of that, some people are up in arms about the decision, saying it represents a rejection of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.
Speaking for the Federation of Catholic Family Associations, honorary president Antoine Renard says the changes are unnecessary. The rules around the sacraments require parents to commit to raising children “according to Church rules,” and the rules don’t recognize these sorts of families:
It’s strange the Church is being advised to adapt to state laws this way — I see no need for it. The Church teaches families are created by fathers and mothers, and that other forms are not families. Lesbian and other couples demand otherwise, but this won’t be accepted by the Church.
But the French bishops’ Council for Canonical Questions seems to disagree: The Church in France is accepting baptisms from less-traditional families. In fact, canon law requires it, according to council president Joseph de Metz-Noblat, bishop of Langres:
Knowing that, according to Canon 843, “ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times” and that children cannot be held responsible for the situation of their parents, many chancelleries find themselves confronting problems of vocabulary in terms of which expressions to use.
Work has been done by the Commission for Reform of Administrative Acts in the Church of France, the Liturgical and Sacramental Pastoral Commission, and the Council for Canonical Questions. Approved by the permanent council, the attached form principally concerns itself with the person to be baptized by making a simple note of their familial situation without imposing a moral judgment upon it.
And there it is: The form neither conveys approval nor disapproval of the fact that a child may have two mothers, two fathers, one of each, or something completely different. It just acknowledges the reality that many different family structures exist, whether the Church likes it or not.
It never fails to amaze. The French bishops have taken a particularly low-stakes stance here, essentially saying “we shouldn’t condemn a child to hell just for being part of a family form we don’t consider valid” — and still, they face criticism and censure from within the holier-than-thou ranks of the faithful.
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