France: Church May Refuse to Alter Baptismal Register

Source: FSSPX News

The Council of State

The Directorate of Legal and Administrative Information, reporting to the French Prime Minister, on February 29, 2024 published a decision of the Council of State, the highest administrative court in France. Indeed, one of the missions of this Council is to resolve disputes which pit citizens, businesses and associations against administrations.

The affair began in 2020 in Angers. A person wanting to renounce any link with the Catholic Church contacted the diocesan association of Angers to request the opposition and erasure of his personal data appearing in the baptismal register of the Diocese of Angers, in accordance with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The association refused. The complainant then turns to the Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés (CNIL) which closed the complaint: finding that none of the grounds for erasure of the GDPR (Article 17) apply to this request and the addition of a statement written in the margin of the register indicating his rejection of baptism, meets his right of opposition (Article 21).

The person then contacted the Council of State to demand that the CNIL order the erasure of their personal data appearing in the baptismal register of the Diocese of Angers.

The Decision of the Council of State

It is interesting to consider the reasons given by the Council of State to support its decision. It first recalls that, “for the Catholic Church, baptismal registers are intended to preserve the trace of an event constituting entry into the Christian community and that baptism can only be received once in a person's life.”

The following reason is important: The Council of State “notes that the definitive erasure of the baptism registration could prevent the person concerned from reintegrating into the Christian community if they wished to do so, and it considers that the mention of the initial baptism is therefore indispensable to the Church.” A common sense reason to preserve the record for the future.

A third reason is added: “The data appearing in the baptismal registers benefit from permissible processing due to their conditions of access, conservation and archiving, as well as their objective relating to the monitoring of the religious journey of the baptized persons and the possible establishment of subsequent acts within the framework of the administration of Catholic worship.”

Finally, the Council of State notes that “for the Church, the interest attached to the conservation of personal data relating to baptism appearing in the register, must be considered as a compelling legitimate reason, prevailing over the moral interest of the requester to request the permanent erasure of his data.” 

In other words, the rigorous confidentiality and methodical archiving applied by the Church to its registers are considered a guarantee of the necessary use of this essential data. The Council of State, in its judgment of February 2, 2024, therefore confirmed the CNIL's decision.

In summary: the inclusion in the baptismal register of a statement according to which the baptized person has expressed his or her desire to renounce any link with the Catholic religion is sufficient to guarantee the right of opposition. None of the grounds for erasure provided for by the GDPR apply.