Legal precedent versus religious/historical precedent
In France, an elderly man is fighting to make a formal break with the Catholic Church. He's taken the church to court over its refusal to let him nullify his baptism, in a case that could have far-reaching effects.Two questions:As he didn't believe in God anymore, he thought it would be more honest to leave the church. So he wrote to his diocese and asked to be un-baptized.
"They sent me a copy of my records, and in the margins next to my name, they wrote that I had chosen to leave the church," he says.
That was in the year 2000. A decade later, LeBouvier wanted to go further. In between were the pedophile scandals and the pope preaching against condoms in AIDS-racked Africa, a position that LeBouvier calls "criminal." Again, he asked the church to strike him from baptismal records. When the priest told him it wasn't possible, he took the church to court.
Last October, a judge in Normandy ruled in his favor. The diocese has since appealed, and the case is pending.
"One can't be de-baptized," says Rev. Robert Kaslyn, dean of the School of Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.
Kaslyn says baptism changes one permanently before the church and God.
"One could refuse the grace offered by God, the grace offered by the sacrament, refuse to participate," he says, "but we would believe the individual has still been marked for God through the sacrament, and that individual at any point could return to the church."
French law states that citizens have the right to leave organizations if they wish. Loup Desmond, who has followed the case for the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, says he thinks it could set a legal precedent and open the way for more demands for de-baptism.
"If the justice confirms that the name Rene LeBouvier has to disappear from the books, if it is confirmed, it can be a kind of jurisprudence in France," he says. Up to now, observers say the de-baptism trend has been marginal, but it's growing.
Should the French government support this ruling in favor of the ex-Catholic?
What does the Catholic Church or the French citizen have to lose/gain from this precedent?