Here are four letters guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any parish priest or indeed parish secretary or administrator: GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). It came into effect last May and now it applies to every parish in Ireland.
In the parish where I minister, it affected us in at least two ways recently.
Last Sunday, we had a blessing of babies baptised in 2018 (to celebrate the Baptism of the Lord). In previous years, members of the Baptism team had contacted the families whose children had been baptised and invited them along. They couldn’t do this now because when we got those contact details from the families, it was only for use at the time of the baptism; these details could not be retained by team members. (For next year, we will make sure to get consent for ongoing contact for baptism-related events! We live and learn.)
The bigger problem came with the distribution of parish envelope boxes.
Over the years, the parish had evolved a list of parish families which it used when passing round these boxes. But now consent was required before details could be kept – so the number of boxes given out was limited for 2019.
You might say this is an over-reach by a ‘nanny state’, policing every details of the citizen’s life. Or you could take the opposite opinion, as I do: GDPR gives each of us the right to privacy.
Big companies can’t just record the details of our lives and use them any way they like. Neither can banks or other institutions. We each have a right to privacy, even priests: the bishop can’t just compile big folder of information about us (all those complaints about our poor homilies etc) without our being able to check over it.
People who live in parishes have rights too. People whose relatives reach the grand old age of 100 have the right to have this information kept secret, unless they actually want it to feature in the parish newsletter and at Mass. People bereaved by the loss of a close relative may be pleased to have this fact mentioned at Mass, or they may wish it were not: that’s their right too.
I am sure every diocese and parish in the country is grappling with the challenge of GDPR. Common questions include who Baptism certificates can now be given to: just the baptised person and parents, or to others — but with the family’s (written?) consent? New rules are being drawn up, which will feature in your local newsletter from time to time. Parish newsletters themselves have to be careful in what they print, lest they intrude on the privacy of parishioners.
In our diocese, we got a full day’s training on GDPR, three weeks before the regulations became law. Templates were promised, and every help to us in parish ministry, but we’re still waiting, and praying, and hoping we are doing our best to honour the letter and spirit of GDPR.
What do you want to read here? I write a piece here every five weeks or so, usually a comment on some experience I am having in the parish or a resource to help those who are part of a parish team somewhere. It’s not a reflective feature, as my weekly thoughts go in the parish newsletter (here in Murragh & Templemartin, in Cork & Ross diocese). Anyway, this section has a different vibe. I would be interested in your verdict also. Contact me any time on email@example.com or write to me at Newcestown, Bandon, Co Cork.
Search for justice continues
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ends on Friday next (January 25). This year’s theme is ‘Only Justice’, with material supplied by Christians in Indonesia, a country with 260 million people, only 10% of them Christian.
They were taken by words from Deuteronomy, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Deut.16: 20).
You can read the material on the website of ‘Churches together in Britain and Ireland’ (www.ctbi.org.uk). One challenging theme caught my eye: ‘Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.’
All of us Christians are called to look for justice in place of corruption, greed and inequality.