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Data Protection Commission

Case Study 8

Catholic Church baptismal records deletion request not upheld

I received a complaint during 2003 from an individual living in the Netherlands who stated that he had contacted the parish priest in a Catholic church in Ireland where as a baby he believed he had been baptised in 1978. He had requested to have his name removed from church records and that his request had been refused on the grounds that it was not possible to be removed from the church register. He stated that he never joined the Catholic church; his parents had enrolled him without his consent; he now wished to distance himself from it and there was no longer any need for the church to keep information about him.

On investigation of the complaint, the Parish Priest advised my office that a thorough search of the Baptismal Registers for the year in question and for the years before and after that, had failed to reveal a record of the complainant's baptism. The Priest came to the conclusion that it appeared that the complainant may not have been baptised in that parish, and advised that should he provide documentary evidence, for example, a copy of a Baptismal Certificate, then the matter would be investigated further. He also indicated that he would be willing to note the record that the person no longer wished to be associated with the catholic church or to be classed as a catholic.

With regard to his request to have his data deleted from the Register, should the relevant record be identified by him, it is my understanding that the data could not be deleted from the Register as it is essential for the administration of Church affairs to maintain a register of all the people who have been baptised. Indeed it is of course a factual record of an event that happened. However the proposed noting of the register would more than comply with Section 6 of the Data Protection Acts, 1988 and 2003. I considered the approach taken by the Parish Priest to be both appropriate and considerate.

I communicated this information to the complainant but the matter has not been pursued further.