In the summer of 2018, many were taken aback by a disturbing viral video which appeared to show a French-speaking Catholic priest slapping a crying baby while officiating at its baptism.
The video formed the basis of news reports throughout the world. On 21 June, the Daily Mail reported:
This is the bizarre moment a baby's relatives are forced to wrestle their child away from a French priest who slapped it during its baptism. The clergyman hit the child in the face with his left hand after he lost his temper when the child would not stop crying during the ceremony. The outraged man and woman watching on, who appear to be his parents, react in shock and step in to snatch their baby back.
It is not known when the footage was filmed but it was captured in a church where the ceremony was conducted in French.
In the video, a priest can be seen holding a crying baby next to a baptismal font, and attempting to calm and comfort him or her. However, he becomes increasingly frustrated by the child's screams, and at one point slaps the child in the face, shouting "Du calme!" ("Relax!") The adults surrounding the baby are visibly shocked by this, and make efforts to take the child back from the priest's arms.
The priest holds the baby even closer to him, at one point appearing to cover the child's face with his hand, saying "Tu vas te calmer" ("You're going to relax.") The video ends with a man, possibly the baby's father or godfather, pulling the child away from the priest — but even then, the priest struggles to hold on to the baby:
The video is authentic. On 22 June, CheckNews — the fact-checking arm of French newspaper Libération — reported (translation):
The scene unfolded during a baptism, which took place on 17 June in a church in Seine-et-Marne, not in Martinique or Belgium, as you might have read on social media in recent days.
When contacted by CheckNews, the spokesperson for the diocese said... the priest apologized to the family after the incident, and the baby was indeed baptized.
According to Libération, the diocesan spokesperson described the priest's actions as "understandable, but not excusable," and said: "A baptism can be long, and the baby was crying a lot." In a statement published on 22 June, the diocese of Meaux, located 30 miles east of Paris, confirmed the priest's suspension (translation):
This short video was an extract from a ceremony in which the baby was crying a lot. The elderly priest lost his cool and slapped the child. Mindful of this unwarranted act, the priest apologized to the family after the baptism. The loss of temper can be explained by the elderly priest's tiredness, but that does not excuse it.
On Friday 22 June, Monsignor [Jean Yves] Nahmias, Bishop of Meaux, took precautionary measures whereby the priest is suspended from all marriage and baptism ceremonies.
The diocese has also suspended the priest from his duties at the parish church of Saint-Martin de Champeaux, where he is the rector, the statement added.
According to Émilie Geffray, a reporter for the French newspaper Le Figaro, the family of the child has filed a complaint against the priest, but it's not clear whether that relates to the diocese or if formal criminal charges have been filed.