QUIMPER — A church in Finistère, in the western French region of Brittany, has recently equipped itself with several electronic terminals allowing for donations to be made by credit card. Located in the Saint Corentin cathedral, the terminals consist of a touch screen placed on a stand and are biblically simple to use: with a few swipes, worshippers can buy one or more candles for 1 euro each, make a fixed offering (from 2 to 20 euros) or manually enter the amount that will be debited.

"Like everyone else, we realize that cash is disappearing. We must adapt to our times," says Rémi Perrin, the treasurer of the Quimper-Léon diocese. He responded to a request from a Nantes-based startup specializing in religious fundraising, Obole Digitale.

The company developed several tools, like this fixed terminal named "Keto", as well as a digital collection basket for church services.

Three churches in Brest were the first ones in France to pass around this mobile money box with long battery life during mass. Its contactless terminal can complete a payment between 5 and 10 seconds, according to its designers.

Employee setting up "Keto" — Photo: Obole Digitale via Facebook

The purpose, for the Church, is obviously not to look modern, but to increase its resources in a particularly tense context. Parish offerings went down a record 5.5% in 2018 in France particularly because of pedophile scandals.

"It appears that the use of new technologies increases the number of donations. Worshippers — who until now only donated 1 or 2 euro coins they found in their pockets — will now be able to easily give 5 euros with their credit cards," says Perrin, careful not to give the slightest figure on the data recorded after the first two months of use.

The diocese — which registered a slight decrease in donations in 2018 (2.419 million euros, compared to 2.447 million the previous year) — has given itself two years to evaluate the results of the operation and consider the implementation of additional terminals, rented at 49 euros per month. "This can be of interest only in urban areas. It would make no sense to install the terminals in the middle of Finistère," says Perrin, a former manager in the financial sector.

We must adapt to our times.

He says that this excursion into the spheres of dematerialization has led to three types of reactions among priests and their flock. There are those who applauded the move; those who saw it positively, without necessarily changing their habits; and those who, finally, still wonder "what this type of object has to do with the practice of their religion", says Rémi Perrin: "I understand that introducing new technologies in an environment where tradition is the rule is not very Catholic-friendly."

Despite what the most reluctant ones think, this is just the first step. The diocese of Quimper is considering acquiring another tool developed by Obole Digitale: an app that allows you to donate with your smartphone.

But there is a trick: "Donating is a liturgical gesture and must remain material, whatever the tool used, as the Bishops' Conference recently reminded us. We had to find another way." So parishioners will be given symbolic tickets they can slip into the basket during mass. They will then donate through their mobile phone once they are outside of the church, as phones are not allowed inside.


See more from Tech / Science here