Friday, March 09, 2018 - Updated: 10:30 am
QUESTION: I would like to know just what types of records my parish keeps on me and my family. I would also like to know how free they are to give out that information.
ANSWER: Catholic parishes only have records about you that you (or your family) have provided (e.g. by means of sacramental reception, parish registration or donations).
Church law requires Catholic parishes to maintain certain essential records. These are those that specifically relate to one’s sacramental life within the church (baptism, first Communion, confirmation, marriage, ordination).
Chief among these are the baptismal registers. When a person is baptized, the essential information (date and place of birth, parents, godparents, etc.) is recorded. Baptism not only becomes the basis upon which one’s future sacramental life is built, but the baptismal record is also the starting place for record keeping.
Subsequently, when a person is confirmed, married, ordained, etc., a notice is sent to the church of baptism for recording in the baptismal register. Therefore, at any point in one’s life, a full sacramental history should be able to be documented from entries in the original baptismal register.
Within the church, sacramental registers are considered very important documents, and it is never permitted to remove information that was originally inscribed there. However, changes may be made in the original entries if documentary proof is given to correct an error in recording.
Some contend that these records are public records that may be inspected by anyone at any time. That is not correct. These documents are private records of the Catholic Church related to the faith journey of individual Catholics.
Access to recent sacramental records may be obtained only by the individual receiving the sacrament or the parent or guardian of a minor. Recent records are best obtained from the parish where the sacrament took place.
Genealogical information may be obtained for older records from the diocesan archives. Those doing the research are not permitted to search all the records. They may request specific information, and it will be provided if available. Information on the diocesan archives is available on the diocesan website.
In addition to sacramental registers, Catholic parishes maintain census and financial records. Census records enable a parish to accurately assess its size and the specific needs of groups of parishioners. It also assists parishes in determining trends that help in planning for the future. Financial records assist parishes in budgeting as well as enabling them to comply with requests from parishioners for accurate financial statements of their contributions.
Parishes consider all the above information as confidential. Census data is never sold to others or given out to individuals or groups. It is used exclusively for the needs of the parish staff. Financial records are also confidential and are only seen by those who record the information.
In addition, if the ministries of a parish include a Catholic school, normal academic records also are kept. Those records are confidential and available only to those to whom they refer. Parishes also maintain records of “safe environment” clearances for those engaged in ministry or service in the parish.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.