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One having the cure of souls is commanded by Divine precept to know his subjects (Conc. Trid., sess. XXIII, c. i, "De Ref."). The better to fulfill this obligation, and because, moreover, of the historical importance and probatory force of public records, a pastor must have five distinct parish registers: one each of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and deaths; and a fifth containing a census or general account of the state of souls in the parish. Definite forms for entries in these books are prescribed by the Ritual. Every public document should bear the place, date, and nature of the act inscribed, the name of the one officiating, the names of the parties concerned and the witnesses present, and the signature of the proper official. The Church prescribes that in her parochial registers all persons be designated not only by name, but likewise by parentage and parish; that the office, e.g. rector, curate, of the one officiating be mentioned; that the record be complete, i.e. giving every necessary detail to remove all doubt and uncertainty regarding the validity of the act in question, or the observance of prescribed formalities.
A baptismal registry, consequently, will also record the fact of legitimacy, date of birth, and name or names imposed. If the sacrament is conferred privately, conditionally, or the ceremonies are merely supplied, such should appear in the record. The entry will show when, where, and by whom a foundling was discovered, and the age, presumably, of the child. The baptism of one born out of wedlock is recorded with the name of either known (not reputed) parent. In no public register however is any derogatory or defamatory note allowed. To safeguard reputation, records at times, particularly of certain marriages, are preserved in a secret register. A new feature ("Ne temere", can. ix, § 2) in baptismal records is a marginal note of the subsequent marriage of the baptized person. Future legislation may make this obligatory also, when one receives Holy Orders or enters religion.
In the registration of confirmation, as well as of baptism, sponsors are to be carefully noted, owing to the spiritual relationship which arises. A matrimonial record should state whether the banns were published; what dispensation, if any, was obtained and applied; that the priest officiating was duly delegated, if such be the case; that the consent of the parties was asked and given ("Ne temere", can. iv, § 3). If later a recorded marriage is declared null by the Church, or, having been found to be invalid, has been rendered valid in the external forum, a marginal note, duly attested, will contain this information. Death records state what sacraments the deceased received in preparation for death, by whom they were administered, and place of burial. Lastly, an official registration of all parishioners is kept, giving name, family, age, residence, whether they have made their First Communion, been confirmed, made their Easter duty, etc.
All entries in parochial registers are to be made in Latin and by the pastor, even though he may not have officiated. Practice however tolerates in the vernacular records of deaths (Conc. Balt. Plen., II, n. 233) and of the general state of the parish. To the pastor belongs the custody of these books; every possible care must be taken to preserve them from destruction, injury, or falsification. These records are public instruments, and as such constitute perfect proof of the fact, which they record. Such proof would naturally be sought in the parish; parochial registers consequently should record baptisms, marriages, etc. of parishioners, though the event chronicled take place elsewhere.
Conc. Trid., sess. XXIV, c. 1, "De ref. Matr."; Rituale Romanum, tit. 10, cc. ii sq.; GASPARRI, Tractatus Canonicus de matr., nn. 1276 sq.
Andrew B. Meehan