From a reader…
Is there any church law which prevents sacramental records from being made public? I have seen church records used for online family trees that show living family members illegitimacy.
The law says that parishes must keep sacramental records, for obvious reasons. They must be kept up to date, with accurate information. The law says that they are to be carefully preserved (can. 535§1). I think that in that “carefully preserved” we should include “confidential”. Most dioceses now have policies, particular law even, about allowing outside parties to view sacramental registers, especially Mormons, etc., doing genealogical research. Mormons want to “baptize” your ancestors, etc. Hey! They get planets! But we don’t cooperate with those things.
Look, I know the Latin/Italian scene. This applies to the older records in US parishes, too.
Parish records used to have indications of, say, whether a person received the Last Sacraments. They might include, back in the say, that a child who was baptized was actually left at the convent door and was therefore named “Esposito… es-POS-ee-tow”, that is, “exposed”. There might be an indication in short hand about “unknown mother… Mater Ignota” which came into Italian as “mignotta”, now a derogatory word for a woman assumed to be of loose morals. Other words could be added to records for abandoned (or, mercifully left in the care of others rather than killed, etc.). These words became last names of families passed down. For example, there are the Italian names of “Trovato… found”, “degli’Innocenti or Innocenti… innocents”, even “Amato… beloved” is a euphemism that became a common family name. So, “De Santis… from the saints” or “De Angelis… from the angels”, “Adeodato… given by God”. So too, if you find a really odd name, such as “Tulipano… tulip”, that might be a made up name.
While some might not like the idea, at the core, someone chose life, not death.
Anyone with such a name should pray for the soul of the, probably, woman who set the family name in motion in that city or village long ago.
Sacramental registers had all sorts of information in them that people might not want to be known.
I suppose today any number of parish records might show a lot of technical “pater ignotus” records. But back in the day, and in some circles, that means a great deal.
Of course, these days, if records are kept digitally, they should be protected. For my part, I would have a machine that was NOT connected to the internet in any way. Furthermore, it would be important never to destroy physical registers that had been digitalized: they could be preserved, perhaps in the diocesan chancery archive, as in the case of parishes that are closed.
Sacramental records concern sacred matters. They aren’t public, as when you apply for a marriage license (yes, marriage is a PUBLIC matter, which is why issues of scandal come in when those applying apply with the same address or members of the same sex do their scandalous thing) from the state or a building permit to add that new man cave or storage shed for the gear.