ASK FATHER: All who enter a church must sign a visitors book, include name, contact details

From a reader…


In my home diocese (in Australia) our Bishop has decreed that all people who enter a church must sign into a visitor’s book and include their name, contact details and the time of entry and departure.

This is supposedly in accordance with the civil law of Corona Virus tracing – however the civil law makes it clear that the visitors book can be used “if the person chooses”, and is hence voluntary. The diocese is as a result stepping beyond the civil law.

I have concerns about the broader privacy issues, but principally I am concerned about the security of secret confessions. The civil jurisdiction in which I live has officially abolished the legal protections of seal of confession. Can and should churches compulsorily record the time and presence of people if confessions are being offered? And where such a record is being collected for the Civil governments purposes.


Invalid laws do not require compliance. We read in the Regulae Iuris of Pope Boniface VIII, for example, “Ea quae fiunt a iudice, si ad eius non spectant officium, non subsistent.” (n. 26)  That which a judge does if it is outside of his competence does not stand.

It is beyond the scope of a bishop’s authority to require the revelation of conscience that is forbidden by the universal law.

Canon 983 establishes that the sacramental seal is inviolable and uses the rare canonical construction “nefas est” to show the gravity of this inviolability. The confessor may not reveal the details of the confession under any circumstances.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent is even clearer,

“The faithful are to be admonished that there is no reason whatever to apprehend that what is made known in confession will ever be revealed by the priest to anyone, or that by it the penitent can at any time be brought into danger of any sort.”

Were it me, I would sign the register with the name: John Nepomucene, or Mateo Correa Magallanes, or Peter Marielux, all saints who suffered martyrdom rather than violate the sacred seal of the confessional.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Canon Law, GO TO CONFESSION, HONORED GUESTS and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’ve decided I’m writing down Governor-Empress Whitless’ name if it comes to it =-p

  2. ZestyLemonZach says:

    This ever happens to me I’ll just put a fake name and contact. John For, 1234 Nunya Ln. Biteme AQ 99999.

  3. ZestyLemonZach says:

    *John Doe

  4. Nonnamouse says:

    I have had to register to make Mass “reservations” in the next county northward, as my county is still mostly shut down for religious gatherings (yet I and hundreds of my closest friends can all pretend to social distance inside of the nearest Costco…). Of course, I gave an alias with an email address created just for the occasion. If it was good enough for Blessed Miguel Pro, it’s good enough for me. We may have to start going underground soon, it’s good practice. Viva Cristo Rey!

  5. majuscule says:

    My diocese has asked that we sign a waiver to not hold the Church responsible if we come down with the virus after attending Mass. I found a few others reluctant to sign. But then I wondered if we didn’t have something to sign, what if someone purposely came after the Church after becoming ill…? Okay, highly unlikely…but then there are those who want to force the baker to bake the cake!

    When I looked at the document I saw they only requested a name, signature and phone number or email address. At my church (where we could probably tell you who all came to Mass on any particular Sunday) we only have to turn in the document once, one for each family. And I think it’s good for attending the two other churches in the parish.

    I attended a larger church in the same diocese and they wanted a new signed document every time you came to Mass.

    No one is standing outside with a clipboard to sign people in, although at the larger church someone was using a no-touch thermometer to take temperatures. At the larger church they also said in the future they would most likely shut the doors as Mass began in order to keep stragglers from entering and sitting just anywhere.

    It’s been said that if we do not attempt to go along with these measures, the governor could shut us down again. Meanwhile I am praying that our church leaders are formulating a plan for us to resist if/when there is a next time.

  6. PennCatholic says:

    It would be a travesty if the civil law were to use COVID-19 precautious as a guise to force people to manifest what is brought forward in confession, but I don’t see that happening here. I have no qualms about writing my name on a paper that said I visited a church. Ought we be ashamed to have our names associated with Jesus Christ? If it leads to persecution, then blessed are we.

  7. mcferran says:

    The purpose of such registration is to be able to contact people in case another attendee is diagnosed with COVID-19. If I lived in China, it is possible that this practice could be used for other purposes which might be a threat to me. Since I live in Canada in 2020, it is not. It may be a threat at some point in the future, but right now, for most of us, compliance with this practice is harmless. It is important for us to be aware of how things might change in the future, but it is wrong to exaggerate any present danger. Satan just loves it when people get all worked up over nothing.

  8. SundaySilence says:

    PennCatholic – I admit having to register for any/all Masses desired gave me pause at first. Name, phone number and email address is required. After much agonizing over this, I finally realized that it is a small price to pay to give glory to God. And, as you said regarding persecution … correction, as Jesus said, Blessed are we …

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    At some point Catholics just have to say no. Then don’t back down. The same rule applies in the secular world. When laws and rules become cumbersome, and your own sense of what is right and wrong is upended by the authorities, you have to practice civil disobedience. Authorities sometimes need reminders of who they work for, or who they are there for. The mayors and governors are not there for themselves, they work for the people, directly. Bishops are not there for themselves, they have an obligation to God and to the flock. They are not to abuse the flock. If the people feel abused, they should just say no. Do not participate. Do not cooperate. You have dignity. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. God gave us discernment. We need it now more than ever.

  10. Fr. Reader says:

    At least in this city, in very few places we are asked to register. The Catholic Church here seems to be, by far, one of the institutions that cares more about the virus. Very few places have been more strict.

  11. Kathleen10 says:

    I would be signing Mrs. Betty Rubble or Wilma Flintstone. Under no circumstances would I put my real name. No, never mind, I couldn’t even go through the pretense of signing anything. I might throw the book and the pen out on the grass though, as an homage to Alexander Tschueggel.

  12. psalm 37:4-5 says:

    Kathleen10 – yes. I agree with you completely, except for maybe the part about tossing the book and pen down :) ha. Ditto. God bless.

  13. robtbrown says:

    Other possible names to sign:

    Og Ogleby
    Egbert Souse’
    Karl La Fong
    Cuthbert Twillie
    Rufus T Firefly
    Otis Driftwood
    Dr Hugo Z Hackenbush
    *** Fans of WC Fields and the Marx Brothers will recognize the above names

    Or, more seriously, a name that should be on every bishop’s lips in these days:
    Damien De Veuster

  14. robtbrown says:

    Should be:
    Cuthbert J. Twillie

  15. NOCatholic says:

    Surprised no one suggested using these names to get the point across:
    – George Orwell
    – Winston Smith
    And then there’s
    – Number Six (from “The Prisoner”)

  16. The question I would have is, “what’s in a name?”

    Suppose I put down my baptismal and confirmation names, but not my middle or last? “Martin James.” That is my name, even if that is not how anyone knows me. And can I have more than one address? Does this ask for a legal domicile? Does it ask for the information on the driver’s license to be reproduced? If not, then I suppose “the park bench across the street” is a truthful address, if I spend any time there.

    Is there anything immoral or improper about having an alias? I have some email addresses that I use for those sign-ups I know will generate junk email. Is there anything wrong with creating fanciful or meaningful-only-to-me names for this? If I dub myself “Spike Jones” for the purpose of subscribing to some online content or commenting on some website, is that not my name?

  17. William Cody says:

    you all may benefit from the services at

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    Here in Massachusetts, we’re currently in “stage 2” of reopening. For places of worship – guidelines, limits, and best practices on occupancy, social distancing, sanitizing, etc…
    Suggestion from state is churches implement some sort of reservation system to have no more people show up at a time than the adjusted occupancy allows, rather than have a line where you have to establish social distancing as well (and the prospect of turning people away).
    No requirement of a “sign-in list”, just notification IF place of worship learns of a positive test for someone who attended services.
    If a Place of worship learns that an attendee or worker or other worker has tested positive for
    COVID-19, it shall notify the local Board of Health (LBOH) in the city or town where the place of
    worship is located and assist the LBOH as reasonably requested to advise likely contacts to
    isolate and self-quarantine

    My own parish has simply been doing “phone the parish office by Friday morning so we have a count and know if we have any potential issue of getting near capacity”. My neighborhood isn’t a tourist destination, so most people are known to the priests.

  19. Semper Gumby says:

    Fr. Fox is on to something.

    “If not, then I suppose “the park bench across the street” is a truthful address, if I spend any time there.”

    Thus, 1060 W. Addison, Chicago.

    Baseball nicknames can liven up the dullest visitor’s book:

    Suitcase Simpson (size 13 1/2 feet), Duke of Tralee, Sultan of Swat, The Human Rain Delay (takes his time in the batter’s box), Bazooka Joe, Wonder Hamster (short and squat but hits home runs), Penguin (slow, shouldn’t steal bases), The Octopus (see Antonio Alfonseca), Secretary of Defense (Golden Glove winner Garry Maddox “Two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water, the other one-third by Garry Maddox”), Werewolf (see a photo of Jayson Werth), Scrap Iron (Bob Stinson- ran through a fence to catch a potential home run).

  20. Makemeaspark says:

    I really hate to be the one who disagrees here but what about this(From Romans 13): “13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” Saints who have gone on before us, went to prison because they did the right thing, and they left that up to God.

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