Information of course is the most powerful instrument of controlling a person, situation or for that matter the Catholic Church. Recently it was revealed that the uppermost echelons of the Vatican have directed information regarding baptismal records for Catholics be withheld from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, more commonly called the Mormons. Such a directive to withhold Catholic records from another church is being met with mixed emotions by the secular press and other religious organizations. The most popular argument is this information is public information and everyone has the right to know the genealogical foundations of their family origins. The Catholic Church maintains the withholding of this information is to prohibit the Mormon action of postmortem baptism on non-Mormons. Well, withholding the information is the right course of action, not because we are trying to hide anything from interested genealogical researchers, but because the Church has the obligation and responsibility to safeguard sensitive information contained in its records.
Catholic sacramental records are the tangible link each parish holds to the Catholic heritages of our ancestors. Before the information era, these records for over 1000 years have provided scholarly researchers and legitimate historians the opportunity to study and maintain a careful index of Catholic believers regardless of the worldâ€™s situation happening all around them. In the United States especially, the accuracy of proper recordkeeping in parish registers has always been one of the finest hallmarks of our Catholic clergy. These records provide not only a genealogical resource, but also a historical and sociological record that portrays the uniquely personal journey of Catholic faith for millions of believers from their Baptisms, and their subsequent Sacramental lives as Catholics. From a historical perspective Catholic Church Baptismal notations document an individualâ€™s parents, sponsors and even circumstances surrounding the birth of an individual that might best remain private. Sometimes, not all births and Baptisms happened in the best of situations. Sometimes individuals were born out of wedlock, perhaps a father was unknown or a child might have even been adopted.
All of this information is contained within the Baptismal records of an individual parish. The best course for this information is on a need to know basis and withholding our sacramental records from another religious group of believers is indeed the best thing to do. Aside from the obvious concerns about Mormon postmortem baptism being applied to all of the faithful Catholic people that are listed in our parish records and indexes, the private and personal details of a personâ€™s chronological journey of faith is contained in these journals, and should be considered as privileged information by all members of the Church.
Church records should be rightly considered as the medicinal records of the soul and should not be shared with anyone that does not have a legitimate reason to view these sensitive snippets of a personâ€™s theological history. Catholic priests and parish administrators need to carefully observe the requirements of privacy as is applied to these Catholic canonical records, and securely safeguard this information in the same manner we protect ourselves today from electronic identity theft and information piracy. The postmortem practice of the Mormons of rebaptizing the Catholic faithful departed is comparative with piracy of not just a personâ€™s personal information, but piracy of a personâ€™s free will and soul as well. While the concept seems ridiculous to imagine, the faithful departed have the right to expect information protection and soul protection after their departure from a Catholic choice of life. After all, deceased Catholics now participate in the Body of Christ in a transformed manner and still deserve our adequate prayers and protection.
If indeed there is a legitimate request for information from the heirs or ancestors of a particular family, such requests should be made through the proper procedures and policies of the local Bishop. However, it seems that the discretion of the parish priest responsible for the preservation and care of these documents and information should always prevail and every precaution should be made to protect the reputation and good name of the person whose information is being requested. That of course brings with it other responsibilities regarding confidences and protection of information under a veil of confidentiality and so on. However, it seems very apparent we need to safeguard the theological integrity of all of our faithful members, living and dead from all types of pre and post mortem evangelization, however unusual from other faiths and religions.
While on the surface, the Vaticanâ€™s decision to keep this information from the Mormonâ€™s seems to be a bit overbearing and perhaps un-ecumenical â€¦it is indeed the correct and proper course of action for the Church on a global basis. In addition to recognizing the personal and confidential aspects of a personâ€™s theological journey of faith, everyone needs to realize they do not have the right to casually review or gather information just because they have asked for it. Imagine if the Mormon Church requested information on every Americanâ€™s social security number, or copies of all individual tax returns for the past centuryâ€¦what type of uproar would ensue?
Genealogical and historical research is an exemplary activity when information is gathered in the proper and correct context to reviewing that information. Catholic sacramental records are just that: CATHOLIC sacramental records and should be treated as valuable and sensitive information to be reviewed by a person or group with a legitimate cause and reason. Deviation from this policy and procedure violate