Sacramental Records Policies & Procedures Manual
The Archives is responsible for ensuring that parishes follow proper regulations when recording the sacraments in Parish Registers. The Parish Tools computer software does not replace the physical records; the handwritten registers are the original and official records.
In 2011, the Chancellor of Spiritual Affairs approved the Sacramental Records Policy & Procedures Manual. Copies were distributed to all our parishes to provide regulations for keeping these records.
Please send us an email to request an additional copy. Electronic copies are also available through the Archdiocese of Toronto intranet.
Sacramental Records FAQs
Here are some of the most common sacramental records questions we receive from parishes. Please send us your questions so we can post them here.
Ontario passed an adoption information disclosure law in May 2008. Are we now able to give out birth names and birth parents' names from our baptismal registers?
Although the Access to Adoption Records Act gives adopted adults and birth parents more rights to information, they have the option to file a disclosure veto if the adoption was finalized before September 1, 2008. This veto would prevent identifying information (like birth names or adopted names) from being released. The Ministry of Community and Social Services maintains the Adoption Disclosure Register and the list of people who have filed a veto. Since the Ministry maintains that list, we have no way of knowing who has and has not filed a disclosure veto. Therefore, any requests for information regarding an adoption should be referred to the Ministry of Community and Social Services or ServiceOntario. Only the Ontario government has the legal right to determine who may be granted access to information pertaining to adoptions.
Why can’t we issue certificates of marriage?
The Government of Ontario holds and issues the certificate of marriage in this province. Although our tradition is to call the document given at the church a “marriage certificate” it is vital to understand and pass on to our clients that the church document is not the official government or civil record of their marriage.
What are the differences between civil records and church records?
If someone is requesting a baptism, marriage or death record from the parish for a civil purpose, like a pension application, they should obtain the civil birth, marriage or death certificate. The government wants the government record and the church records of these events are not considered civil legal documents. In some instances a pension application has been delayed because someone submitted church documents instead of the civil birth or marriage records. If someone is requesting sacramental records for a church purpose, like marriage, annulment of a Catholic marriage, enrolment of children in Catholic school, etc. then the church records are the appropriate records.
Why can't parents order certificates for their adult children?
Our general policy is that if the requested record is for a person who is over 18 years old, they should be the one requesting a copy of their sacramental record. Although parents often call for adult children, and engaged couples on behalf of their fiancés, a reissued certificate and the information it contains should only be released to the person named in the record. Sacramental records contain confidential and personal information and should be treated with the same respect as government records that are subject to privacy legislation under provincial and federal law.
On a Baptism Registration form a family has listed the father’s first name as the child’s last name. What should we say to the parents at the time of Baptism Registration?
The parish should ask for the legal documents pertaining to the child (i.e., Ontario Birth Certificate, birth certificate from another country, Canadian Citizenship card). The legal name of the child should match the name that will be entered in the baptism register.
The legal name needs to match the name in baptism record so that if the child requires their baptism record later in life to correct an error in the civil record or even to simply request a copy, we will be able to help prove an error occurred and/or release information.
First Communion and Confirmation
Can a child be denied First Communion or Confirmation if the parents have not provided the Baptism record of the child?
Absolutely. Parishes should be asking to see baptism certificates before a child receives First Communion or Confirmation. Even if they are enrolled in Catholic school this is no guarantee that the child is a baptized Catholic, it simply means that one of their parents was baptized Catholic. If the family is refusing to provide a Baptism certificate, contact the Office of Spiritual Affairs, which is the proper arbiter in these cases.
I received a fax of a baptismal certificate I need to expedite the paperwork for a marriage. The parish did not forward me the original certificate. I am concerned that the fax copy in my files does not show their parish seal. Should I ask for the original certificate to be sent?
Yes, we should ensure that if we fax a copy of a certificate to a school or another parish to speed up an application process that the hard copy original is sent by regular mail as well. The other office will need the original with the parish seal on it to prove that they received a valid certificate.
What is a sanation?
A sanation is the blessing of a previously existing civil marriage without the renewal of consent that happens at a convalidation. The applicable Canons are 1161 through 1165. A radical sanation is usually sought in cases where a non-Catholic spouse does not understand why their marriage is considered invalid and does not want another marriage ceremony. The sanation can be granted without the knowledge of the non-Catholic spouse so that the Catholic can have the marriage blessed and go back to practicing their faith.
What is a mixed rite marriage?
A mixed rite marriage is one between a Roman or Latin Catholic and a Catholic of another rite that is in communion with Rome, for example Ukrainian Catholic. This is not to be confused with a mixed marriage, which is one between a baptized Christian and a Catholic.
What is considered a technical or incidental error in the registers. When do we need to ask for documentation to make a change?
The main differences between a factual error and a technical/incidental error are who points it out and the amount of time that has elapsed since the entry was made. If the parish secretary realizes that she switched a middle and first name just after making an entry, she is looking at the baptismal information form and can go ahead and make the change. If someone who was baptized 20 years ago says their name is Mary Smith instead of Maria Smyth, then you would ask for a birth certificate or change of name certificate in order to make the change.
Can family historians have access to the old parish registers?
No. These books are often old and fragile and too much handling can cause irreversible damage. Your registers have been microfilmed to facilitate access to genealogists. Refer them to this website for digital copies of records up to 1910. For all other inquiries, ask family historians to contact us.
The bindings of our older registers are coming apart. What should we do?
If the bindings need minor repair to the outside, or you need tape to hold labels onto the spines, please use library quality tape. Do not use any tape on the inside pages. To purchase library quality tape, contact Carr McLean, a Toronto-based company. We recommend CARMAC® Super-Clear Tape.
If your registers need major repair, they can be rebound. Contact us for a list of local Preservation Bookbinders.
Why do we still keep traditional handwritten registers when we are also entering the sacramental information into Parish Tools?
Canon 535/1 states that the “pastor is to see to it that these registers are accurately inscribed and carefully preserved.” Sacramental records are considered permanent. At this time, there is no cost-effective, reliable way to keep electronic records forever. Hardware and software are constantly being upgraded, and digital information can actually degrade over time.
Also, if a disaster occurs, the original handwritten registers are far more likely to survive than electronic records. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana our counterparts in the South had a lot of salvage and recovery work to do on their sacramental records. The registers that were written in with a regular ballpoint pen with fade resistant indelible ink were still readable after being cleaned and dried. Other types of ink were washed away. If you wanted to salvage a damaged hard drive, CD or flash drive, it would be expensive, and your chances of success would be low.