At first glance, the title given to my assigned address may seem rather outlandish if not actually cryptic for one thing. Who would truly be interested in such a precisely archaic term and reality called “archives”? Secondly, what is ther about archives evoking past and old things that could be worth addressing? Lastly, where has one ever heard that archives engage in any dialogue?
For those having such questions and entertaining such doubts, please be in peace. The truth is I too had the same questions and doubts when I was requested to talk not only about archives per se, but even about archives in dialogue. However, the more I thought about and studied it, the more too I became conscious of the following:
- As far back as I can remember, my priestly ministry has always been by and large connected with a relatively big volume of documentation that should be carefully well kept, duly filed and accordingly preserved.
- In the course of time, I also distinctly recall that I became not simply much agitated but in fact very cranky when I could not find a document I need for reference purposes.
- To this days, my co-workers at the CBCP when I hold certain offices as well as those at the chancery, can readily tell you how I repeatedly ask them to keep and file records which I also ask them to retrieve every now and then for my reference purposes.
In short, I think the subject matter assigned to me is worth addressing—not only because it makes sense but also because it has its inherent importance and relevance according to my rather long personal experience in the exercise of ecclesiastical governance as well as in attending to my ministerial tasks.
A. Canonical Provisions
The Code of Canon Law carries no less than six universal laws expressed in fourteen paragraphs (Canons 486-491 CIC) in conjunction with the administrative and judicial work of ecclesiastical chancellors and notaries. The first and key formal canonical provision about archives thus provides:
“All documents concerning the diocese or parishes but be kept with the greatest care…in a safe place….archived.” (Canon 486 Pars 1 & 2 CIC).
Truth to tell, for all intents and purposes, the many and exacting provisions of Church law on archives are rather very particular as well as much demanding. The ready impression thus created is that they appear too imposing for ready and faithful observance. The sad perception is that it seems actually futile to observe them. I can say with moral certitude that it is only the Vatican archives that can and do comply with all the universal archival norms in the Church. In my advance age and pursuant experience, I still have to see a local diocesan and parochial archive that is fully compliant with the law.
All the above reservations however notwithstanding, it remains a dictate of reason and wherefore a postulate of law that archiving is definitely necessary just as it is important. The fundamental composite reason for this conclusion consists in the following more pertinent well known maxims: One, “Verba volant, scripta manent”—a common saying whose inherent value is premised on the absolute necessity in the documentary composition and preservation such as the writing of no less than the Holy Scriptures themselves. Two, “Memoria levis, scripta gravis”—a saying, the veracity of which finds its practicality in the standard documentary requirements of both administrative and judicial processes. Three, “Ad perpetuam rei memoriam” which is best achieved not only by stone monuments but also through properly written documents, specifically for that purpose.
After forwarding the above notanda, it would be helpful to make the following brief and simple observations on the text and context of Canon 486 par. 1 and 2 CIC—as above expressly cited. This I do even if only for the better understanding and appreciation of the overall substantive and complementary normative contents of the other pertinent canons from 487-491 CIC:
- “All documents”:
The law on archiving is quite absolute and encompassing. It requires no less than the filing and safekeeping of “all documents” that are considered archived materials. The immediate question that comes to mind is what are these documents. The general answer to this query is precisely all ecclesiastical and civil official records plus all duly written legal forms and formularies, inclusive of formal contracts and obligations, and agreements and compromises.
In short, the common denominator of all the documents that should be archived is their significance for the present as well as their relevance for the future in conjunction with people and things. In short, they are records precisely made or written for present and future references.
One thing is certain: the loss of any significant document for one reason or another can be either embarrassing, problematic if not actually disastrous for all those concerned—particularly for the diocese or parish as a whole. In effect, such loss cannot readily have its adverse effects on the persons who are either directly and indirectly the subject matter themselves of the missing or lost records.
- “Diocese or parishes”
The above seemingly plain and innocent phrase in effect means that every diocese together with the parishes constituting its territorial boundaries, should all individually have, keep and care for their respective archives. The conjunction “or” clearly means that the diocese as well as the parishes should progressively build, update and safeguard their respective archives. As a matter of principle wherefore, it is not necessary that what one archive has, should also be found in others—although this is not exactly forbidden.
The same above phrase means no less that the following: First, that it is a certainty akin to physical certitude that the diocese and the parishes therein cannot but have their respective pertinent documents and records of varying contents and significance. Second, that it thus becomes as a matter of course that both the diocese and the parish must have archival materials. Third, that it wherefore becomes conclusive that the same diocese and parishes cannot but have their respective archives for the filing and safekeeping of said materials.
In practice however, the documents and records already found either too many and/or too old for safe-keeping by and in parish archives, as a rule should be already deposited in the diocesan archives that are assumed to have bigger spaces and are also better attended to and protected.
- “Greatest care”
Seldom does the Code of Canon Law use superlatives. And it does exactly that when it comes to the care—gathering and sorting, filing and safe-keeping—of archival documents and records. The superlative “greatest” appended to the word “care” on the matter of archive materials, are premised on the following realities:
- It is a physical certainty that the diocese and all the parishes comprising it have and keep certain records and documents. It cannot be however assumed that the same materials are kept with care—much less with the “greatest” care.
- The truth is that when pertinent records and relevant documents are missing or in fact lost, it is none other than the juridical and/or physical persons that and/or who eventually suffer for it.
- Finally, considering that records and documents not only usually survive the tenure of office merely of the bishop but of the parish priest as well, inclusive of the life span of the person therein directly concerned, the disappearance or destruction of archival materials in effect brings hurt, damage if not great loss to their successors and heirs respectively.
- “Safe Place”
Needless to say, there are different degrees of safety—such as “safe,” “safer” and “safest”. As a thumb rule, the safety of the place will depend on three primary and practical considerations. Briefly:
- The inherent significance or value of the content of the record or document itself.
- The available resources of the diocese or the parish having the record or document.
- The knowledge and conviction of the bishop or the parish priest—plus their respective resourcefulness—in doing their best in safeguarding their archives.
For all practical intents and realistic purposes, and “archive” is usually understood as:
- A locked room, place cabinets.
- Containing all official records and documents.
- Having as well any other relevant papers and files.
B. Diocesan and Parish Archives
There are certain documents, records and canonical books that are the common or standard contents of ecclesiastical archives. As to those writings which are unusual in substance, form and/or implications, their archive destinations or otherwise depend on the prudential judgment of the bishop and parish priest concerned. By way of examples, following are the usual or standard archival materials:
- Diocesan Archive
- Book of Sacred Ordinations
- Registry of pious foundations
- Land titles and building plans
- Book of accounts
- Registry of diocesan immovable and movable goods
- Contracts and obligations
- Parish Archive
- Book of baptisms
- Book of confirmations
- Book of marriages
- Book of deaths
- Book of Holy Masses
- Inventory of movable and immovable properties
- Book of accounts
c. Diocesan Secret Archive
All documents or records or writings what have something to do with the life and ministry of the members of the clergy and the religious concerned—especially those pertaining to canonical admonitions, sanctions and particular administrative and/or judicial status. There must be a well secured space in the archive of the diocese that only the bishop himself or his delegate may have access thereto.
C. Archival Dialogue
The phrase “Archives in Dialogue”, among other things, eventually means the occasional if not regular referrals and inquiries made among ecclesiastical, sectarian and/or secular entities for information and/or verification purposes. These periodic or continuous interchanges for documented and/or recorded data on persons and/or thing can be aptly given the heading of “Archives in Dialogue”. This archival interchanges through the proper authorities or officials are necessitated by the following more salient reasons:
- While archives differ much in the quality and volume of their documents and records in possession and on file, it can be safely said that not one of them have all said materials.
- Considering that human history is dynamic and that many human history is dynamic and that many human persons move much all over the globe, pertinent documents and records are continuously made in different places in the world.
- The phenomenon of “Archives in Dialogue” wherefore cannot but take place as a matter of course—with the undebatable conclusion that documents and records must be all kept “with the greatest care”—without reference to race, color and creed—with the realistic thought that archives can and do engage in local, national and international dialogues either occasionally, frequently or even regularly.
Considering that nature and implications of all the above observations and annotations made, there can be only one plain, brief and practical conclusion that is in order and that comes to fore, viz., while divinity evidently does not need any document or record to archive for memory or reference purposes, humanity surely does.
4 December 2006