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Vatican, March 11, 1997

Prot. 274/92/118

Your Eminence (Excellency),

I gladly address Your Eminence (Excellency) in order to present the new document prepared by our Pontifical Commission on "The Pastoral Formation of Church Archives" and made public on February 2nd, 1997.

As Your Eminence (Excellency) knows well, the Holy Father has wanted to assign to our Decastery the care and enhancement of the Cultural Heritage of the Church strictly in pastoral terms. As he underlined in the address delivered to the Members of the Plenary Assembly on October 12, 1995, the concept of cultural heritage includes "first of all, the artistic wealth of painting, sculpture, architecture, mosaic and music placed at the service of the Church's mission. To these we should then add the wealth of books contained in ecclesiastical libraries and the historical documents preserved in the archives of ecclesial communities. Finally, this concept covers the literary, theatrical and cinematographic works produced by the mass media." We can therefore identify three categories. The first and most important, lists those goods "placed at the service of the Church's mission" which has its focal point in the liturgy. The second group comprises those goods at the service of culture and Church history. The third includes those goods produced by means of mass communications, which can also bear artistic and ecclesial values.

Therefore the work of the Commission - as indicated in the address of the Holy Father - moves in various directions. A first in regards to criteria is intended "to clarify the main activities regarding this heritage, identifying it so as to restore, preserve, catalogue and protect it" and to promote new creations. A second in regards to content establishes the concept that the Church has matured regarding the cultural heritage promoting "a greater knowledge and suitable use of it both in catechesis and in the liturgy." A third in regards to training encourages innovative research on the cultural heritage in order to supply artists "with stimulating theological, liturgical and iconographic subjects" and to promote their activity "with new and worthy commissions, deepening a renewed bond between artists and the Church." A last direction looks after the institutional organization committing the Commission to "define the principal agents of the Church's service in this field starting with those who are institutionally involved, such as Episcopal Conferences, diocesan Bishops" and the various Dicasteries of the Roman Curia interested in this area.

Thus besides the fruitful and reciprocal capillary contact between our Commission and the Particular Churches we are drafting documents of general interest with the aim of creating a common conscience of respect and congruent use of the huge cultural heritage which the Church has gathered in these two millennia.

The Circular Letter addressed to all the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences in the world (April 10, 1989) which introduces the new Commission and requests information on the "cultural heritage", on the institutions working for its conservation, on the relationship with civil authority in a General Survey of 11 questions, gives proof to this. Soon after, a new Circular Letter (March 10, 1992) up-dated all the Episcopal Conferences with the results emerged from the Survey. Given the problems arisen concerning the difficulty of finding adequately trained personnel, the Commission considered useful to send another Circular Letter to all Bishops in the world (October 15, 1992) highlighting the necessity to train future priests in this area of the cultural heritage of the Church. Three years later the Commission addressed once again all the Episcopal Conferences (February 3, 1995) to ask what initiatives have been taken in the meantime for the training of the clergy in the "cultural heritage". Equal attention has been given to the work carried out by the Catholic Universities for the "cultural heritage of the Church" as it formed the subject of a separate Circular (September 10, 1994).

Besides the area of training, the Commission looks after the area of protection. On this subject, the Commission addressed the Episcopal Conferences in Europe with a Circular Letter (June 15, 1992) intended to attract the attention on the dangers involved in the opening up of internal frontiers (thefts, etc). On this argument, another letter (May 2, 1994) was sent out in order to invite the above mentioned Episcopal Conferences to carry out an inventory of Church goods. A document will deal with this again in the future.

Another area of interest has been the Institutions of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life which have been of fundamental importance for the Church also in regards to culture and the arts. For this reason, we have recalled the attention of all religious families, male and female, in the world with a specific Circular dedicated to the cultural heritage under their care and often produced by them.

These Circular letters and the positive and the illuminating comments which followed have focused attention on the most important aspects. We have therefore planned to dedicate some documents on those areas which fall under the natural competence of the Commission: the arts, archives, and libraries. We began with libraries and thanks to the help of various specialists a document was drafted on this subject (April 10, 1994). Like the other Circulars, it was translated in six languages and sent to all the Bishops in the world. In it, the historical and theological reasons behind the care of these laboratories and conservatories of culture are treated in depth.

Now it is the turn for a document on archives. In this case as well, we have asked the assistance of specialists around the world in order to try to define various needs and methodologies. The guiding criteria for drafting this document is a pastoral one because more specific and technical aspects fall under a different competence. It is therefore a Circular of ecclesial nature intended to enhance the heritage of documents within a pastoral context through their material protection, their organization and management, the protection of the collections, congruent access and the promotion of cultural initiatives all aiming at the enhancement of the deposit gathered and being gathered in the Particular Churches and in different Church institutions.

The Church retains the transmission of the heritage of documents important because it is a moment of Tradition, it expresses the memory of evangelization, and it represents today a privileged pastoral tool both for Churches of old and young institution.

Your Eminence (Excellency) I please ask that the envelopes of the above-mentioned document be delivered to each Diocesan Bishop. I also please ask You to inform that each envelope contains two copies - one for the Bishop and the other for the individual responsible for the diocesan Archive. I would also be grateful if some reference can be made of this document during one of the General Assembly planned by Your Episcopal Conference in order to strengthen the awareness of the Bishops, and through them the Archivists, of the importance of archives and training of individuals for their protection.

While I ask You to forgive me if this request will futher burden Your heavy work load, I gladly take this opportunity to express my sentiments of deep devotion and esteem, as I have the honor to be

Fraternally Yours in Jesus Christ,

Archbishop Francesco Marchisano

Don Carlo Chenis


Circular Letter


Vatican City, February 2, 1997


Your Eminence (Excellency),

In the course of her bimillenial history the Church has done her best in manifold pastoral initiatives, within the context of very different cultures, with the sole intent of announcing the Gospel. The memory of works produced confirms the continuous effort of believers to search for those goods which are able to create a culture of Christian inspiration, in order fully to promote man as an indispensable presupposition for his evangelization. Besides the production of such cultural goods, the Church has been interested in their pastoral use and, consequently, in the protection of that which she has produced in order to express and carry out her mission. Part of the latter is the care for conserving the memory of many and different types of pastoral actions through archival documents.

In the mind of the Church, archives are places of memory of the Christian community and storehouses of culture for the new evangelization. Thus they themselves are a cultural good of primary importance whose special merit lies in recording the path followed by the Church through the centuries in the various contexts which constitute her very structure. As places of memory archives must systematically gather all the data making up the articulated history of the Church community so that what has been done, the results obtained, including omissions and errors, may be properly evaluated.

A well-documented and unprejudiced study of its own past makes the Church more “expert in humanity” because it reveals the historical richness which lies behind it and also allows her to identify herself with her essential, continuing and varied mission of inculturation and acculturation. A study such as this, which proceeds from a careful collection of all that which can be documented, helps in planning a future founded on the contributions of Tradition whereby memory is also prophecy.

Borrowing an apt image from the school of Chartres, we can consider ourselves as giants if we foster an awareness of resting on the shoulders of generations that have preceded us in the name of the one faith. Indeed historical sources trace the Church’s action in an uninterrupted path of continuity. This begins with Christ’s message, goes through the writings of the first apostolic communities and all the ecclesial communities which follow unto our present day. It provides a series of images, which document the process of evangelization of each particular church as well as the universal Church. Since, providentially, adverse historical circumstances have not destroyed the memory of major events, we must make a special effort to protect and appreciate surviving documents in order to use them in the hic et nunc of the Church.

In terms of specific content, archives preserve the sources describing the historical development of the ecclesial community as well as those relating to the liturgical, sacramental, educational, and charitable activities which the clergy, religious, and lay members of the Church have carried out throughout the centuries up to the present day. Often they preserve documents regarding the achievements of these individuals as well as documents regarding the juridical relationship between communities, institutions, and individuals.

Numerous are the efforts sponsored by the Popes dealing with issues related to archives, as we know from the documents kept in an exemplary manner in the old and glorious Scrinium Sanctae Sedis at the Lateran and then in the more recent Vatican Secret Archives collection. Norms have been repeatedly issued by General Councils and diocesan synods. Just as numerous are the examples of the noble archive traditions kept by the particular churches and by religious orders and congregations[1]. The new Code of Canon Law of January 25, 1983[2], as well as the previous one of 1917[3], and the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (October 18, 1990)[4] give suitable norms for the diligent conservation and careful management of archival sources. Since 1923 a course in Archival Science has been offered at the Scuola Pontificia di Paleografia e Diplomatica which has led the name of the institution to change to Scuola Vaticana di Paleografia, Diplomatica e Archivistica.

Besides this initiative one should also recall that Pope John Paul II established a Pontifical Commission for the Conservation of the Historic and Artistic Heritage on June 28, 1988 within the Congregation of the Clergy[5]. This Commission was later reformed according to the Holy Father’s wishes, and called Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church with an autonomous standing[6]. In addition, Pope John Paul II, in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of June 28, 1988 stated that “inter bona historica eminent omnia documenta et instrumenta, quae vitam et curam pastoralem necnon iura et obligationes dioecesium, paroeciarum, ecclesiarum aliarumque personarum iuridicarum in Ecclesia conditarum respiciunt et testificantur”[7].

The Holy Father commented again on this issue in his address to members of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church at its First Plenary Assembly. On this occasion, as he traced the wide typology of that cultural heritage “placed at the service of the Church’s mission” he also mentioned “historical documents preserved in the archives of ecclesial communities”[8]. From the above mentioned authoritative sources and from the increasing scientific and historical literature one can clearly see the Church’s interest in preserving the living good of memory aimed at attracting the attention of God’s people towards its history.

The Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church has done its part in communicating regularly to the episcopate the desire of the Holy Father John Paul II that the cultural heritage of the Church be given the due attention it deserves since it stands as a witness to the Christian tradition and represents a means to carry out the work of new evangelization required today.

A first circular letter addressed to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences was issued on April 10, 1989 along with a questionnaire which had the purpose of gathering information regarding the nature and status quo of this heritage, including archive collections and their management. A second letter was sent to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe on June 15, 1991, in view of the opening up of European borders, urging the inventorisation and catalogisation of historical and artistic material.

Later in the circular letter issued on October 15, 1992 this Commission strongly suggested that future priests be made adequately aware of the importance and necessity of the cultural heritage of the Church as part of the expression and deepening of one’s faith, within their program of theological-philosophical studies. Another circular letter was sent on March 19, 1994 in order to call attention to the importance of Church libraries and their role in the mission of the Church.

Finally with the present circular, the Commission wishes to arouse interest in archive collections because of their important cultural and pastoral significance. In this way it wants to respond to the wish expressed by the Holy Father to the members of the First Plenary Assembly of this Pontifical Commission to go beyond the concept of mere conservation of the cultural heritage. He underlined that “we must systematically and wisely promote it, in order to make it part of the lifeblood of the Church’s cultural and pastoral activity”[9].

1. The transmission of documents and its importance for the Church

The documents preserved in the archives of the Catholic Church represent an immense and precious heritage. This is shown by the great number of archives that have been instituted by the presence and activity of bishops in their episcopal sees. One should thus mention the archives of bishops and parish records as the oldest type of material making up the collection. The latter documents, in spite of historical events, have in many cases increased with new documents due to the changes in the institutional organization of the Church and the developments in her pastoral and missionary activity.

The archives of monasteries of various traditions are in many cases significant because of the age and importance of the documents collected. The coenobitic life has carried out a primary role in the evangelization of the people surrounding religious settlements. It has founded important educational and charitable institutions. It has transmitted ancient culture and, more recently, provided the opportunity of restoring archival documents by setting up specialized laboratories.

Besides the archives of monasteries, one should also include those of religious congregations and other institutions of consecrated life, of societies of apostolic life recently instituted with the typical local, provincial, national and international organizations. Thus, this abundant documentation which is an enrichment to the archives collections opens an eloquent chapter in the history of the Church.

To these should be added those archives which preserve documents produced by cathedral and collegial chapters; centers for the education of the clergy (for example, seminaries, ecclesiastical universities, study centers of various kinds); those belonging to groups and associations of faithful, past and current ones, like confraternities which played a special role through the ages and for the work of charity; those of hospital and school institutions; those of missionary communities through which the apostolate of Christian charity has materialized. It is truly impossible to describe Church archives in an exhaustive manner since, while observing the canonical regulations, they are autonomous in their management and diverse in their organization because they reflect every institution that has been founded in the course of the bimillenial history of the Church.

1.1. Transmission as a moment of Tradition

Church archives while preserving the unique and spontaneous documentation produced by persons and events, cultivate the memory of the life of the Church and manifest the sense of Tradition. In fact, the information stored in archive collections enables the reconstruction of the daily occurrences involved in the evangelization and education to the Christian lifestyle. They represent a primary source for writing the history of the multiple expressions of religious life and Christian charity.

The will on the part of the community of faithful and, in particular, of Church institutions to gather from apostolic times onwards the witnesses of faith and cultivate their memory expresses the oneness and the continuity of the Church. The venerated recollection of what was said and done by Jesus, by the first Christian community, by martyrs and Church fathers, by the expansion of Christianity in the world, is sufficient motive to praise the Lord and thank Him for the "great deeds" which have inspired His people. Thus in the mens of the Church, a chronological memory carries with it a spiritual reading of events in the context of the eventum salutis and imposes the urgency of conversion in order to reach ut unum sint.

1.2. Transmission as memory of evangelization

Such theological motivations are the inspiration behind the attention and care shown by the Christian community in protecting their archives. Historical sources, whether preserved in old cabinets or on modern shelves, have allowed and favoured the reconstruction of events. They have recorded the history of the pastoral work of bishops in their dioceses, of pastors in their parishes, of missionaries in areas of first evangelization, of religious in their institutions, of lay organizations within society.

Let us think of the records of pastoral visits, of the reports of ad limina visits, the reports drawn up by nuncios and apostolic delegates; documents concerning national councils and diocesan synods, the dispatches of missionaries, the minutes of chapters of institutions of consecrated life and apostolic societies, etc.

Parish records that register the celebration of sacraments and make note of the deceased, as well as the curial records that report sacred ordinations, reveal the history of the sanctification of the Christian people in its institutional and social dynamics. Documents concerning religious professions enable us to understand the development of spiritual movements in the historical terms in which the sequela Christi has expressed itself. Even the papers regarding the administration of Church goods reflect the effort of individuals and the economic activity of institutions, thus providing an important source of information.

The documents collected in an archive underline the religious, cultural, and charitable activity of the many institutions within the Church. They favour an historical understanding of the artistic works that have been produced throughout the centuries in order to express the cult, popular piety, and works of mercy. Thus, Church archives deserve attention both for their historical as well as for their spiritual meaning. They enable us to understand the intrinsic tie between these two aspects in the life of the Church. In fact, through the diversified history of the community as recorded in the documents, the traces of Christ’s action are revealed, an action that nourishes His Church as a universal instrument of salvation and inspires her on the path of mankind. In Church archives, as Pope Paul VI loved to say, are kept the traces of the transitus Domini in human history[10].

1.3. Transmission as a pastoral instrument

Christian institutions have encompassed through their activity the characteristics and ways of diverse cultures and historical realities and, at the same time, they have become an important cultural agency. As we approach the third Christian millennium, it is very useful to rediscover this multifaceted inculturation of the Gospel which has taken place in past centuries and is still a current phenomenon in the measure in which the Word of God becomes announced, believed, and lived out by the community of faithful through numerous local customs and diverse pastoral practices.

Historical memory constitutes an integral part of the life of every community. The knowledge of all that which witnesses the succession of generations, their know-how and their actions, creates a sense of continuity between past and present. Therefore, if documents are known and communicated, archives can become useful instruments for an enlightening pastoral action because through a memory of the facts Tradition becomes more concrete. In addition, they can offer to pastors and lay people, who are equally involved in the work of evangelization, useful information on different experiences of the distant and recent past.

A forward-looking awareness of the historic action of the Church, as understood through archival sources, offers the possibility of an adequate adaptation of Church institutions to the needs of the faithful and men of our times. Through the research of historical, cultural, and social aspects, these centers of documentation allow the studying of past experiences within the life of the Church and the identification of any faults committed as well as encourage the renewal of beneficial experiences adapted to changed historical conditions. An institution that forgets its own past will hardly be able to design its function among men in any social, cultural, or religious context. In this sense, archives, while preserving the witnesses to religious traditions and pastoral practices, have their own intrinsic vitality and validity. They contribute efficiently towards the growth of a sense of ecclesial belonging in every generation and they show the Church’s effort in a certain territory. One can understand, then, the care that many local communities have devoted in the past and continue to do so in favour of these centers of culture and Church action.

2. The outline of a concrete plan of action

Archives are places of Church memory, which must be preserved, transmitted, renewed, appreciated because they represent the most direct connection with the heritage of the ecclesial community. The prospects for re-launching them are favourable, due to the sensitivity which has developed in many particular churches for the cultural heritage and, in particular, for the memory of local events. Initiatives in this regard have been many and significant not only within the Church but also in the civil community. In many nations there is a growing attention given to the cultural heritage of the Church, considering the role that the Catholic Church has had in their history. Even in countries of recent evangelization and profound social turnovers, the protection of archives is assuming a relevant social and cultural significance.

On the whole, the situation of archive collections is very diversified. Consequently, this Pontifical Commission considers it appropriate to point out to Your Eminence (Excellency) just some general guidelines for the formulation of a specific plan of action aimed at the conservation and promotion of the archival heritage of the Particular Churches with respect to their diverse situations.

In the context of ecclesiastical typology, archives are distinguished into various categories which include diocesan archives, parish archives, archives of the other entities not subject to the diocesan bishop, archives of juridical persons. In terms of their function, we find archival records for current affairs (documents regarding the daily life and management of a particular entity), historical archives (documents of historical value), diocesan secret archives (documents on criminal causes, attestations of marriages of conscience, dispensations from occult impediments etc.).

The responsibility for documentary material is assigned primarily to individual Church entities. This makes it necessary to establish suitable criteria in loco regarding the set-up and good management of historic archives, the protection and conservation of the secret archive, the correct organization of archives for current affairs, an adequate computerization of data, the employment of qualified personnel and the assistance of technical experts, the circulation of information among various archive collections, the participation in national and international Archive associations, the promotion of the availability of this material for consultation and research.

In addition, it is desirable to establish special commissions, whenever possible, composed of those responsible for the diocesan archive collections as well as experts in the field. In organizing archives and their management one can adopt different methodologies which are based on certain basic archival theories and which can respond to special needs using the concrete operative means available. It is impossible to come up with one organic plan equal for all Church archives. However, it is necessary to come up with a coherent plan, which is open to future developments, including technological ones, and to the exchange of information. In this sense, some operative guidelines are suggested in order better to contextualize the archive issue.

2.1. Establishing or making effective a diocesan historical archive

One should underline the primary responsibility of the particular churches in terms of their own historical memory. Accordingly, the Code of Canon Law specifically charges the diocesan bishop, and consequently his equivalent according to can.381.2, to have careful care that "archive records and documents of cathedral, collegial, parochial, and other churches that are present on his territory be adequately conserved"[11]. To this must be added the duty to establish within the diocese "a diocesan historical archive and to see that documents of historical value be carefully kept there and be systematically organized"[12]. The diocesan bishop must, in addition, according to can. 491.3[13], provide such an archive collection with specific regulations, which may ensure its correct function in relation to its specific goals.

The correct organization of the diocesan historical archive can set an example to other Church entities and organizations present in the territory. More specifically it can constitute a useful paradigm for institutions of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, where there is often an abundant archival deposit, so that the latter institutions’ historical archives can be established following similar criteria.

A Church historical archive can find itself in the situation of receiving private archival material (either from individual faithful or from a private ecclesiastical juridical person). These types of archives remain the property of the faithful or entity which has deposited the material, with due regard for rights acquired at the time of the concession of this material (as for example regarding the protection of the material in its integrity, the regulations for the conservation in a specific place, access criteria). In receiving this material into the Church archive collection it is necessary to include in the official act of agreement clauses regarding the exact fulfilment of the conditions of the hosting archive. If this material falls under the competence of the civil realm, the norms in force in that place must be followed.

With due respect for canonical and civil competence, one should foresee the possibility of gathering together certain smaller archival collections which are not sufficiently protected, under whatever title may apply (deposit, extinction or suppression of an ecclesiastical juridical person, etc.). This concentration is done for the purpose of guaranteeing the conservation of the material for both its use and its protection. Diocesan bishops and others who are legitimately responsible for such matters must take such measures whenever there is a danger that such materials may end up in improper locations or in fact already are in unprotected sites, such as parishes and churches which have no priests or other personnel, or monasteries and convents no longer inhabited by religious communities.

2.2. Adaptation of the archive for current affairs

The archive for current affairs assumes a noteworthy importance for the ordinary life of the ecclesial community. It expresses the nature of the pastoral activity of an ecclesiastical body. For this reason, one should organize it according to criteria that can take into account the present day needs but also be open to future developments.

The archival procedure for contemporary documents is just as important as the collection of old documents and the conservation of historical archives. In fact, tomorrow’s historical archives are kept in today’s archives for current affairs in various episcopal and provincial curias, in parish offices, in secretarial offices of individual ecclesiastical institutions. In these, every moment of the life of the Church community, and its continued development, is recorded, as well as its capillary organization and the multiple activities carried out by its members. In the post-conciliar period especially a beneficial process of renewal has been launched. There have been changes, even radical ones, in the organization of Church institutions. New developments as well as setbacks have occurred in the missionary activity of the Church. A need to restructure many institutions has been felt because of a decrease in vocations and religious practice as well as other adverse conditions, which have effected primarily western countries. The documentation produced in this regard has been very abundant and has assumed particular importance. Therefore it necessitates an adequate regulation and organization.

On the correct functioning of archives for current affairs can depend now the information and the co-ordination of many initiatives and in the future the image of the diocese, parish, the institution of consecrated life and the society of apostolic life, the associations of faithful, ecclesial movements, which will be handed down to future generations. If one does not proceed with a certain urgency to look after the care of archives for current affairs one can cause damage not only to the historical memory but also to the pastoral activity of the particular churches.

Well-managed archives are useful instruments in order to verify the initiatives taken on a short, medium, and long-term basis. It is therefore necessary to fix criteria for the acquisition of acts and organize them in an adequate manner as well as distinguish them typologically (for example, the records of minutes and the acts of Church life, which have a continuous span, must be considered differently from documents on individual cases which terminate at a given time). The Code of Canon Law recommends to all the administrators of Church goods to “adequately catalogue documents and materials, on which are founded the rights of the Church and of the institution regarding its goods and property, and conserve them in a convenient and suitable archive.”[14]

Particular attention should be given to the methodology used to organize the archive. It can not just limit itself to the planning of the collection and the ordering of paper material. It should by now involve the organization of documentation acquired using those technical means which are continuously being developed with the aid of multimedia methods (slides, cassettes, videocassettes, computer discs, CD, CD-rom, etc). In this regard, in the area of Church archives there is still a need to acquire, whenever possible, a management mentality conforming to modern technologies.

2.3. Mutual collaboration with civil bodies

In many nations there is already an advanced policy for the cultural heritage currently in place, established through specific laws, regulations, agreements with private entities, and concrete projects. In her relationship with nations, the Church stresses the pastoral aims of her cultural goods and their persistent up-to-date role in obtaining these aims. This position does not exclude but rather renders more vital the use of the documents gathered in a specific territory and of a certain cultural conjunction to the advantage of both the Church and civil communities.

Such attention on the part of the political community involves the cultural heritage belonging to official Church bodies in various ways. We often encounter mutual agreements drafted in order to favour the harmonization of specific actions. In fact, there is a widespread belief that historical archives of ecclesiastical entities, are also part of the national heritage, even if they remain autonomous. In this sense, norms must be guaranteed and promoted by which their ownership, nature, and origin should be respected. In addition, initiatives aimed at making known the action carried out by the Church in a certain political Community through archival documents should be favoured and supported.

Regarding the political community it is the duty of the diocesan bishops and all those responsible for Church archives to maintain an attitude of respect for the laws in force in the various countries, keeping in mind the conditions foreseen in can. 22 of the Code of Canon Law. It is also desirable that the particular churches work in collaboration with the political community on the basis of the proper agreements drawn up by the Apostolic See or by its express mandate.

2.4. Common guidelines for the Episcopal Conferences

Such interaction between competent Church and civil authorities urges national and regional Episcopal Conferences to promote a common orientation in the particular churches in order to better co-ordinate the actions taken in favour of historical-cultural goods and more specifically archives, with due respect for the legislative power proper to the diocesan bishop by divine right[15].

It is therefore considered suitable:

– to reaffirm the respect that the Church has always shown towards cultures, even classical non-Christian ones, of which it has preserved and handed down many written documents, often saving them from total oblivion;

– to stimulate the belief that the care and appreciation of archives assumes an important cultural importance and can have a profound pastoral significance as well as become an efficient instrument of dialogue with contemporary society;

– to preserve in archives the acts established and all that which can help make better known the concrete life of the Church community;

– to encourage the drafting of diaries where the principle local events of the individual Church entities are recorded in order to provide a valid point of reference for the daily documents which are gathered in archives;

– to have particular care in gathering (also with the help of new technologies) documents on those religious traditions and ecclesial initiatives which are dying out in order to perpetuate their historical memory;

– to converge on common practical guidelines the effort of the particular churches concerning the methodology followed for the arrangement, appraisal, protection, use of the documents in the archive collection;

– to study the possibility and the way to recover archives which have been confiscated in the past, often as a result of complex historical circumstances, and dispersed in other locations, by drawing up agreements of restitution or by using computerized reproductive means (microfilms, optical discs, etc), especially when they contain documents concerning the history of the Church community;

– to remind each administrator of Church goods of their responsibility regarding the protection of material documents in accordance to the canonical guidelines set forth;

– to encourage archivists in their responsibility to protect the collection by promoting adequate up-to-date training programs, inviting them to take part in national associations competent in this field and by organizing seminars and congresses for a better understanding of the problems involved in the appraisal and management of Church archives;

– to reawaken in pastors and in all those responsible for the juridical persons subject to the diocesan Bishops a greater sensitivity towards the archives under their care so that they might contribute a stronger effort in properly collecting, ordering, and appreciating this type of material.

– to encourage efforts to see that “parish registers be correctly inscribed and duly safeguarded...”[16].

2.5. The employment of qualified personnel

Competent authorities should assign the direction of Church archives to qualified and properly trained individuals. A careful selection should be made so that this type of Church service, which must be assigned whenever possible to capable and expert individuals according to stable working conditions, may further increase. The importance of this service should be considered in reference to the historical archive as well as the one for current affairs as mentioned in can. 491.1-2:

– the individual responsible for the diocesan historical archive can carry out work in other diocesan archive collections, according to the proper guidelines issued by the bishop, and can co-ordinate the cultural activities promoted by various archives;

– the individual responsible for the archive for current affairs, besides guaranteeing the proper confidentiality of the material gathered, can favour various initiatives undertaken through a management policy which can facilitate consultation and research.

Thus, of fundamental importance is adequate training of staff members who are active in this field of archive science at various levels. In the long run, this service will contribute to the development of that cultural basis which today seems to be extremely necessary for pastoral work. With this aim in mind, the Vatican School of Palaeography and Archive Science, instituted at the Vatican Secret Archives, has been working in a praiseworthy manner for decades.

Recently this Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church has sponsored an Advanced Studies Program for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Church archive associations should be promoted in all countries because their work and efforts are indeed praiseworthy for offering archivists an opportunity to keep up to date and ensuring the protection of the cultural heritage.

The compliance to the numerous needs connected to archive science depends on the professional background of the archive department’s staff members, to whom the diocesan bishops assign the management and direction of the archive collections, as well as their sense of responsibility towards the Church and towards culture in general.

The technical competence and the sense of duty are the necessary conditions at the basis of a proper respect towards the integrity of the material collections, the acquisition of new material documents deriving from other archives, the organization of the material deposited, the access and appraisal policies which should conform with a regulation controlling the passage of material from the archive for current affairs to the historical archive.

3. The conservation of the documents of memory

The primary concern regarding Church archives in the particular churches is certainly to preserve such a precious heritage with care in order that it may be handed down to future generations. Organizing archives entails following the criteria of unity by differentiation. The distinction of the material gathered demonstrates the capillary activity of the Church community and at the same time tells about her substantial unity of intent.

Preservation is a need that we today justly owe to those who have gone before us. Showing disinterest would be an offence to our ancestors and their memory. It is the diocesan bishops’ duty to observe the canonical regulations in this regard.[17] Young particular churches as well are required to document progressively their pastoral activity following canonical rules in order to transmit the memory of the first evangelization activity and the inculturation of the faith in their community.

3.1. The unique quality of documents

One should keep in mind that archives, unlike libraries, contain mostly unique documents. They represent principal sources for historical research because they refer directly to the particular events and deeds of specific individuals. Their loss or destruction means nullifying an objective investigation of the facts and impeding the acquisition of previous experiences and thus jeopardizing the transmission of cultural and religious values.

The conservation of manuscripts, parchments, paper material, and computerized records can be thus guaranteed by an appropriate norm regarding access policy, an efficient inventory program, any necessary restoration, the suitability and security of storage places. Part of a conservation policy is the recovery of that material dispersed in unsuitable locations. It is also wise to co-ordinate actions between other archives of Church entities not subject to the authority of the diocesan bishop in order better to focus these efforts. The very choice of paper as well as other types of material must be attentively evaluated in order to appraise the durability in certain climatic and environmental conditions. Such operations are necessary steps for a correct management of the archive collection.

3.2. Appropriate storage spaces

The concern of diocesan bishops and religious superiors should be concretely directed towards an effort to utilize properly equipped spaces in which to store the archival material. The places must respond to the fundamental norms of hygiene (lighting, ventilation, humidity and temperature control, etc.), security (they should have a fire and burglar alarm, etc.), vigilance (oversight during consultation periodic checks).

In structuring the archive premises, one should set aside places to store the material and proper spaces for the consultation of documents with the aid of various technical instruments, finding aids, and computerized equipment for research and analysis. Naturally, such an organization will be proportionate to the different categories of Church archive material stored and the type of consultation one wants to offer.

3.3. Inventory and computerized methods

For the conservation of archives of the particular churches it is suggested that the criteria established by the best archival tradition and applied technology be followed (computerized catalogue programs, internet, microfilms, reproductions using scanners, etc.). One should make an effort to try to find first documents of special value to be subject to the first phase of computerization and then ordinary documents for the general work of entering the data with the help of national and international entities.

The establishment of an inventory procedure is certainly the most fundamental step to ensure the consultation and access of archival material, as recommended in cann. 486.3 and 491.1. It alone can allow the production of other useful measures to facilitate the consultation of material (catalogues, registers, indexes, etc.) and will allow the use of modern computerized systems to link the various archives in order to give the possibility of research on a wider scale. Besides using new technologies it is also suggested that copies of the most important documents be preserved in other protected areas in order to prevent the loss of all this material in case of disaster.

4. The appreciation of the patrimony of documents in the historical culture and the mission of the church

The documentation contained in archives constitutes a heritage that is preserved in order to be transmitted and utilized. Its consultation allows an historical reconstruction of a specific particular church and the society in which it operates. In this sense the papers of memory are a living cultural good because they are offered for the training of the Church and civil community and handed down for generations to come. Therefore it becomes our duty to protect them carefully.

4.1. The universal destination of the archival patrimony

Archives, as part of the cultural heritage, should be offered primarily at the service of the community that has produced them. But in time they assume a universal destination because they become the heritage of all of humanity. The material stored can not be, in fact, precluded to those who can take advantage of it in order to know more about the history of the Christian people, their religious, civil, cultural and social deeds.

Those responsible must make sure that the use of Church archives be facilitated further, that is not only to those interested who have the right to access but also to a larger range of researchers, without prejudice towards their religious or ideological backgrounds, following the best of Church tradition yet while respecting the appropriate norms of protection offered by universal law as well as the regulations of the diocesan bishop.

Such an attitude of disinterested openness, kind welcome, and competent service must be taken into careful consideration so that the historical memory of the Church may be offered to the entire society.

4.2. On regulations concerning archives

Given the universal interest which archives must arouse, it would be desirable that individual regulations be made known publicly and that norms be harmonized with state or civil ones as much as possible. This would serve to underline the common service which archives in general are destined to give.

Besides the rules and regulations concerning the diocesan archives, it would be wise to establish common guidelines also concerning the use of parish archives in respect of the canonical norms, as well for other archives, in order to avoid mistakes in the recording process of data or in the gathering of documents. This type of co-ordination can favour an eventual computerization of data within one’s diocese in order to obtain some statistical information regarding the entire pastoral activity of a certain particular church. It would also be wise to co-ordinate these rules and regulations also with the archive collections of other Church entities, especially those of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life while respecting their legitimate autonomies.

However, it would also be desirable that limits be placed on the consultation of personal files and other documents whose nature make them confidential or are retained so by bishops[18]. We are not referring to the bishop’s secret archive, as explicitly described in cannon 489-490 of the Canon Law Code, but to the Church archive in general. In this respect, some archival methodologies suggest that confidential papers be well marked in the inventories and catalogues which are made accessible to researchers.

4.3. The interpretation of documents within their context

For the sake of research work and a better appreciation of the documents preserved in archives, specific archival procedures as well as bibliographical aids are very useful for the study of the individual documents since they reveal their historical context. In this respect, one should not forget to supply the diocesan historical archive with specialized works for the historical-juridical knowledge of Church institutions and general works that illustrate the history of the Church. In fact, every document must be inserted in its right context from which it receives its full historical value. In this sense, the contributions of research become more evident since they enter in relation to data acquired previously and already known.

These aids, along with those instruments that facilitate the reading of ancient manuscripts and their eventual copy and reproduction, contribute towards a better use of the archival collection.

4.4. On the attainment of cultural formation through the archival deposit

Through the archival deposit, the Church communicates her own history which developed throughout the centuries and which has grown in and helped to transform many cultures. Even Church archives, then, become a part of the heritage of civilization and hold an irreducible educational value which can make them true cultural centers.

Accordingly, those who work in Church archives efficiently contribute towards cultural development because they offer their scientific competence while making accessible the nature and the significance of documents to researchers. When they offer their service to the advantage of foreign scholars they contribute in a concrete way to encourage researchers of different nationalities to meet and different cultures to understand one another. Thus, they become included “among the artisans of peace and unity among men”[19].

4.5. On the promotion of historical research

It is desirable that the Church becomes a promoter of archival organization by stressing its cultural importance especially where an adequate awareness among civil bodies does not yet exist. In this sense it is wise to co-ordinate all the Church archives present in a particular church, including those subject to the diocesan Bishop as well as others. This heritage of memory can become, in fact, a point of reference and a meeting place. It can inspire cultural initiatives and historical research in collaboration with the specialized institutes of Church, catholic, free and state universities. Of great utility is also the relationship between archives and centers of documentation. When archives will become privileged places for research and conferences on the religious and pastoral traditions of the Christian community, for didactic exhibits, they will assume the role of a cultural agency not only for experts in the field but also for students and adequately trained young people. Finally, by promoting critical editions of sources and collections of studies, such austere tabernacles of memory, will express their full vitality and will insert themselves in the creative process of culture and in the pastoral mission of the local church.

5. Conclusion

In dealing with the archival patrimony of Church communities in this our letter, we are sure that we have aroused in Your Eminence (Excellency) profound sentiments and dear memories of the Church for which You are responsible.

The venerated Pontiff Paul VI “was convinced that historical culture is necessary, is born of the genius, character, necessity of the Catholic life itself which has a tradition, is coherent and is carrying out through the centuries a determined design and mystery. It is Christ who operates in time and who writes, He Himself, His story through our papers which are echoes and traces of this passage of the Church, of the passage of the Lord Jesus, in the world. Thus, having veneration for these papers, documents, archives, means having veneration for Christ, having a sense of the Church; it means giving to ourselves and those who will come after us the history of the passage of this phase of transitus Domini in the world.[20]

Preserving, then, this patrimony in order to transmit it to future generations, just as promoting it adequately for the historical culture and mission of the Church, entails a noteworthy effort. For this reason, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church has retained useful to offer these recommendations in order to favour the formulation of a concrete plan of action.

We would be glad and grateful to receive any comments on these observations we have made and on the proposals we have indicated. This would enable us to develop a fruitful dialogue that can offer us other ideas in order to better tune our action with the real situations of the Particular Churches, and allow us to plan sound initiatives based on the experience of each and every one.

Initiatives of this sort, just as the conservation and promotion of the cultural heritage as a whole, require individuals and time. Even with archives, it is necessary that a pastoral attitude be fostered, considering that their conservation prepares for future cultural developments. Their appreciation could constitute a valid meeting ground with today’s culture and offer occasions to participate in the progress of humanity as a whole.

Archives, as part of the Church’s cultural heritage[21] and thus sharing the characteristic aims of this type of heritage within the Church[22], can really bring about a valid contribution to the process of new evangelization. By using adequately all the cultural goods produced by Church communities it is possible to continue and increase a dialogue among Christians and today’s world. The Holy Father John Paul II in his address to the Members of the First Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church has underlined “the importance of cultural heritage in the expression and inculturation of the faith and in the Church’s dialogue with mankind [...] between religion and art and between religion and culture there is a very close relationship...And everyone is aware of the contribution made to the religious sense by the artistic and cultural achievements that the faith of Christian generations has accumulated over the centuries”[23].

With my fraternal wish that Your pastoral work may be rich also in cultural results, I gladly take this opportunity to express my sentiments of veneration and esteem along with my respectful regards, as I have the honor to be

Fraternally Yours in Jesus Christ,

+ Archbishop Francesco Marchisano

Carlo Chenis SDB

Vatican City, February 2, 1997

[1] During this last century the Papal Magisterium has issued significant documents on Church archives: the Circular Letter of the Secretary of State to Italian Bishops (September 30, 1902); the Letter of the Secretary of State to Italian Bishops (December 12, 1907); the Circular Letter of the Secretary of State (April 15, 1923); the establishment of a course in Archive Science at the Pontifical School of Paleography (November 6, 1923); Pius XI, Address to the Schools of Archive and Library Science (June 15, 1942); the Circular Letter of the Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church (November 1, 1942); the Instructions issued by the Librarian and Archivist of the Holy Roman Church (November 1942); Letter of the Congregation of the Council (December 30, 1952); Pius XII Address to Ist Congress of the Association of Church Archives (December 5, 1956); Instructions for archive administration issued by the Pontifical Commission for Church Archives of Italy (December 5, 1960); the Letter issued by the Congregation for Seminaries and Universities (May 27, 1963); Apostolic Constitution Gaudium et Spes (December 7,1965) nn.56-62.

[2] CIC/1983, cann. 173 § 4; 428 § 2; 482 § 1; 486-491; 535 § 4; 895; 1053; 1082; 1121 § 3; 1133; 1208; 1283 n. 3; 1284 § 2 n. 9; 1306 § 2; 1339 § 3; 1719.

[3] CIC/1917, cann. 304 § 1; 372 § 1; 375-384; 435 § 3; 470 § 4; 1010 § 1; 1522 n. 3; 1523 n. 6; 1548 § 2; 2405; 2406.

[4] CCEO/1990, cann. 37; 123 §§ 1 and 3; 189 § 2; 228 § 2; 252 § 1; 256-261; 296 § 4; 470; 535 § 2; 769 § 2; 774; 799; 840 § 3; 871 § 2; 955 § 5; 1026; 1028 § 2 n. 8; 1050; 1470.

[5] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (June 28, 1988) artt. 99-104.

[6] John Paul II, Motu Proprio Inde a Pontificatus Nostri initio (March 25, 1993).

[7] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (June 28, 1988), art. 101 § 1.

[8] John Paul II, Address The importance of the artistic heritage in the expression of faith and in the dialogue with humanity (October 13, 1995).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Cfr Paul VI, Address on Church Archivists (September 26, 1963).

[11] CIC/1983, can. 491 - § 1.

[12] CIC/1983, can. 491 - § 2. Curet etiam Episcopus dioecesanus ut in dioecesi habeatur archivum historicum atque documenta valorem historicum habentia in eodem diligenter custodiantur et systematice ordinentur.

[13] CIC/1983, can.491 - § 3.Acta ed documenta, de quibus in §§ 1 et 2, ut inspiciantur aut efferantur, serventur normae ab Episcopo diocesano statutae.

[14] CIC/1983 can. 1284 § 2 n. 9.

[15] Cfr. CIC/1983 cann. 381; 375 § 1; 455 § 4, with the respective sources.

[16] CIC/1983 can. 555 § 3, cfr. can. 535.

[17] Can.486 - § 1. Documenta omnia, quae dioecesim vel paroecias respiciunt, maxima cura custodiri debent.

§2 In unaquaque curia erigatur, in loco tuto, archivum seu tabularium dioecesanum, in quo instrumenta et scripturae quae ad negotia dioecesana tum spiritualia tum temporalia spectant, certo ordine disposita et diligenter clausa custodiantur.

§3. Documentorum, quae in archivo continentur, conficiatur inventarium seu catalogus, cum brevi singularum scripturarum synopsi.

Can. 487 - §1. Archivum clausum sit oportet eiusque clavem habeant solum Episcopus et cancellarius; nemini licet illud ingredi nisi de Episcopi aut Moderatoris curiae simul et cancellarii licentia.

§2. Ius est iis quorum interest, documentorum, quae natura sua sunt publica quaeque ad statum suae personae pertinent, documentum authenticum scriptum vel photostaticum per se vel per procuratorem recipere.

Can. 488 - Ex archivo non licet efferre documenta, nisi ad breve tempus tantum atque de Episcopi aut insimul Moderatoris curiae et cancellarii consensu.

Can. 489 - §1. Sit curia dioecesana archivum quoque secretum, aut saltem in communi archivo armarium seu scrinium, omnino clausum et obseratum, quod de loco amoveri nequeat, in quo scilicet documenta secreto servanda cautissime custodiantur.

§2. Singulis annis destruantur documenta causarum criminalium in materia morum, quarum rei vita cesserunt aut quae a decennio sententia condemnatoria absolutae sunt, retento facti brevi summario cum textu sententiae definitivae.

Can. 490 - §1. Archivi secreti clavem habeat tantummodo Episcopus.

§2. Sede vacante, archivum vel armarium secretum ne aperiatur, nisi in casu verae necessitatis, ab ipso Administratore dioecesano.

§3. Ex archivo vel armario secreto documenta ne efferantur.

Can. 491 - §1 - Curet Episcopus dioecesanus ut acta et documenta archivorum quoque ecclesiarum catedralium, collegiatarum, paroecialium, aliarumque in suo territorio exstantium diligenter serventur, atque inventaria seu catalogi conficiantur diobus exemplaribus, quorum alterum in proprio archivo, alterum in archivo dioecesano serventur.

§2. Curet etiam Episcopus dioecesanus ut in dioecesi habeatur archivum historicum atque documenta valorem historicum habentia in eodem diligenter custodiantur et systematice ordinentur.

§3. Acta et documenta, de quibus in §§ 1 et 2, ut inspiciantur aut efferantur, serventur normae ab Episcopo dioecesano statutae.

[18] Cfr. CIC/1983 491 § 3.

[19] Card. Agostino Casaroli (Secretary of State), Message to IV Congress of Archivists of the Church in France (Paris, November 26-28, 1979).

[20] Paul VI, Address on Church Archivists (September 26, 1963).

[21] Cfr. CIC/1983, can.1257 - §1. Bona temporalia omnia quae ad Ecclesiam universam, Apostolicam Sedem aliasve in Ecclesia personas iuridicas publicas pertinent, sunt bona ecclesiastica et reguntur canonibus qui sequuntur, necnon propriis statutis.

[22] Cfr. CIC/1983, can. 1254 - §2. Fines vero proprii praecipue sunt: cultus divinus ordinandus, honesta cleri aliorumque ministrorum sustentatio procuranda, opera sacri apostolatus et caritatis, praesertim erga egenos, exercenda.

[23] John Paul II, Address on The importance of the artistic heritage in the expression of faith and in the dialogue with humanity (October 13, 1995).