Congregation for the Clergy, Diocesan bishop can require clergy to submit to fingerprinting and background checks by civil authorities, 2005, Private.


A priest in a Diocese in Great Britain, in accord with policy established by the Bishops of England and Wales, submitted documents to civil authorities in his local jurisdiction, through his Diocesan Child Protection Officer, to ascertain if he had a criminal background. In checking his background, the Criminal Records Bureau discovered that someone with the same name had a criminal record. The priest is innocent of any offense and is a victim of mistaken identity. The Bureau required that the priest furnish it with his fingerprints and three copies of his picture. The priest objected, stating that this action was damaging his good reputation and violating his privacy. Besides, the Bureau was responsible for the confusion of identities and the resulting mistake. The priest referred the matter to the Congregation for the Clergy for their decision on this matter. What follows is the priest's letter to the Congregation and its response, in English:




Parish House

Your Eminence,

I write concerning the fact that I am being compelled by an officer of the Diocese of ____ to provide fingerprints to the police, although innocent of any offence, and without being charged with any offence. This is the result of the measures taken by the Bishops of England & Wales to protect children and vulnerable adults.

The Bishops insist that all clergy must be vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau in order to ascertain if they have any criminal record which involves offences against children and/or vulnerable adults. This vetting is dealt with by the Child Protection Officer of each diocese, appointed by the bishop.

Essentially, the process is a paper one. Several proofs of identity must be provided: birth certificate, passport, and driving license. These are verified by a third party. Also, details of places and dates of residence over the last five years are required to be submitted. All this is then sent to the National Police Criminal Records Bureau. The Criminal Record Bureau compares this data with its own records. In my own case the Criminal Record Bureau has confused me with someone of the same name who was born a few days before me in the same town, and has produced a false criminal record for myself.

The Bureau will not accept the proof of identity already submitted, nor accept their own fault in the confusion concerning the date of birth.

The Diocese of _____ now requires me to furnish the Criminal Records Bureau with my fingerprints, taken by the local police, and three copies of my photograph in order to rectify its own mistake.

I submitted to the Child Protection Officer that canon 220 protects my privacy. (Nemini... ius cuiusque personae ad propriam intimitatem tuendam violare.) In spite of this she insists that I provide the fingerprints and the photographs to the civil authorities, and also give an interpretation on canon 220 to suit her case. In essence she is following the recommendations of the "Nolan Review" which was set up by the English & Welsh Bishops to provide a framework for their local measures concerning child protection. The Recommendation N° 33 of the Nolan Review is “The Church and relevant Church organizations should register with the Criminal Records Bureau and use its services as a matter of course.”

My understanding is that the implementation of the Recommendations of the Nolan Review has not received the 'recognitio' from the Holy See, and thus the Recommendations do not derogate from Canon Law.

I would be grateful if the Congregation could respond to the question:

In the light of Canon 220 am I obliged to follow the order of the Diocesan Child Protection Officer to provide my fingerprints and photograph to the National Criminal Records Bureau?

In Christ,

Father _____




Congregatio Pro Clericis

Vatican City

Prot. N.

Dear Father _____,

Thank you for your letter, dated _____, regarding the policy of the Diocese of _____ which obliges its clergy to undergo a police background check.

After having carefully studied this question this Congregation finds that there is nothing in the Code of Canon Law that would necessarily prevent a Diocesan Bishop, after having duly evaluated the particular situation in his Diocese and the civil law of the jurisdiction in which he resides, from obliging priests to submit to the same criminal background checks that are required for full or part-time lay personnel or volunteers in diocesan institutions who are in frequent contact with minors, under similar circumstances.

That being said, a Diocesan Bishop would nonetheless need to be very careful concerning the type of criminal background check that is required, assuring that the scope of the investigation is strictly tailored to reveal only objective and certain data relative to the matter at hand. Moreover, the Diocesan Bishop must ensure that the information gained from the background check cannot be used or retained, so as to harm unlawfully the good reputation of those being examined or violate the individual's right to protect his or her privacy (cf. can. 220 CIC).

In this particular case it would seem that you have fully cooperated with the civil authorities in light of the diocesan policy and that any further requirements would single you out and as such may violate your right to protect your privacy (cf. can. 220). Therefore, in answer to your question, "In the light of canon 220 am I obliged to follow the order of the Diocesan Child Protection Officer to provide my fingerprints and photograph to the National Criminal Records Bureau?", this Congregation must answer in the negative, that is, you cannot be obliged by the Child Protection Officer to provide your fingerprints and photograph to the National Criminal Records Bureau.

Having said this, please realize that the civil authorities with whom you are dealing may have their own requirements regarding any corrections that might need to be made with regard to your civil records. Indeed, this Congregation suggests that is might be most opportune for you to cooperate fully with the civil authorities in this matter so as to clear your own record.

With assurances of prayers and best wishes, I remain

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Dario Cardinal Castrillon




Congregation for the Clergy, Diocesan bishop can require clergy to submit to fingerprinting and background checks by civil authorities, 2005, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2005, 7-9.