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A process prescribed or assigned for testing qualification; an investigation, inquiry. Examinations are in use in parochial schools, Catholic academies, seminaries, and universities as tests of proficiency. Examinations or something equivalent must enter into all effectual instruction, for it is not sufficient that a book be placed in the hands of a pupil or that he be compelled to attend lectures, but it is necessary to see that he grasps the ideas conveyed. Such tests are widely in vogue in Catholic institutions, as they are in those not subject to the Church. Examinations, however, have other purposes, especially as tests of qualifications for offices or positions, and as investigations to arrive at the truth. It is particularly under these aspects that the question of examinations now presents itself.

Examination for appointment to parochial benefices

The Council of Trent, realizing that parishes should be ruled over by men of virtue and learning, decreed (Sess. XXIV, c. xviii, De ref.) that the cure of souls should be entrusted only to those who, in a competitive examination or concursus, have demonstrated their fitness. The purpose of this examination is not only to exclude unworthy candidates, but to secure the selection of the best. Clement XI and Benedict XIV determined the form of this examination (see CONCURSUS; SYNODAL EXAMINERS).

Examination for promotion to orders

The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, c. vii, De ref.), repeating the legislation of previous councils, prescribes that a bishop promote no one to orders in the Church till priests and others prudent and learned, appointed by the bishop, pass upon the candidate's qualifications. This investigation is concerned with legitimate birth, baptism, confirmation, freedom from irregularity, age, title of ordination, morals, faith, and knowledge. In practice, however, the examination is confined to learning, as other requisites are investigated in advance and attested by proper documents, of the chancellor, pastor, rector of seminary, etc. The place, form, matter, number of examiners, and other details of the examination are left to the bishop. A prelate commissioned by another to ordain the latter's subject is free to submit the candidate to an examination or not, as he may deem proper, unless, for grave reasons, he suspect the unfitness of the candidate, notwithstanding a previous examination, or unless he be commissioned by the candidate's bishop to hold the examination. Members of religious orders are examined by their own superiors and likewise by the ordinary prelate, except the Jesuits and some others who by special privilege are exempt from examination by the ordinary prelate (see APOSTOLIC EXAMINERS).

Examination of bishops-elect

In addition to the examination in the Roman Pontifical, Gregory XIV prescribed another for bishops-elect, while Clement VIII instituted a congregation of cardinals for this purpose. This examination, however, developed into little else than a ceremony, since bishops are not selected till assurance is given of their prudence, piety, and learning. The late reorganization of the Roman Curia puts this matter under the Consistorial Congregation. Cardinals who are to receive episcopal consecration are exempt from this examination.

Examination of confessors

The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, c. xv, De ref.) established the necessary requirements of episcopal approbation for all priests, both secular and regular, to hear confessions, advising an examination as a test of fitness, though bishops are free to approve, without such test, those priests who in their judgment are qualified for the work. Members of the regular clergy, without exception, may be obliged by the ordinary of the diocese to undergo this test, if they would hear the sacramental confessions of secular persons. Once approved, however, they are not to be subjected to another examination, unless some grave cause relating to confessions arise (see APOSTOLIC EXAMINERS).

Examination of preachers

The ordinary of a diocese may submit to an examination members of religious bodies who desire to preach in the diocese in churches other than those of their own order. Once, however, he has given his approbation, he may not insist on a second examination, though for just cause he may withdraw the permission given to preach. The bishop's successor in office may demand a re-examination.

Examination of those wishing to contract marriage

Before publishing the banns of marriage the pastor questions separately the contracting parties regarding their place of residence, to ascertain whether he has a right to unite them in matrimony. He inquires, likewise, whether they are acting with perfect freedom, or perhaps under duress, fear, or other motive which might invalidate the contract. He learns of any opposition on the part of parents to the proposed union, as well as of the possible existence of any matrimonial impediment. He must ascertain, moreover, whether the parties are sufficiently grounded in the rudiments of the Catholic religion and capable, consequently, of instructing their offspring. If the parties belong to different parishes, by whom is this investigation to be conducted? Local regulations and customs are to be observed, since there is neither positive universal legislation nor uniform practice in this matter.

Examination of witnesses

In ecclesiastical, as in civil, courts witnesses are examined under oath, administered by the auditor or judge, who should first call the witness's attention to the nature and binding effect of an oath and to his duty of telling the truth. The oath must be to the effect that the witness will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If thought advisable by the judge, the oath may also contain the promise of secrecy. A statement not sworn to does not constitute evidence. Witnesses are examined separately. In civil trials the interested parties have a right to be present when witnesses are deposing and may not be excluded except in rare cases approved by the judge. In criminal or other cases, where public rather than private interest is at stake, the practice is to exclude the plaintiff and defendant, as well as other witnesses. Here, also, in extreme cases an exception may be made. If, however, the defendant is not allowed to confront the witnesses cited by the plaintiff and vice versa, he is permitted to see the witnesses take the oath and may suggest interrogatories to be proposed.

Witnesses are to be asked or cited, but not necessarily in a formal manner, to appear in court and testify. He who offers his testimony unsolicited is suspected. The examination of witnesses is conducted by the judge. The interrogatories, which are general and special, should be clear and capable of a direct and definite answer. The general questions concern the name, residence, profession, age, and religion of the witness. His relations to plaintiff or defendant, his habits, prejudices, associations, motives, his physical defects, and, at times, his mental qualities, his means of knowledge, powers of discernment, and his memory may be relevant. The special queries are drawn from the crime or charge, and should be relevant or material to the fact at issue. The judge must ascertain how much of the deposition is of personal knowledge, or only hearsay evidence or rumour, or perhaps mere opinion or inference. Circumstances of place, persons, time, etc. may be pertinent. Leading or suggestive questions, which suggest the answer desired, are not permitted. The rules of competency of witnesses are reducible to two, a knowledge of the facts in the case and veracity. In weighing the evidence, however, the judge must consider not only the knowledge and credibility of the witness, but also the quality of the deposition and its weight in comparison with that of other witnesses. While exception may be taken to a witness, if unsustained it does not disqualify him. The testimony is written down by the secretary or clerk and is read by him to the witness. Additions or corrections, if necessary, are made. The witness affixes his signature, or, if unable to write, he makes his mark, which must be attested by the clerk. If the witness refuses to subscribe, the fact and the reason thereof must be noted. Finally, both the judge and the clerk sign the document.


FERRARIS, Prompta Bibliotheca, s.v.; LAURENTIUS, Institutiones, s.v. Examen; TAUNTON, The Law of the Church, s.v. Examination.

About this page

APA citation. Meehan, A. (1909). Examination. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Meehan, Andrew. "Examination." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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