Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Witness
One who is present, bears testimony, furnishes evidence or proof. Witnesses are employed in various ecclesiastical matters, as in civil, in proof of a statement, fact, or contract. According to various circumstances a witness is one who is personally present and sees some act or occurrence and can bear testimony thereto; one who on request or in behalf of a party subscribes his name to an instrument to attest the genuineness of its execution; one who gives testimony on the trial of a cause, appearing before a court, judge, or other official to be examined under oath. The espousals of Catholics ("Ne temere") to be binding must be in writing, signed by the contracting parties and ordinarily by two witnesses, or by a pastor or ordinary, each within his own territory, as sole witnesses. In case either or both parties are unable for any cause to write, an additional witness is necessary. Catholics are incapable of entering into lawful wedlock ("Ne temere") except in the presence of a parish priest, or ordinary, or other priest duly delegated, and two witnesses. Though not necessary for validity of the act, the Church desires in both cases that these witnesses be Catholics (S.O., 19 Aug., 1891). Witnesses of a marriage sign no ecclesiastical document, though they may be called upon by the state to attest by their own hand certain civil records. Sponsors at baptism and confirmation are not properly witnesses; they assist for other purposes (see RELATIONSHIP). A canonical precept, when employed, must be delivered in the presence of the vicar general or two others as witnesses (Cum magnopere, VII). Ecclesiastical documents are attested or witnessed as circumstances require, e.g., by the chancellor, clerk of the court, prothonotary apostolic. Expert witnesses to some extent have a place in canon law. In ecclesiastical trials witnesses are adduced to prove a fact directly, or indirectly, i.e., by establishing the falsity of the contrary.
The essential qualifications of a witness are knowledge of the fact at issue and truthfulness: he must be an eye-witness and trustworthy. Hearsay witnesses, however, are admitted, if necessary, in matters not of a criminal nature, e.g., in proof of consanguinity or other relationship, baptism, etc. Anyone not expressly prohibited may testify. Some, as the insane, infants, the blind or deaf, where sight or hearing is necessary for a knowledge of the facts in question, are excluded by the natural law; others by canon law, as those who are bribed or suborned, those who are infamous in law or in fact, convicted perjurors, excommunicated persons, all in a word whose veracity may be justly suspected. The law likewise rejects those who on account of affection or enmity may be biased, as well as those who may be specially interested in the case. Parents as a rule are not admitted for their children, particularly when the rights of a third party are at stake, or against them and vice-versa; relatives for one another; lawyers for their clients; accomplices or enemies for or against one another; Jews or heretics against Christians; lay persons against clerics, except their own interests are at stake, or there are no clerics to testify; minors or women in criminal cases tried criminally, unless their testimony is necessary, or they testify in favor of the accused. Clerics, unless compelled by civil authorities, are not allowed to testify against the accused when sentence of death is to be imposed (see IRREGULARITY). There are many exceptions to these general statements. A witness is more easily admitted in favour of a person than against him, and in civil than in criminal trials. No one is tolerated as a witness in his own case. Hence, those who are engaged in a similar cause, a judge who has adjudicated a like case, etc. are excluded. False witnesses are those who under oath prevaricate or conceal the truth that they are bound to tell: they are guilty of perjury, and if convicted are infamous in law. Notaries or others by altering or falsifying documents substantially become guilty of forgery (q.v.). (See ESPOUSALS; PROOF; EXAMINATION.)
Decret. L., II, tit. 20, De testibus et Attestationibus; SANTI, Praelect. Juris Can.; TAUNTON, The Law of the Church, s.v.
ANDREW B. MEEHAN