25 years ago today….

This is in from VIS:


VATICAN CITY, 22 JAN 2008 (VIS) – In the Holy See Press Office at midday today, a press conference was held to present a forthcoming congress on the theme: "Canon Law in the Life of the Church, research and perspectives in the context of recent Pontifical Magisterium". The event has been organised to mark the 25th anniversary of the Code of Canon Law which was promulgated on 25 January 1983.

  Participating in the press conference were Archbishop Francesco Coccopalmerio and Msgr. Juan Ignacio Arrieta, respectively president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

  "Twenty-five years ago, the long process of revising the 1917 Code of Canon Law came to an end", said Archbishop Coccopalmerio, explaining how the revision "had been announced by Pope John XXIII on the same day he proclaimed the celebration of Vatican Council II" and how it aimed "to re-examine the central corpus of the Church’s legislative code in accordance with doctrinal aspects contained in the conciliar documents".

  The archbishop then went on to consider differences between the Code of Canon Law and the legal codes of nations. The former, he said, "contains the law of the Church, just as a State code contains the laws of a particular nation. And it is called ‘Canon Law’ because it is made up of ‘canons’, which are equivalent to the ‘articles’ of a State code".

  However the Code of Canon Law "is not just a collection of norms created by the will of ecclesiastical legislators", it "indicates the duties and rights inherent to the faithful and to the structure of the Church as instituted by Christ".

  And the legislator, having identified fundamental duties and rights "also establishes a series of norms that have the aim of defining, applying and defending [those] duties and rights".

  "For this reason", the archbishop went on, "the Code of Canon Law is like a large and complex painting depicting the faithful and the communities within the Church, and defining the identity and ‘mission’ of each. And the painter of this work of art is the ecclesiastical legislator" whose model comes "from the doctrine of the Church and from … Vatican Council II, as Pope John Paul II taught us when he promulgated the current Code".

  Turning his attention to some of the "novelties" of the 1983 Code with respect to that of 1917, Archbishop Coccopalmerio mentioned Canon 208 whence, he said, "arise many tangible consequences that concern all the faithful and especially the lay faithful: all are called to play an active role in the Church". Other novelties include "the definition of matters concerning the Roman Pontiff, the College of Bishops, the Synod of Bishops and the episcopal conferences".

  The 1983 Code of Canon Law, said the archbishop, was, "like all human works, … perfectible". Hence one of the aims of the current congress is "to identify certain points in need of a little restoration".

  In closing, the president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts enumerated the functions of his dicastery: "helping the supreme legislator (the Pope) to keep Church legislation as complete and up to date as possible, … overseeing the correct application of current laws" and "helping the Pope in the delicate process of interpreting norms".

  For his part, Msgr. Arrieta affirmed that the aim of the congress is "to undertake a purposeful study … into the progress of the application of the Code, and of all the other norms that the various offices of the Roman Curia and individual legislators have produced over the last 25 years".

  The congress will begin with an "overall assessment of the development of these norms" presented by Cardinal Julian Herranz, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, who is, said Msgr. Arrieta, "the historical memory on this subject, having followed the entire process personally since Vatican Council II".

  The secretary of the pontifical council highlighted how, due to the time limits of the congress, only some offices of the Roman Curia had been chosen to study the process of the Code’s application over the last quarter of a century. Thus, for example, Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, will speak on the theme: "Acceptance and operation of Canon Law in the mission lands. Cultural encounters and technical limitations".

  Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops will deliver an address on: "Universal law and the production of norms at the level of particular Churches, episcopal conferences and particular councils", while for his part Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, will turn his attention to: "The formation of ministers of God: the teaching of Canon Law".

  Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" will give a talk entitled: "Spontaneity of charity. The needs and limits of normative structures".

  On Friday, 25 January, before their scheduled audience with the Pope, Cardinal Franc Rode C.M., prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, will address the gathering on: "Consecrated life and normative structures. Experience and perspectives of the relationship between general norms and particular statutes". For his part, Cardinal Peter Erdo, archbishop of Budapest, Hungary, and president of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, will speak on: "Rigidity and elasticity of normative structures in ecumenical dialogue". Following a brief debate , the congress will conclude with a contribution from Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. on the theme: "Canon Law and the pastoral government of the Church. The role of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts".

  The congress, which is due to be held in the Vatican’s Synod Hall on 24 and 25 January, will be attended by members of episcopal conferences, and by professors and students of Canon Law from Italy and the rest of the world.

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  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    Only five years and 10 months until customs contrary to the law gain legal force! Woo hoo! :)

    Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if one reason for the forthcoming congress is to, in part, address that – to see if there are customs creeping up here and there that need to be addressed before gaining the force of law. While it would be too early to call for a revision of the Code, the promulgation of the Eastern Code in 1990 helped to bring some significant issues to light. It would be helpful to have the Holy See look into some things and give definitive answers, such as latae sententiae excommunications (which are not present in the Eastern Code), the increasingly widespread use of lay chancellors and the extent of their ability to cooperate in governance, alienation of ecclesiastical goods vis-a-vis the concept of reserved powers, the adjudication of those rights spelled out in cc 204-293, the use of canon 223 to limit the functioning of priests who have been accused, but not found guilty of malfeasance…

    In the meantime, this Friday, the anniversary of the Code, remember to hug your local canonist, or take him (or her) out to lunch!

  2. Tim: Good insights.

    And good luck with that lunch thing.

  3. Celibatarian says:

    Tim, what do you mean by 5 more years until they have the force of law. I am still in RCIA and still learning but I am curious what you are referring to here and how it might effect things.

  4. It’s interesting how practical the code is, as a sign of the times…

    For instance, some few bishops are blatantly heretical and knowingly fall under the latae sententiae excommunication; yet, even then, outside of the Church, they can still posit valid administrative acts involving the granting of faculties. That’s a relief.


  5. Tim Ferguson says:

    The Church has always respected the legitimacy of local customs and the role they have in providing stability to the lives of the faithful. As an example, when St. Pius V promulgated the Roman Missal in 1570, he ordered that it be used everywhere by every Latin priest, except where it could be proven that another Missal had been used for at least 200 uninterrupted years. Hence, local Missals like the Ambrosian in Milan and the Mozarabic in Toledo, as well as Missals for religious orders like the Dominicans and Carmelites retained the force of law. People have a right to expect continuity in their faith.

    In the 1983 Code, just like the 1917 Code before it, provisions are made for customs gaining the force of law. According to canon 26, a custom that is contrary to the written law gains legal force if it is observed for 30 uninterrupted years. That is to say, if a local community (not just the priest or the bishop – it has to be introduced by a community) establishes a practice contrary to the law and retains that practice for 30 years, without stop, and without being called to task by a higher authority for it, then that practice gains the force law.

    Practically speaking, this probably has little effect in the day to day lives of the faithful. It’s hard to maintain a practice contrary to the law for 30 years, considering that few pastors and fewer bishops stay in position for that long. Similarly, the “hot button” issues are likely to receive correction from a superior. In addition, the custom must be “reasonable.” If, say, some local Church were to “ordain” women to the priesthood and manage to get away with it for 30 years without intervention from on high, it still would not gain the force of law, because it’s contrary to reason and the teaching of the Church. Custom more regularly applies in relatively minor issues.

    The majority of customs that affect the lives of most Catholics are liturgical customs. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has wisely avoided leaving one Missal in effect for 30 years, in order to avoid the development of contrary customs – hence the Missal was promulgated in 1970, revised in 1975, and again in 2002. Thus, it will be at least 2032 before any customs contrary to the General Institution of the Roman Missal gain any legal force.

    The 1983 Code was promulgated January 25, 1983, but came into force on November 27, 1983, hence, any custom contrary to the 1983 Code, which has been observed continuously and without correction, and is reasonable, gains the force of law at the earliest on November 27, 2013.

  6. Mark says:

    What about a custom like women covering their heads in church, which was observed for centuries and not expressly done away with in 1983 – shouldn’t this still be in force worldwide?

  7. Garrett says:

    Please give us the 1917 Code back. Or a new code more in accordance with Tradition.

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    Mark, that’s a can of worms that has been address amply by better canonists than I. I defer to Dr. Ed Peters, who wrote a masterful answer to the question.

    In short, though it was a custom, it became a written law in the 1917 Code.
    As a written law, it ceased to be a custom.
    As a law of the 1917 Code, it was abrogated by canon 6 of the 1983 Code.
    Therefore, it is a law no longer in force.

  9. Tim Ferguson says:

    Actually Garrett, the 1917 Code was a huge break from tradition – the first time that the law of the Church was codified and promulgated. Tradition lives and breaths, as does the law of the Church.

    I’m not quite sure what portion or portions of the 1983 Code you find at variance with Tradition. An examination of the fontes of the Code aptly demonstrates that nearly all of it is rooted in jurisprudence and papal and conciliar pronouncements that go back centuries.

  10. Mark says:

    in 1979 Msgr George A. Kelly, commenting on the current draft of the new Code, wrote “Law without teeth is advice, not law” – and wondered what the Church would get. “Elasticity” – such a euphemism!

  11. Br. Anthony says:

    The 1983 Code of Canon Law perfectly embodies the novelties of Vatican II. It is truly a code that needs some serious modifications. I say:


    Now that code was truly something else. It was in perfect line with Tradition.

  12. Tim Ferguson says:

    Specifics would be helpful…

  13. LeonG says:

    The local custom in the church here is during the vernacular only service – there is an excessive use of lay-extraordinary ministers always; lay ministers touch the sacred vessels; people talk constantly; people SMS during the proceedings & mobiles usually ring at some point; most women wear tight jeans and often scant tops while others have scarcely appropriate dress forms such a t-shirts and shorts; the priests’ sermons rarely touch on Catholic doctrine; there is no tabernacle; there are posters behind the altar stone and the choir regularly sing protestant hymns often with un-Catholic teachings, among others. Will these become inculturated norms peculiar to the SE Asian context? These are some of the reasons many Catholics no longer attend church on Sunday.

  14. LeonG says:

    Taking up Br Anthony’s comment –

    In my readings of & around the Code Of Canon Law of 1983 my impression is that Pope John Paul II (RIP) issued it in the light of Post-Vatican II ecclesiology and therefore does this not mean that according to this set of events he attached more importance to conciliar constitutions, pastoral in this case, than to the actual law itself? This has been a discussion point between interested parties in personal discussions.

    Among other talking points some of us here have had that contrast the code with that of 1917 are: the diminution of censure for freemasons and other anti-Catholic societies of this ilk; canon 1055 ff. on the essence of marriage ; canons 1095 & 1098 that have contributed to a proliferation of annulments now widely known as “Catholic divorce”; canon 337 propagating collegiality which can hardly be described as contributing to any other than papal primacy and stable church governance; canon 844 that permits sacramental administration to non-Catholics; canons 961-963 encourage the abandonment of individual Confessions, “in the spirit of the councils”, by the use of general absolutions while ambiguities allow for Confession to be held in “an open space” for “just reason”; seminary life has been impoverished seriously by the total absence of St Thomas Aquinas and other sound Roman Catholic doctors and theologians from many seminaries (often closed down now) -see canons 251 ff. Some modern priests do not fulfill the 6 year criteria for priestly formation – some have only 4 years and know more about Boff, Marx, Eisenhower (freemason),Dr Martin Luther King & the Dalai Lama than the Catholic ones above. This is no idle remark but based on personal experience.

    Suffice to add that it was indicated officially that the code of 1983 had to be read in the light of conciliar teachings (Sacrae Disciplinae Leges 1983)

    “This note of collegiality, which eminently characterizes and distinguishes the process of origin of the present Code, corresponds perfectly with the teaching and the character of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore the Code, not only because of its content but also because of its very origin, manifests the spirit of this Council, in the documents of which the Church, the universal “sacrament of salvation” (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, nos. 1, 9, 48), is presented as the People of God and its hierarchical constitution appears based on the College of Bishops united with its Head.”

    Therefore, the register and actual outcome of those teachings has to be put into question, in the objective light of the statistical and descriptive evidence now abundantly available on the modern church and its current condition. In so far as there is a definable mismatch between what may have been intended and actually what has transpired, the code needs some necessary revision. Clarity and precision are required. Whatever he was noted for, the papal predecessor was not well known for these qualities: Pope Benedict XV and his saintly predecessor Pope St Pius X were. The Church needs a step forward by embracing the 1917 style and content with actual outcome.

    What do others think?

  15. LeonG says:

    Correction – “….as contributing to papal primacy and stable church governance” (Paragraph 2 and lines 5 & 6).

  16. David M.O'Rourke says:

    Was it not the 1983 Code of Canon Law that gave us Personal Parishes which nowadays are frequently set aside by bishops for the exclusive celebration of the Older Use in both the Mass and the other sacraments?

    If so, Hip Hip Hooray for the new Canon Law!!!

  17. Br; Anselm says:


    Can you give us some possible or actual examples of ‘customs (which) contrary to the 1983 Code, which has been observed continuously and without correction, and (are)… reasonable, (gain) the force of law at the earliest on November 27, 2013’ ? Thank you.

  18. Tomas Lopez says:


    Without bursting into song, can you tell us if ‘liturgical blue’ would fall under this category?

  19. Tim Ferguson says:

    The use of blue vestments during Advent could possibly be considered a custom contrary to the law. Since the General Institution of the Roman Missal was promulgated in 2002, if a parish exclusively used blue for Advent (every priest, every deacon, every Mass – even a visiting priest or bishop) and was not corrected in this by the diocesan bishop, in 2032 (unless a new Missal is promulgated by then), that cutsom would have the force of law, and succeeding pastors would be obliged to use blue vestments.

    Some possible customs contrary to the law:

    Members of the diocesan finance council are to be appointed for five-year terms, renewable once (c. 492). A small diocese, with few resources, might not have the ability to replace members of the finance council that often, and so might have renewed the appointment of finance council members a third, or even fourth time – or, in a tribal area, it may be deemed wise by the local ordinary to appoint a tribal chieftain or official to the finance council “for life” as a means of maintaining a healthy relationship with a local tribe.

    Canon 508.2 establishes that a bishop, who does not have a chapter of canons in his diocese (which would include every diocese in the US), is to appoint one priest as “canon penitentiary” who would have the ability to absolve all undeclared canonical censures not reserved to the Holy See. In practice, I suspect, most dioceses have not done this, or instead have given all priests the faculty to absolve from all undeclared, unreserved canonical censures.

    Baptismal records are to be kept at a parish church (c. 877). Some hospitals or other chapels have retained their former practice of keeping their own baptismal registers, rather than turning these over to the local parish. If they retain that practice and the local pastor or ordinary does not correct this, in five years, those places will have the right, be legitimate custom, to keep their own sacramental records.

    Hope that’s helpful. And it seems to be that those who have issue with the Code currently in force have issue with the Second Vatican Council.

  20. aleksandr says:

    Can. 2 For the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. Therefore, liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the Code. – 1993 CIC

  21. Tomas Lopez says:

    Thank you, Tim! (Though I think I heard you humming ‘Veni Veni Emmanuel’ in the background quietly as you wrote this!)

    Tim, would this fit the bill as well? if a priest were to hear confessions with no stole on, unchastized, for the same time period?

  22. Tim Ferguson says:


    That would probably not fit the bill of a custom – customs are induced by communities, not by individuals. If all the priests of a parish, deanery or diocese did this, then it might possibly meet the requirement of a custom, but a single priest would not be able to induce a legitimate contrary custom. Also, I suspect that if this practice were brought to the attention of the local ordinary, he would receive a letter of correction.

    The confessions, of course, would still be valid, but the priest should be reproved for taking it upon himself to dispense from one of the formalities of the sacrament.

  23. Paul says:

    Tim: As a canonist I am looking forwards to someone buying me lunch on Friday! Perhaps we could develop a custom whereby feeding canonists becomes compulsary, maybe an extra “Precept of the Church” (or perhaps a specification of the one on supporting the pastors).

  24. Tomas Lopez says:

    Thank you, Tim. You are a gentleman and a scholar!

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