QUAERITUR: I’ve tried to get an imprimatur for my book several times

From a reader:

I’ve tried to get an imprimatur from my Bishop several times but I haven’t received a response. I am publishing a devotional with reflections on the Old Testament. Is it sinful for me to publish it without an imprimatur?

Canon 826, §3 says pretty clearly that books of prayer “for the public or private use of the faithful are not to be published without permission of the local ordinary.” It does not introduce the concept of sin in doing so, but the prohibition is strong.

The lack of a response from the bishop may be disappointing, but there may be good reasons for it. In a larger diocese, the bishop may have delegated the task of reviewing books and other items to a priest or a theologian. The task of granting permission may have been given to the Vicar General or an Episcopal Vicar (who are also local ordinaries).

I suggest submitting the book again, but to the Vicar General.  Otherwise, call the chancery office and ask who who reviews religious books for publication.

Another approach would be to entrust the publication of the book to a Catholic publishing company. Ask them to work through their normal channels for ecclesiastical approval.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Phil_NL says:

    The $64,000 dollar question is of course why there hasn’t been a response. It leaves the author in limbo, cause no decision also means no appeal is possible.
    I can also very well imagine that quite a few diocese simply don’t want to deal with this issue, seeing that the number of requests would be low (most authors would ignore it anyway), the task time-consuming, and requiring someone who actually knows what he’s doing. If that’s the (likely) explanation, it might be a good idea to take it to another diocese where there’s someone who is interested in doing this part of the bishop’s job. It doesn’t take much to establish an argument that the ‘local’ ordinary could be someone else – e.g. the diocese in which the author has a summer cottage, the diocese of the publisher, the diocese where the printing takes place, etc. etc. If the book is good, and the person dealing with it interested in this aspect of his task, a way might be found.

  2. Fr AJ says:

    I don’t quite understand this, why doesn’t the author pick up the telephone and call the Bishop’s office and find out what the status of the review is?

    If the Bishop refuses to review the book, can the author appeal to a high authority?

  3. Cafea Fruor says:

    Being one who works in a chancery, I have a couple of thoughts:

    First, please don’t assume you’re getting the run around or being ignored. That really is not usually the case — at least in the chancery where I work.

    If the bishop has one of his priests doing the reviewing, remember that most priests are extremely busy. And most priests get just a master’s before ordination, but the bishop probably would prefer that his priest readers have doctorates, so he may have a dearth of priests who are trained enough in theology to do that job well, especially in dioceses where orthodoxy isn’t so commonplace. He might, for instance, only have one priest whose expertise on the Old Testament is sufficient for the task. So you might have only a couple of priests able to do the work, but they’re often pastors, so it might take some time to give the necessary attention to your work. Or a priest reader could already be working on that material of yours and is just taking his time with it.

    That said, I’m surprised that the chancery hasn’t at least written you to acknowledge receipt of your request. That’s just good communication, and it’s standard practice by the office handling imprimaturs in the chancery I work in. It might be good to give the chancery a phone call and make sure they even got it in the first place or just to ask where in the process the material is. It could even be that they have written to you but the mail got lost or have your address wrong and keep getting their letters returned. You never know. Give them a call, but do ask for the office that handles imprimatur requests and not the bishop’s office, because it’s usually another office that handles them, unless your diocese is really small. If the chancery staff are worth their salt, they’ll be happy to help you out.

  4. Back pew sitter says:

    I also don’t understand why the author hasn’t just picked up the phone to ask what is happening. It is also worth bearing in mind that the imprimatur can be obtained either from one’s own Ordinary or the Ordinary of the place where the book is published.

  5. I’ve printed out booklets from the LMS in Birmingham, UK, that they have available on the web, approved by their bishop. To use them at EF Masses in my diocese (Archdiocese of Cape Town) do I need to submit them to our bishop for approval? I’m planning to, and he is supportive so I doubt he’ll say no. The Mass text is a copy and paste from the 1962 Missal; the commentary telling us when to stand and kneel and why is extra.

  6. SonofMonica says:

    The chancery probably doesn’t put a priority on this because the entire world has moved on. I’m a bit perplexed to give an answer, as I’m sure others are, as to how an imprimatur even fits into 21st century life. Does every post on this blog require an imprimatur? It’s every bit as published.

    In my opinion, if it’s not a sin, and the chancery doesn’t care enough about it to be speedy, then the canon law is not being enforced, and is tacitly recognized as being sorely outdated, anyway. Who is the ordinary of the place where Father Z’s blog is “published?” How is it even a valid concept to say that something is published in a particular place, anyway?

    Much to do about nothing, I say.

  7. Fr AJ says:

    RuralVirologist, if they already have an imprimatur from one Bishop, why would they need another?

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    As far as I know (someone correct me), for a regular history or theology book (not prayer book), an imprimatur is good, but not required anymore. I would want to get a nihil obstat, especially on a controversial topic (are those still given?) and then an imprimatur.

    What about the case where the bishop just doesn’t want the book printed in his diocese, but there is nothing theologically wrong with it? Does a bishop, strictly speaking, have to give a reason for denying an imprimatur? Imprimatur does not mean that the book should not be printed at all – the nihil obstat would pretty much nix any Catholic printing -but, rather, just in that diocese, correct?

    I could think, for instance that the Bishop might not want a history of the Salem witch trials to be printed in Boston or the Catholic Guide to Grilling Hamburgers in India.

    I would like to know more about this topic, especially since I know very little and am probably wrong, in the above. Dr. Peters?

    The Chicken

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should read:

    -the denial of the nihil obstat would pretty much nix any Catholic printing-

  10. iteadthomam says:

    I am the individual who has requested an imprimatur and asked this question to Fr. Z. I have not called the Diocese because I originally contacted them and they directed me to e-mail the Bishop. I did so twice. I know the Bishop is busy but I don’t think they receive many requests for an imprimatur so they may not know what to do. I contated the Diocese again and they apologized for the lack of a response and the person said she will ask the Bishop about it. My main concern in asking this question is whether or not I am obligated to obtain one in the first place, although I would like to have one anyway.

    I’ve received several conflicting answers on this. Some say that one has to obtain an imprimatur, which is based on the canon that Fr. Z cited, while others say it is not necessary. I’m not a cleric, I’m a layman. The publication is not for catechetical purposes but is for devotional purposes. Basically, it is a devotional with reflections on verses from every book of the Old Testament with interpretations on the verses according to the four senses of Scripture with a heavy emphasis on the Allegorical sense. It doesn’t seem like this is a “book of prayer” for which the canon above requires an imprimatur, so I’m not exactly sure if I’m obligated to get one.

  11. Vecchio di Londra says:

    iteadthomam: It does very much look to me as if your devotional commentary must inevitably involve matters of scriptural theology, so it would normally require an imprimatur – and it’s a good idea anyway, just to attract Catholic readers.

    Why not check back next week with the intermediary who has promised to speak directly with the Bishop, and go on from there, if necessary sending the Bishop a physical copy with a registered letter. Or do as Father Z suggests and contact a Catholic publishing house, which will read it more quickly and give you at least an idea of its orthodoxy. It’s worth persisting. Possibly the Bishop isn’t used to individual authors (rather than Catholic publishers) asking him for approval.

  12. Laura Lea says:

    I have a friend who recently received an imprimatur from our local bishop, for his book called “Revolution for Christ” by Tony Shriner. He waited a very long time to receive the imprimatur, but for him, it was worth the wait. In the mean time, he let several priests in the archdiocese read it too. I wish you the best of luck.

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  14. future_sister says:

    I know I for one always look for an imprimatur and nihil obstat when looking for books to read. As a baby Catholic from an anti-Catholic background I’m not sure what I can trust to be accurate or not, so I know going that route I’m safe.
    In response to The Masked Chicken. I know I’ve seen in some of my books “The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therin that those who have granted the nihil obstat and imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.” That seems to me to imply that he can’t refuse the imprimatur just because he doesn’t want it published in his diocese. If there is nothing doctrinally or morally wrong he has no reason to deny the imprimatur? I could be way off base here. Anyone else?

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    A bishop only has jurisdiction in his diocese and may have prudential reason, even if it does not violate the Faith, to not allow it, there. That does not imply that it might not be published in other places under different circumstances, at least it seems that way to me.

    The Chicken

  16. THREEHEARTS says:

    Even in the Church there is a chain of command. Submit it to your parish priest first. he passes it on. You will never hear from the the chancery office bypassing the local ordinary or even bypassing him will get you no response at all.

  17. I don’t think the sort of book you describe is a “prayer book” as understood by Canon 826. I think Canon 827.3 applies which covers religious books not being used for schools and any religious books and it is “recommended” that the be submitted to the ordinary, not required. The vast majority of religious publishing comes into this category which is why few of them are submitted. It would be impossible for bishops to approve everything before publication as this would include newspapers, magazines, and dare I say it, blogs.

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    This seems to me to be yet another subject where the ordinary well-informed, educated American Catholic has absolutely NO WAY to find out what’s going on. I crawled all over my archdiocese’s webpage looking for information about getting publishing permissions, and found nothing at all. And this is an archdiocese full of Catholic writers! The subject was never covered in school, of course. (Heck, I never heard the word “chancery” outside the context of medieval statecraft until I read Fr. Greeley.)

    Given that there is not a spitball’s chance in a volcano that any Catholic press is going to be interested in publishing a translation of St.Beatus of Liebana, or St. Albert the Great on the valiant woman, or St. Bede on the valiant woman, or any of my other incredibly obscure projects, and given that there’s not really any phone numbers on the archdiocesan webpage for anything applicable (I’m not marrying my translations!), what the heck are we supposed to do? It’s not like Father has time to chat after Mass on Sunday, after all, even if I wasn’t subject to the demands of my ride now that I live so far away from everything. And if you can’t get your parish priest to talk to you (and you don’t have a clue of his mailing address), how are you supposed to get some high archdiocesan official on the phone or answering his email?

    I mean, the chancery might as well be on Saturn, even if you don’t have to pay long distance anymore to get a call in. I’d have more hope of getting the Curia to answer letters. I know people who’ve gotten letters from the Vatican, but I don’t know anybody who corresponds with my archdiocese.

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  20. rachmaninov says:

    I can tell you from personal experience, persevere. I have just had my book “Heralds of the Second coming” published and I was determined to get an imprimatur-mainly because there is so much dodgy millennial rubbish out there in Catholic apparition circles. To me, it felt like obstacles were being put in the way of one way or another but I kept persevering. I was very blessed to have a new Bishop who granted me it-and on Christmas say 2012. I live in Portsmouth diocese, England. I say no more!
    Keep pushing it and tell the Lord as I did I dont want it published without one as people have the right to know what they are reading is catholic.
    God bless you. I will pray that you get it

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Given that there is not a spitball’s chance in a volcano that any Catholic press is going to be interested in publishing a translation of St.Beatus of Liebana, or St. Albert the Great on the valiant woman, or St. Bede on the valiant woman, or any of my other incredibly obscure projects, ”

    Academic presses might want to do print them. On the other hand, I mentioned a while back to Vexilla Regis that it might be nice to set up a website for Catholic translations. Since Latin is no longer a lingua franca, the only way some of these document will survive, as did Aristotle, is in translation. I would love to see obscure documents translated and rescued for the modern generation.

    The Chicken

  22. Maltese says:

    Don’t bother–the bishops will Imprimatur anything that smacks of ‘lay faithful participation in the mass’–not much else…

  23. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Chicken: I read: “I would love to see obscure documents translated and rescued *from* the modern generation.” It seemed to be a plausible statement…

  24. VLL says:

    The Chicken: This is why I am [trying] to learn Latin. So I know what those obscure things all mean. I think the only real way to preserve authentic Catholic culture is if we preserve in our Latin personally, if not in mass, too.

    These documents need to be preserved– both for and from the current generation. Lord, Save Us All from the current generation! This seems to be a particularly nasty strain of that Spirit of the Age.

    @iteadthomam I am learning a lot about the various intricacies Catholic publishing. Fr.Z or Dr. Peters (or whomever wants to jump on this grenade) Does an author of fiction need to get, say, a Nihil Obstat, or are we just heathens with the rest of the world? :)

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