Canon Law, 1983 Code

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The Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church, incorporating many of the reforms of Vatican II, was promulgated on January 25, 1983, by Pope john paul ii. The apostolic constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges described the procedures and guiding principles of the revision. A parallel text was also proposed for the oriental Catholic Churches.

Preparation. Announced on January 25, 1959, by Pope john xxiii, and undertaken in earnest in 1966 after the conclusion of Vatican II, the task of revision spanned almost a quarter century. In 1971, the commission began distributing draft texts for comments and observations. The draft of the Lex ecclesiae fundamentalis (LEF), or Fundamental Law of the Church, was the first sent out for study; it was followed by a text on administrative procedure. Later, schemata on crimes and penalties, sacramental law, and procedures for the protection of rights were distributed at regular intervals. In 1978, the remaining parts of the proposed code were printed and distributed. After all the comments had been reviewed, a consolidated version of the law was prepared (1980) for the members of the commission. Their observations were then incorporated into a relatio (report), distributed in 1981, which became the basis for work during the final plenary session of the commission held in October of 1981. At this meeting, a number of major issues upon which general unanimity was lacking were selected for discussion. These included norms on marriage tribunals, the sharing of jurisdiction risdiction by laypersons, and membership in Masonic societies. The commission was also called upon to address some 30 additional issues proposed by the members.

A final version of the text was presented in 1982 to Pope John Paul II. With the assistance of a select committee, he examined the draft, invited further suggestions from Episcopal Conferences, and eventually introduced a number of additional changes in the light of suggestions received. The final text was then duly promulgated. Contrary to the norms in effect under the 1917 code, translations of the new code were permitted, and according to special norms issued by the Secretariat of State, on Jan. 28, 1983, such texts are to be approved by Episcopal Conferences, not by the holy see. Only the promulgated version in Latin, however, is regarded as authentic. Translations have been published in various languages, including two different English translations; one approved by the Episcopal Conference in the United Kingdom and the other by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States.

On Jan.2, 1984, Pope John Paul II, by the motu proprio entitled Recognito iuris canonici codice, established the pontifical commission for the authentic interpretation of the Code of Canon Law, under the presidency of then Archbishop (later Cardinal) Rosalio Castillo Lara, SDB. The commission handed down its first authentic interpretation on June 26, 1984. When the Pontifical Commission for revision of the Code had completed its work and was dissolved, the Commission for Interpretation of the Code assumed responsibility for the publication of Communicationes.

Plan. Instead of following the plan of the 1917 code that modeled itself closely on that of the Roman Civil Law (General Norms, Persons, Things, Trials, Crimes and Penalties), the 1983 code follows a model based on the threefold mission of the Church: to teach, sanctify, and serve. The code is now divided into seven books: I. General Norms; II. The People of God; III. The Function of Teaching; IV. The Function of Sanctifying; V. Temporal Goods; VI. Delicts and Penalties; VII. Procedures. While Books III and IV treat of the prophetic (Word) and priestly (Sacrament) missions of the Church, no one specific book treats of the royal mission, that of governing; rather, these norms are found in the remaining parts of the code.

Throughout the revision process, there was question of another book, the Fundamental Law of the Church, applying equally to Latin and Oriental rite Catholics. Opposition to such a document was strong, however, because of the risk of expressing doctrine in legislative form; it was therefore decided not to proceed at this time with the promulgation of the LEF. Because of this, a number of general norms had to be incorporated into the Code of Canon Law itself; among such were those on the rights and obligations of the faithful and many of those treating the papacy, ecumenical councils, and other issues.

Two particular problems regarding the plan concerned the place of personal prelatures and of institutes of consecrated life. While the drafts had placed personal prelatures within the canons on the particular Church, strong objections were raised against this on theological grounds, and prelatures were eventually moved to the first part (The Christian Faithful) of Book II, under a distinct heading. Similarly, at one point in the process it was proposed to place the canons on institutes of consecrated life alongside those treating of associations in the Church. Again, for theological reasons, Book II was divided into three parts: the Christian faithful; the hierarchical dimension of the Church; and institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, thus highlighting the charismatic dimension of consecrated life alongside the hierarchical dimension of Church structures. This new division was well received in general.

The Vision of the Church. Book II, c. 204, begins with the recognition that the Church is the people of God, comprising all the baptized. Baptism makes a person a member of the Church and the subject of rights and obligations. But the Church is not only a people; it is also a hierarchically organized community. Thus, the unifying factor is ecclesial communion with the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him. The code recognizes various degrees of communion (cc. 205; 844, etc.). Other Christians, who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, may nevertheless share in some of the Sacraments and sacramentals of the Church in virtue of their Baptism. The theme of "communion" is one that ties together many parts of the legislation; those who place themselves outside of ecclesial communion are known as the "ex-communicated" (c. 1331). The ecumenical dimension of the law is evident, particularly inc. 11, which no longer extends merely ecclesiastical laws to all the baptized, but limits their scope to those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it. Many other canons speak of the importance of fostering true ecumenism (cc. 383; 755, etc). The code also recognizes that persons might leave the Church by a formal act, with certain consequences in law.

On a third level, communion leads to mission, since the Church by its nature is missionary (c. 781). This mission is threefold: to teach, sanctify, and serve. The laity, in virtue of their Baptism, are called upon to share in all these functions (c. 204). The code focuses on the Sacrament of Baptism as the unifying factor, rather than primarily on the Sacrament of Orders. These three missions are carried out through the apostolate. Canon 298 spells out seven possibilities of apostolic endeavors: promoting the perfection of Christian life, divine worship, teaching the faith, evangelization, works of piety, works of charity, and animating the world with a Christian spirit. These possibilities have been the object of further reflection in the meetings of the Synod of Bishops. For an apostolic endeavor to be truly such, however, it must be carried out in communion with the diocesan bishop (cf. c. 675).

On a fifth level, we could note that the apostolate presupposes an apostle. In various ways, the code invites those called to the apostolate to make a whole-hearted effort to lead a holy life (c. 210), to serve the Lord with an undivided heart (cc. 277; 599), to be models of holiness (c. 387), and so forth. In other words, there is no minimum; rather, there is an ideal toward which all apostles are to strive.

This vision of the Church is complemented by the recognition of the role of the Holy Spirit as soul of the Church. In seven well-chosen canons (cc. 206879; 369375; 573605; 747), the action of the Holy Spirit is emphasized: the awakening of individual faith and the response, the establishment and guiding of the hierarchy, the charismatic dimension of Church life, and the unity of teaching and doctrine.

Major Features. Many factors distinguish the 1983 code from its 1917 counterpart. In the introduction to the legislation, Pope John Paul II outlines one specific feature of the code: not surprisingly it is "the Church's fundamental legislative document," based on the "juridical and legislative heritage of revelation and tradition." The code, then, flows from the doctrine of the Church as a whole. Indeed, it has more doctrinal norms than did the previous law. As was the case with the LEF, however, there is a risk in applying civil law interpretative standards to the 1983 canons. The canons themselves, because they are more pastoral in outlook, are necessarily written in a particular style; expressions such as, "showing an apostolic spirit," "being a witness to all," "acting with humanity and charity" (c. 383), "showing special concern," (c. 384), being "an example of holiness," "knowing and living the paschal mystery" (c. 385), and so forth, cannot be applied literally in all instances. Rather, the code promotes a renewed attitude of heart and mind, one that Pope Paul VI called for when he spoke of a novus habitus mentis, a new mentality [cf. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965): 988]. Otherwise, to use his words again, the code risks becoming simply "a rigid order of injunctions" [Origins 3 (197374): 272]. The code necessarily has a juridical characteristic, but one that is tempered by the very nature of the Church itself. Indeed, the last words of the code to the effect that the ultimate norm is the salvation of soulssalus animarum, suprema lex (c. 1752), based on Cicero's De lege (III 3.8)express clearly the difference between this law and other codes that might at first sight be similar.

A second characteristic flows from this. Since the new code has as one of its basic purposes to translate the teachings of Vatican II into terms of daily life for Catholics, it is not surprising to find that many of the conciliar prescriptions are repeated textually in the law. The various decrees are thus a major source of material. Since the code implements the council, and not the converse, it is of primary importance to return to the conciliar context as a whole for the interpretation of the law. Otherwise, there would be the danger of reducing Vatican II to those prescriptions retained for incorporation into the code.

A third major feature of the legislation is its reliance on complementary norms. A number of the canons refer explicitly to particular norms to be elaborated by the Holy See (cf. cc. 335, 349, 569, 997, 1402, 1403, etc.), norms that would be too detailed or changing to be placed in a code. Many other canons refer to the decrees of Episcopal Conferences (about 100 in all), to decisions of diocesan bishops (about 300), or finally, to the proper law of institutes of consecrated life (approximately 100 canons). This means, in practice, that almost one-third of the canons allow for adaptation of some sort at the local level. A number of Episcopal Conferences have begun the task of preparing this complementary legislation (cf. c. 455). At the diocesan level, the process will usually take place within a diocesan synod; for this reason, many dioceses are presently organizing synods to prepare for the appropriate local legislation. In religious and secular institutes, although the task of revising constitutions is almost completed, many institutes are now turning their attention to complementary "codes" or specialized directories (c. 587 n.4) to apply the general legislation in more detail.

Some other features of the revised legislation are inclusion of a fundamental charter of rights and obligations, the recognized importance of the particular church, the implementation of consultation on various levels, flexibility to promote the Church's mission, an increased role recognized for lay members of the Church, and accountability in regard to financial matters.

There are, however, a few weaknesses in the code (in particular, certain norms on procedures, perhaps too great an insistence on hierarchical dimensions of Church life, and an overly cautious vision of the laity), but these are far outweighed by the advantages of the new legislation, particularly its fidelity to Vatican II and its reliance on local legislation. The code, as a universal document, often leaves the door open for future developments (cc. 129; 1055, etc.). Through this code and the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, the Church has completed the major task of translating Vatican II's insights into norms of practical conduct, providing a basis for healthy and orderly Church development in the years ahead.

Bibliography: Codex Iuris Canonici auctoritate Joannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis 75 (1983): II, xxx324. j. a. alesandro, "Law and Renewal: A Canon Lawyer's Analysis of the Revised Code," Canon Law Society of America Proceedings 44 (1982): 140. l. castillo, "La communion ecclésiale dans le nouveau Code de droit canonique," Studia Canonica 17 (1983): 331355. j. a. coriden, et al., The Code of Canon Law. A Text and Commentary (New York 1985) xxvi1152. t. j. green, "Persons and Structure in the Church: Reflections on Selected Issues in Book II," Jurist 45 (1985): 2494. f. g. morrisey, "The New Code of Canon Law: The Importance of Particular Law," Origins 11 (198182): 421430; "Decisions of Episcopal Conferences in Implementing the New Law," Studia Canonica 20 (1986): 105121.

[f. g. morrisey]