Apostolic constitution sacræ disciplinæ leges

Apostolic constitution sacræ disciplinæ leges of the Supreme Pontiff Pope John Paul II for the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law

To the revered brothers, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and to the other members of the people of God, John Paul, bishop servant of the servants of God as a perpetual record

During the course of the centuries, the Catholic Church has been accustomed to reform and renew the laws of canonical discipline so that, in constant fidelity to her divine Founder, they may be better adapted to the saving mission entrusted to her. Prompted by this same purpose and fulfilling at last the expectations of the whole Catholic world, I order today, January 25, 1983, the promulgation of the revised Code of Canon Law. In so doing, my thoughts go back to the same day of the year 1959, when my Predecessor of happy memory, John XXIII, announced for the first time his decision to reform the existing corpus of canonical legislation which had been promulgate on the feast of Pentecost in the year 1917.

Such a decision to reform the Code was taken together with two other decisions of which the Pontiff spoke on that same day, and they concerned the intention to hold a Synod of the Diocese of Rome and to convoke the Ecumenical Council. Of these two events, the first was not closely connected with the reform of the Code, but the second, that is, the Council, is of supreme importance in regard to the present matter and is closely connected with it.

If we ask ourselves why John XXIII considered it necessary to reform the existing Code, the answer can perhaps be found in the Code itself which was promulgated in the year 1917. But there exists also another answer and that is the decisive one, namely, that the reform of the Code of Canon Law appeared to be definitely desired and requested by the same Council which devoted such great attention to the Church.

As is obvious, when the revision of the Code was first announced, the Council was an event of the future. Moreover, the acts of its magisterium and especially its doctrine on the Church would be decided in the years 1962–1965; however, it is clear to everyone that John XXIII's intuition was very true, and with good reason it must be said that his decision was for the good of the Church in the long term.

Therefore, the new Code, which is promulgated today, necessarily required the previous work of the Council; and although it was announced together with the Ecumenical Council, nevertheless it follows it chronologically, because the work undertaken in its preparation, since it had to be based upon the Council, could not begin until after completion of the latter.

Turning our mind today to the beginning of this long journey, that is, to that January 25, 1959, and to John XXIII himself who initiated the revision of the Code, I must recognize that this Code derives from one and the same intention, which is that of the renewal of the Christian life. From such an intention, in fact, the entire work of the Council drew its norms and its direction.

If we now pass on to consider the nature of the work which preceded the promulgation of the Code, and also the manner in which it was carried out, especially during the Pontificates of Paul VI and of John Paul I, and from then until the present day, it must be clearly pointed out that this work was brought to completion in an outstandingly collegial spirit; and this not only in regard to the material drafting of the work, but also as regards the very substance of the laws enacted.

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.

For this reason, therefore, the bishops and the episcopates were invited to collaborate in the preparation of the new Code, so that by means of such a long process, by a method as far as possible collegial, there should gradually mature the juridical formulas which would later serve for the use of the entire Church. In all these phases of the work there also took part experts, namely, specialists in theology, history, and especially in canon law, who were chosen from all over the world.

To one and all of them I wish to express today my sentiments of deep gratitude.

In the first place there come before my eyes the figures of the deceased Cardinals who presided over the preparatory commission: Cardinal Pietro Ciriaci who began the work, and Cardinal Pericle Felici who, for many years, guided the course of the work almost to its end. I think then of the secretaries of the same commission: Very Rev. Mons. Giacomo Violardo, later Cardinal, and Father Raimondo Bidagor, S.J., both of whom in carrying out this task poured out the treasures of their doctrine and wisdom. Together with them I recall the Cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops and all those who were members of that commission, as well as the consultors of the individual study groups engaged during these years in such a difficult work, and whom God in the meantime has called to their eternal reward. I pray to God for all of them.

I am pleased to remember also the living, beginning with the present Pro – President of the commission, the revered brother, Most Rev. Rosalío Castillo Lara, who for a very long time has done excellent work in a task of such great responsibility, to pass then to our beloved son, Mons. Willy Onclin, whose devotion and diligence have greatly contributed to the happy outcome of the work, and finally to all the others in the commission itself, whether as Cardinal members or as officials, consultors and collaborators in the various study groups, or in other offices, who have given their appreciated contribution to the drafting and the completion of such a weighty and complex work.

Therefore, in promulgating the Code today, I am fully aware that this act is an expression of pontifical authority and, therefore, it is invested with a “primatial” character. But I am also aware that this Code in its objective content reflects the collegial care of all my brothers in the episcopate for the Church. Indeed, by a certain analogy with the Council, it should be considered as the fruit of a collegial collaboration because of the united efforts on the part of specialized persons and institutions throughout the whole Church.

A second question arises concerning the very nature of the Code of Canon Law. To reply adequately to this question, one must mentally recall the distant patrimony of law contained in the books of the Old and New Testament from which is derived, as from its first source, the whole juridical – legislative tradition of the Church.

Christ the Lord, indeed, did not in the least wish to destroy the very rich heritage of the Law and of the Prophets which was gradually formed from the history and experience of the People of God in the Old Testament, but He brought it to completion (cf. Mt. 5:17), in such wise that in a new and higher way it became part of the heritage of the New Testament. Therefore, although St. Paul, in expounding the Paschal Mystery, teaches that justification is not obtained by the works of the Law, but by means of faith (cf. Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), he does not thereby exclude the binding force of the Decalogue (cf. Rom. 13:28; Gal. 5:13–25; 6:2), nor does he deny the importance of discipline in the Church of God (cf. 1 Cor. chapters 5, 6). Thus the writings of the New Testament enable us to understand still more the importance itself of discipline and make us see better how it is more closely connected with the saving character of the evangelical message itself.

This being so, it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace and the charisms in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to faith, grace and the charisms, it at the same time renders easier their organic development in the life both of the ecclesial society and of the individual persons who belong to it.

The Code, as the principal legislative document of the Church, founded on the juridical – legislative heritage of Revelation and Tradition, is to be regarded as an indispensable instrument to ensure order both in individual and social life, and also in the Church's activity itself. Therefore, besides containing the fundamental elements of the hierarchical and organic structure of the Church as willed by her divine Founder, or as based upon apostolic, or in any case most ancient, tradition, and besides the fundamental principles which govern the exercise of the threefold office entrusted to the Church itself, the Code must also lay down certain rules and norms of behavior.

The instrument, which the Code is, fully corresponds to the nature of the Church, especially as it is proposed by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in general, and in a particular way by its ecclesiological teaching. Indeed, in a certain sense, this new Code could be understood as a great effort to translate this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical language. If, however, it is impossible to translate perfectly into canonical language the conciliar image of the Church, nevertheless, in this image there should always be found as far as possible its essential point of reference.

From this there are derived certain fundamental criteria which should govern the entire new Code, both in the sphere of its specific matter and also in the language connected with it. It could indeed be said that from this there is derived that character of complementarily which the Code presents in relation to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, with particular reference to the two constitutions, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium and the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes.

Hence it follows that what constitutes the substantial “novelty” of the Second Vatican Council, in line with the legislative tradition of the Church, especially in regard to ecclesiology, constitutes likewise the “novelty” of the new Code.

Among the elements which characterize the true and genuine image of the Church, we should emphasize especially the following: the doctrine in which the Church is presented as the People of God (cf. Lumen gentium, no. 2), and authority as a service (cf. ibid., no. 3); the doctrine in which the Church is seen as a “communion,” and which, therefore, determines the relations which should exist between the particular Churches and the universal Church, and between collegiality and the primacy; the doctrine, moreover, according to which all the members of the People of God, in the way suited to each of them, participate in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetic and kingly. With this teaching there is also linked that which concerns the duties and rights of the faithful, and particularly of the laity; and finally, the Church's commitment to ecumenism.

If, therefore, the Second Vatican Council has drawn from the treasury of Tradition elements both old and new, and the new consists precisely in the elements which we have enumerated, then it is clear that the Code also should reflect the same note of fidelity in newness and of newness in fidelity, and conform itself to that in its own field and in its particular way of expressing itself.

The new Code of Canon Law appears at a moment when the bishops of the whole Church not only ask for its promulgation, but are crying out for it insistently and almost with impatience.

In actual fact the Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Church. Since, indeed, it is organized as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms: in order that its hierarchical and organic structure be visible; in order that the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to her, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, may be adequately organized; in order that the mutual relations of the faithful may be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well defined; in order, finally, that common initiatives, undertaken for a Christian life ever more perfect may be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical norms.

Finally, the canonical laws by their very nature must be observed. The greatest care has therefore been taken to ensure that in the lengthy preparation of the Code the wording of the norms should be accurate, and that they should be based on a solid juridical, canonical and theological foundation.

After all these considerations it is to be hoped that the new canonical legislation will prove to be an efficacious means in order that the Church may progress in conformity with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, and may every day be ever more suited to carry out its office of salvation in this world.

I am pleased to entrust to all with a confident spirit these considerations of mine in the moment in which I promulgate this fundamental body of ecclesiastical laws for the Latin Church.

May God grant that joy and peace with justice and obedience obtain favor for this Code, and that what has been ordered by the Head be observed by the members.

Trusting therefore in the help of divine grace, sustained by the authority of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, with certain knowledge, and in response to the wishes of the bishops of the whole world who have collaborated with me in a collegial spirit; with the supreme authority with which I am vested, by means of this Constitution, to be valid forever in the future, I promulgate the present Code as it has been set in order and revised. I command that for the future it is to have the force of law for the whole Latin Church, and I entrust it to the watchful care of all those concerned, in order that it may be observed.

So that all may more easily be informed and have a thorough knowledge of these norms before they have juridical binding force, I declare and order that they will have the force of law beginning from the first day of Advent of this year, 1983.

And this notwithstanding any contrary ordinances, constitutions, privileges (even worthy of special or individual mention) or customs.

I therefore exhort all the faithful to observe the proposed legislation with a sincere spirit and good will in the hope that there may flower again in the Church a renewed discipline; and that consequently the salvation of souls may be rendered ever easier under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.

Given at Rome, from the Apostolic Palace, January 25, 1983, the fifth year of our Pontificate.

Preface to the Latin edition

From the time of the primitive Church it has been customary to collect the sacred canons into one book to facilitate a knowledge of them as well as their use and observance especially by sacred ministers, since “no priest is permitted to be ignorant of the sacred canons” as Pope Celestine warned in a letter to the bishops of Apulia and Calabria (July 21, 429: cf. Jaffe, 2 n. 371; Mansi IV, col. 469). His words are echoed by the Fourth Council of Toledo (633), which prescribed the following after the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline in the kingdom of the Visigoths once the Church had been freed from Arianism:

“Priests are to know the sacred scripture and the canons” because “ignorance, the mother of all errors, is especially to be avoided by priests of God” (can. 25: Mansi X, col. 627).

In fact during the first ten centuries nearly everywhere there flourished countless collections of ecclesiastical laws. These private collections contained norms issued especially by the councils and the Roman Pontiffs as well as other norms taken from lesser sources. In the middle of the twelfth century, this mass of collections and norms, not infrequently contradicting one another, was put in order again through the private initiative of the monk Gratian. This concordance of laws and collections, later called the Decretum Gratiani, constituted the first part of that significant collection of laws of the Church which, in imitation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis of the Emperor Justinian, was called the Corpus Iuris Canonici and contained the laws which had been passed during two centuries by the supreme authority of the Roman pontiffs with the assistance of experts in canon law called glossators. Besides the Decree of Gratian, in which the earlier norms were contained, the Corpus consists of the Liber Extra of Gregory IX, the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, the Clementinæ, i.e. the collection of Clement V promulgated by John XXII, to which are added the Extravagantes of this pope and the Extravagantes communes, decretals of various Roman pontiffs never gathered in an authentic collection. The ecclesiastical law which this Corpus embraces constitutes the classical law of the Catholic Church and is commonly called by this name.

To this corpus of law of the Latin Church corresponds to some extent the Syntagma canonum or oriental corpus of canons of the Greek Church.

Subsequent laws, especially those enacted by the Council of Trent during the time of the Catholic Reformation and those issued later by various dicasteries of the Roman Curia, were never digested into one collection. This was the reason why during the course of time legislation outside the Corpus Iuris Canonici constituted “an immense pile of laws piled on top of other laws.” The lack of a systematic arrangement of the laws and the lack of legal certainty along with the obsolescence of and lacunæ in many laws led to a situation where church discipline was increasingly imperiled and jeopardized.

Therefore during the preparatory period prior to the First Vatican Council, many bishops asked that a new and sole collection laws be prepared to expedite the pastoral care of the people of God in a more certain and secure fashion.

Although this task could not be implemented through conciliar action, the Apostolic See subsequently addressed certain more urgent disciplinary issues through a new organization of laws. Finally, Pope Pius X, at the very beginning of his pontificate, undertook this task when he proposed to collect and reform all ecclesiastical laws and determined that the enterprise be carried out under the leadership of Cardinal Pietro Gasparri.

The first issue to be resolved in such a significant and difficult undertaking was the internal and external form of the new collection. It was decided to forego the method of compilations of laws whereby individual laws would have been expressed in the extensiveness of the original text; rather the modern method of codification was chosen. Hence texts containing and proposing a precept were expressed in a new and briefer form. However, all of the material was organized in five books which substantially imitated the system of Roman law institutes on persons, things and actions. The work took twelve years with the collaboration of experts, consultors and bishops throughout the Church. The character of the new Code was clearly enuntiated in the beginning of canon 6: “The Code generally retains the existing discipline although it introduces appropriate changes.”

Therefore it was not a case of enacting a new law but rather a matter of arranging in a new fashion the operative legislation at that time. After the death of Pius X, this universal, exclusive, and authentic collection was promulgated on May 27, 1917 by his successor Benedict XV; it took effect on May 19, 1918.

Everyone hailed the universal law of this Pio-Benedictine Code, which made a significant contribution to the effective promotion of pastoral ministry throughout the Church, which in the meantime was experiencing new growth. Nevertheless, both the external situation of the Church in a world which had experienced sweeping changes and significant shifts in customs within a few decades as well as progressive internal factors within the ecclesiastical community necessarily brought it about that a new reform of canon law was increasingly more imperative and was requested. The Supreme Pontiff John XXIII clearly recognized the signs of the times, for when he first announced the Roman Synod and the Second Vatican Council, he also announced that these events would be a necessary preparation for undertaking the desired renewal of the Code.

Shortly after the Ecumenical Council had begun, the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law was established on March 28, 1963 with Cardinal Pietro Ciriaci as president and Monsignor Giacomo Violardo as secretary. However, the cardinal members of the Commission in a meeting with the president on November 12 of that same year agreed that the true and proper efforts of the Commission should be deferred and should commence only at the conclusion of the Council. The reform was to be carried out according to the decisions and principles to be determined by that same Council. Meanwhile on April 17, 1964 Paul VI added seventy consultors to the Commission established by his predecessor John XXIII; he subsequently named other cardinal members and consultors from all over the world to participate in the expediting of the project. On February 24, 1965 the Supreme Pontiff named Rev. Raimondo Bidagor, S.J. the new secretary of the Commission since Monsignor Violardo had been promoted to the office of secretary of the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments; on November 17 of the same year the pope appointed Monsignor fiilliam Onclin as adjunct secretary of the Commission. After the death of Cardinal Ciriaci, Archbishop Pericle Felici, former general secretary of Vatican Council II, was named pro-president on February 21, 1967. On June 26 of that same year he became a member of the Sacred College of Cardinals and subsequently assumed the office of president of the Commission. Since Father Bidagor ceased functioning as secretary of the Commission on November 1, 1973 on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, Most Reverend Rosalio Castillo Lara, S.D.B., titular bishop of Præcausa and coadjutor bishop of Trujillo, Venezuela, was named the new secretary of the Commission. On May 17, 1982 he was appointed pro-president of the Commission upon the premature death of Cardinal Felici.

On November 20, 1965, just before the closing of the Second Vatican Council, there was a solemn session of the Commission in the presence of the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, at which were present the cardinal members of the Commission, the secretaries, consultors and officials of the Secretariat appointed in the meantime.

This session publicly inaugurated the work of the Code Commission. The allocution of the Supreme Pontiff laid the foundations of the whole enterprise to a certain extent. It was recalled that canon law flows from the nature of the Church, that it is rooted in the power of jurisdiction entrusted to the Church by Christ, and that its purpose is to be viewed in terms of the care of souls in view of external salvation. Furthermore, the character of church law was illustrated; its necessity was vindicated against the more common objections; the history of the progress of law and its collections was alluded to; and especially there was highlighted the urgent need of a new reform of the law to respond to the ongoing need of appropriately adapting church discipline to changing circumstances.

The Supreme Pontiff further indicated to the Commission two elements which should underly the whole revision effort. First of all it was not simply a matter of a new organization of the laws as had occurred at the time of the Pio-

Benedictine Code; but rather it was also and especially a matter of reforming the norms to accommodate them to a new mentality and new needs even if the old law was to supply the foundation for the work of revision. Careful attention was to be paid to all the decrees and acts of the Second Vatican Council since they contain the main lines of legislative renewal either because norms were issued which directly affected new institutes and ecclesiastical discipline, or because it was necessary that the doctrinal riches of the Council, which contributed so much to pastoral life, have their consequences and necessary impact on canonical legislation.

Repeatedly in allocutions, precepts and decisions during the following years, the two above mentioned elements were recalled to the minds of the Commission members by the Supreme Pontiff, who continued to oversee the whole enterprise from on high and assiduously pursue it.

If the subcommissions or study groups were to carry on their work in a methodical fashion, it was necessary above all that there be identified and approved certain principles which would serve as guidelines during the process of revising the whole Code. The central committee of consultors prepared the text of a document, which, at the request of the Supreme Pontiff, was submitted to the examination of a general session of the synod of bishops in October 1967. The following principles were approved nearly unanimously.

  1. In renewing the law the juridic character of the new Code, which the social nature of the Church requires, is to be retained. Therefore the Code is to furnish norms so that the members of the Christian faithful in living the Christian life may share in the goods offered by the Church to lead them to eternal salvation. Hence, in view of this end, the Code must define and protect the rights and obligations of each person towards others and towards the ecclesiastical society to the extent that these rights and obligations pertain to divine worship and the salvation of souls.

  2. There is to be a coordination between the external forum and the internal forum, which is proper to the Church and has been operative for centuries, so as to preclude any conflict between the two.

  3. To foster the pastoral care of souls as much as possible, the new law, besides the virtue of justice, is to take cognizance of charity, temperance, humaneness and moderation, whereby equity is to be pursued not only in the application of the laws by pastors of souls but also in the legislation itself.

    Hence unduly rigid norms are to be set aside and rather recourse is to be taken to exhortations and persuasions where there is no need of a strict observance of the law on account of the public good and general ecclesiastical discipline.

  4. In order that the Supreme Legislator and the bishops may collaborate in the care of souls and may exercise the pastoral office in a more positive fashion, those faculties to dispense from general laws which until now have been extraordinary are to become ordinary with reservations to the supreme power of the universal Church or other higher authorities only in those areas which require an exception on account of the common good.

  5. Careful attention is to be given to the greater application of the so-called principle of subsidiarity within the Church. It is a principle which is rooted in a higher one because the office of bishops with its attached powers is a reality of divine law. In virtue of this principle one may defend the appropriateness and even the necessity of providing for the welfare especially of individual institutes through particular laws and the recognition of a healthy autonomy for particular executive power while legislative unity and universal and general law are observed. On the basis of the same principle, the new Code entrusts either to particular laws or to executive power whatever is not necessary for the unity of the discipline of the universal Church so that appropriate provision is made for a healthy “decentralization” while avoiding the danger of division into or the establishment of national churches.

  6. On account of the fundamental equality of all members of the Christian faithful and the diversity of offices and functions rooted in the hierarchical order of the Church, it is expedient that the rights of persons be appropriately defined and safeguarded. This brings it about that the exercise of authority appears more clearly as service, that its use is more clearly reinforced, and that abuses are removed.

  7. In order that such objectives may be appropriately implemented, it is necessary that particular attention be given to the organization of a procedure which envisions the protection of subjective rights. Therefore in renewing the law attention should be paid to those elements which are most especially lacking in this area, i.e. administrative recourses and the administration of justice.

    To achieve this it is necessary that the various functions of ecclesiastical power be clearly distinguished, i.e. the legislative, administrative, and judicial functions. What individual functions are to be exercised by which governmental organs is also to be defined.

  8. The principle of territoriality in the exercise of ecclesiastical government is to be revised somewhat, for contemporary apostolic factors seem to recommend personal jurisdictional units. Therefore the new Code is to affirm the following principle: generally speaking the portions of the people of God to be governed are to be determined territorially; however, if it is advantageous, other factors can be admitted as criteria for determining a community of the faithful, at least along with territoriality.

  9. As an external, visible and independent society, the Church cannot renounce penal law. However, penalties are generally to be ferendæ sententiæ and are to be inflicted and remitted only in the external forum. Latæ sententiæ penalties are to be reduced to a few cases and are to be inflicted only for the most serious offenses.

  10. Finally, as is admitted by all, the new systematic arrangement of the Code required by the revision process can only be sketched at the outset but cannot be de-fined and determined precisely. Therefore the new organization of the Code will have to be pursued only after a sufficient revision of its individual parts, in fact only after nearly the whole work has been completed.

From these principles which ought to guide the process of revising the Code, it is quite clear that there is a need to apply everywhere the doctrine of the Church expressed by the Second Vatican Council, especially its determination that attention is to be paid not only to the external social dimensions of the Mystical Body of Christ but also and especially to its internal life.

And in point of fact the consultors were guided by these principles in drafting the new text of the Code.

Meanwhile a January 15, 1966 letter of the cardinal president of the Commission to the presidents of the conferences of bishops asked the bishops of the whole Catholic world to express their concerns and advice regarding the law to be drafted and the best way of structuring relationships between the conferences of bishops and the Commission so as to maximize their cooperation for the good of the Church. Furthermore, the bishops were also asked to send to the Secretariat of the Commission the names of canonical experts in their respective regions who in the judgment of the bishops were the most distinguished in terms of canonical expertise; the special competence of these experts was also to be indicated. The consultors and their collaborators could be selected and named from these individuals. Actually, at the very beginning and throughout the working of the Commission, besides its cardinal members the following collaborated in the drafting of the new Code of Canon Law: bishops, priests, religious, laity, experts in canon law, theology, pastoral practice, and civil law from all over the Catholic world. During the whole revision process 105 cardinals, 77 archbishops and bishops, 73 secular presbyters, 47 religious presbyters, 3 religious women and 12 lay persons from 5 continents and 31 countries served as members, consultors and other types of collaborators with the Commission.

Even before the last session of the Second Vatican Council, the consultors of the Commission were gathered in a private session on May 6, 1965, in which, with the consent of the Holy Father, the Commission president submitted three fundamental questions for their study. It was asked first whether one or two codes, i.e. Latin and Oriental, were to be drafted; it was also asked what methodology was to be followed in the drafting process or how the Commission and its organs were to proceed; finally, it was asked what would be an appropriate division of labor among the various subcommissions, which would be functioning simultaneously. Reports prepared by three groups established to deal with these questions were forwarded to all the Commission members.

The cardinal members of the Commission met for the second time on November 25, 1965 to discuss these same questions and respond to certain proposals (dubia) formulated concerning them.

A principle regarding the systematic organization of the new Code to be proposed to the synod of bishops was drawn up from a votum of the central committee of consultors, which had met on April 3-7, 1967. After the meeting of the synod, it was deemed appropriate to establish in November, 1967 a special committee of consultors to study the systematic organization of the Code. At a meeting of this committee at the beginning of April, 1968, all agreed on not incorporating in the Code properly liturgical laws, norms on beatification and canonization processes, and norms on the external relations of the Church. All agreed as well that in the part on the people of God there would be placed norms on the juridic status of all members of the Christian faithful and a distinct treatment of the powers and faculties which pertain to the exercise of the different functions and offices. Finally all agreed that the structure of the books of the Pio-Benedictine Code could not be maintained in its integrity.

During the third meeting of the cardinal members of the Commission on May 28, 1968, they substantially approved a temporary arrangement according to which the study groups already established were organized in a new way: “the systematic organization of the Code,” “general norms,” “the sacred hierarchy,” “institutes of perfection,” “laity,” “physical and moral persons in general,” “marriage,” “sacraments other than marriage,” “the ecclesiastical magisterium,” “the patrimonial law of the Church,” “processes,” “penal law.”

The issues dealt with by the study group on “physical and juridic persons” (it was subsequently called this) were later incorporated in the book on “general norms.” Furthermore it was deemed appropriate to establish a study group on “sacred places and times and divine worship.” In view of their broader competence, the names of some other study groups were changed: the group on “the laity” was later called the group on “the rights and associations of the faithful and the laity”; the group on “religious” was later called the group on “institutes of perfection” and finally the group on “institutes of life consecrated through the profession of the evangelical counsels.”

The principal features of the method followed during the more than sixteen year revision process are to be briefly recalled. The consultors of the individual groups fulfilled their significant duties with the greatest dedication, considering only the good of the Church either in preparing written observations on the parts of their own schemata, or in discussing various issues at meetings in Rome at determined times, or in examining the animadversions, observations and opinions on their schemata which were forwarded to the Commission. The procedure was as follows. To each of the consultors, who numbered from eight to fourteen on the individual study groups, was assigned a certain issue which was to be studied in view of the revision process, with the present Code as the point of departure.

After an examination of the questions, each consultor was to transmit a written opinion to the Secretariat of the Commission as well as a copy to the relator and, if time permitted, to all the members of the study group. The consultors of the study group met in Rome according to a predetermined schedule. With the relator leading the discussions, all the questions and opinions were considered until a text of canons was approved, at times after a process of voting on individual parts, and drafted in schema form. During the session the relator was aided by an official who functioned as an actuary.

The number of meetings for each study group was greater or lesser depending on the concrete issues, and the work was carried on for years.

Especially during the latter stages of the process, certain mixed study groups were established so that consultors from different groups could meet and discuss issues which directly pertained to several groups and had to be resolved through common counsel.

After the drafting of some schemata was completed by the study groups, the Supreme Legislator was asked to give some concrete indications of the subsequent steps to be taken in continuing the work. According to the norms handed down at the time, those steps were as follows.

The schemata together with an explanatory report were sent to the Supreme Pontiff, who determined whether they were to be forwarded for consultation purposes. After this permission was obtained, the printed schemata were submitted to the examination of the universal episcopate and other consultative organs (namely, the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, ecclesiastical universities and faculties, and the Union of Superiors General) in order that they might express their opinion within a prudently determined time frame – not less than six months.

At the same time, the schemata were also forwarded to the cardinal members of the Commission so as to enable them to make their general or particular observations at this stage of the process.

The order in which the schemata were sent is as follows:

Undoubtedly the revised Code could not have been appropriately prepared without the inestimable and continuous cooperation afforded the Commission by numerous very valid animadversions especially of a pastoral character offered by bishops and conferences of bishops. The bishops submitted very many written animadversions, either general ones on the schemata considered as a whole or particular ones on individual canons.

Of great benefit also were those general and particular animadversions submitted by the sacred congregations, tribunals and other institutes of the Roman Curia, based on their experience in the central government of the Church. This was also true for the scientific and technical proposals and suggestions offered by ecclesiastical universities and faculties reflecting different schools and ways of thinking.

The study, examination and collegial discussion of all the animadversions, general and particular, which were forwarded to the Commission constituted a weighty and veritably immense burden which lasted seven years. The Secretariat of the Commission took pains carefully to organize and synthesize all the animadversions, proposals and suggestions which, after they had been forwarded to the consultors and carefully examined by them, were subsequently collegially discussed in working sessions conducted by the ten study groups.

Every animadversion was considered with the utmost care and diligence. This was true even in the case of animadversions contradicting one another (which frequently happened). Due consideration was given not only to their sociological importance (namely, the number of consultative organs and persons who proposed them), but especially to their doctrinal and pastoral value, their coherence with the doctrine and implementing norms of the Second Vatican Council, the pontifical magisterium, and their necessary coherence with the juridic canonical system when examined from a specifically technical and scientific standpoint. In fact, as often as it was a case of a doubtful matter or when questions of special importance were debated, the opinion of the cardinal members of the Commission was sought during one of their plenary sessions. In other cases in view of the specific matter under discussion, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and other dicasteries of the Roman Curia were consulted. Finally, many corrections and changes were incorporated in the canons of the early schemata at the request or suggestion of the bishops and other consultative organs, so that some schemata were entirely renewed or changed.

After all the schemata had been reworked, the Secretariat of the Commission and the consultors undertook a further weighty task. It was a matter of seeing to an internal coordination of all the schemata, of ensuring a uniform terminology throughout especially from a technical-juridic standpoint, of drafting canons in brief and elegant formulations, and finally of definitively determining a systematic organization so that all of the schemata, prepared by distinct study groups, could be integrated into one completely harmonious Code.

The new systematic organization which, as it were, spontaneously emerged slowly during the revision process, is based on two principles, one of which is fidelity to the more general principles already determined by the central committee, the other of which is its practical usefulness so that the new Code can be easily understood and used not only by experts but also by pastors and indeed by all members of the Christian faithful.

The new Code therefore consists of seven books which are entitled: General Norms, The People of God, The Teaching Function of the Church, The Sanctifying Function of the Church, The Temporal Goods of the Church, Sanctions in the Church, and Processes. Even if the different rubrics which precede the individual books of the old and new Code appear to indicate sufficiently the differences between the two systems, nonetheless the systematic innovations of the new Code are much more evident in light of its parts, sections, titles and rubrics. But it is certain that the new organization not only corresponds better to the proper matter and character of canon law than the old organization, but also, and what is of greater importance, the new is more in keeping with the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council and those principles flowing from it which were proposed at the very outset of the revision process.

On June 29, 1980, the solemnity of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, the printed schema of the whole Code was presented to the Supreme Pontiff, who decided it was to be forwarded to the cardinal members of the Commission for their definitive examination and judgment. In order to highlight even more the participation of the whole Church in the last phase of the revision process, the Supreme Pontiff determined that other members be added to the Commission, cardinals and even bishops selected from the whole Church, conferences of bishops or councils or groups of conferences of bishops proposing candidates. Thus the expanded Commission numbered seventy-four members. At the beginning of 1981 they forwarded many animadversions which subsequently were subjected to a careful examination, diligent study and collegial discussion by the Secretariat of the Commission, with the help of consultors endowed with special expertise in the individual issues being discussed. A synthesis of all the animadversions together with the responses given by the Secretariat and the consultors was forwarded to the members of the Commission in August, 1981.

A plenary session was convoked by order of the Supreme Pontiff to deliberate on the entire text of the new Code and to cast a definitive vote on it. The session took place October 20-28, 1981 in the aula of the synod of bishops. There was a discussion of six questions of particular weight and importance as well as of other questions proposed at the request of at least ten Fathers. At the end of the plenary session, the Fathers unanimously responded placet (affirmatively) to the following question: whether it pleased the Fathers that, after the examination during the plenary session of the schema of the Code and the emendations already introduced, the same schema along with the changes which had received a majority vote during the plenary session was worthy of being presented as soon as possible to the Supreme Pontiff, who would issue the Code at a time and in a way which seemed best. Consideration was also to be given to other animadversions which had been presented as well as to a certain polishing of the text regarding its style and Latinity (which tasks were entrusted to the president and the Secretariat).

The entire text of the Code thereby reworked and approved was enlarged by the addition of canons from the schema on the Fundamental Law of the Church which had to be inserted in the Code in light of the material with which they dealt. After the Latin style of the text was further polished, it was printed and given to the Supreme Pontiff on April 22, 1982 with a view toward promulgation.

The Supreme Pontiff, however, personally reviewed this latest schema with the help of certain experts and in consultation with the pro-president of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. After mature consideration the Supreme Pontiff decreed that the new Code was to be promulgated on January 25, 1983, i.e., the anniversary of the first announcement by Pope John XXIII of the undertaking of the Code’s revision.

Since after nearly twenty years the pontifical commission established for this purpose has felicitously completed the difficult task entrusted to it, there is now available to pastors and other members of the Christian faithful the most recent law of the Church, which is characterized by simplicity, precision, elegance and true legal science. Furthermore, since it is fully pervaded by charity, equity, humanity and a true Christian spirit, it attempts to correspond to the divinely given external and internal characteristics of the Church. It also seeks to take cognizance of the conditions and needs of the contemporary world. But if on account of the excessively swift changes in contemporary human society certain elements of the new law become less perfect and require a new review, the Church is endowed with such a wealth of resources that, not unlike prior centuries, it will be able to undertake the task of renewing the laws of its life.

Now, however, the law can no longer be unknown. Pastors have at their disposal secure norms by which they may correctly direct the exercise of the sacred ministry. To each person is given a source of knowing his or her own proper rights and duties. Arbitrariness in acting can be precluded. Abuses which perhaps have crept into ecclesiastical discipline because of a lack of legislation can be more easily rooted out and prevented. Finally, all the works, institutes and initiatives of the apostolate may progress expeditiously and may be promoted since a healthy juridic organization is quite necessary for the ecclesiastical community to live, grow and flourish. May our most gracious God grant this through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Church, her spouse St. Joseph, Patron of the Church, and Saints Peter and Paul.