Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Decree: Re-ordering Curriculum For Study Of Canon Law

by Pope Saint John Paul II


On November 15, 2002, the Congregation for Catholic Education published the Decree that revised the order of studies in the faculties and departments of canon law. The new decree extends by a year the course of study required for a licence in canon law. Beginning in the academic year 2003-2004 the licence curriculum will be extended to three years or six semesters in the second of the three cycles. The Congregation does this to fulfil the requirement of the Second Vatican Council.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano



Publisher & Date

Vatican, December 4, 2002


With the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the number of students at the Faculties of Canon Law has certainly increased, but at the same time, there is a growing awareness that the curriculum of studies for a licence, established in the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana promulgated by John Paul II on 15 April 1979 (cf. AAS 71 [1979] 469-499), no longer effectively enabled the individual disciplines to be properly explained and assimilated. Consequently there was also an awareness that, having completed the two-year programme of studies for the licence, the students had not attained the level of knowledge of the law of the Church required today to fulfil those ecclesiastical offices which demand specialized formation in canon law.

The two-year period of study for a licence in canon law was first established in the Apostolic Constitution Deus scientiarum Dominus of Pius XI, dated 24 May 1931 (cf. AAS, 23 [1931] 241-284), since it seemed then that four semesters would be sufficient to obtain the licence, in the light of the excellent preparation in Latin and in the fundamental concepts of canon law that students already had when entering a faculty of canon law.

As time has passed, Latin is no longer taught in middle school or virtually anywhere, or it is downgraded to a secondary subject. With regard to the curriculum of studies in faculties of theology and major seminaries, less time and attention have been allotted to the fundamental concepts of canon law and to Latin in order to accommodate an increasing emphasis on the other theological and pastoral disciplines. As a result, the majority of student priests, beginning their studies in the faculty of canon law, have no knowledge of Latin at all, and almost no previous formation in canon law.

With regard to lay people, it is certain that more of them are attending faculties of canon law than in the past. Their lack of an adequate training to begin the second cycle is even more apparent, since, when they enter faculties of canon law, they often lack any theological formation and are unable even in the first cycle, as is currently the practice, to acquire that minimum standard of theological knowledge which is unquestionably essential for an adequate understanding of the fundamental principles of canon law. In addition, those who already hold an academic degree in civil law, are frequently admitted to the two-year course for the licence without having undertaken the first cycle.

In fact, provided the faculty agree, they are even allowed to abbreviate the two-year curriculum so that they obtain a licence in canon law in a single year without any theological formation at all.

The Second Vatican Council, on the contrary, expressed the hope that: "The teaching of canon law ... take into account the mystery of the Church, as it was set forth in the Dogmatic Constitution De Ecclesia, promulgated by this Council" (cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Training of Priests Optatam totius, n. 16d). This requires first and foremost that both Codes be explained in the light of the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, whose relevant portions are presented in summary form in the Apostolic Constitutions of John Paul II, Sacrae disciplinae leges (25 January 1983, AAS 75/II [1983] VII-XIV), and Sacri canones, (18 October 1990, AAS 82 [1990] 1033-1044). Accordingly, the new theological perspective, implied in the exposition of canon law, requires more time than is permitted by the limits of a two-year course of studies. It should be added that beyond the study of Latin, provision needs to be made for the related disciplines and optional courses which today appear necessary to round out the institutional formation in canon law.

Recognizing the difficulties canon law faculties are experiencing in imparting the necessary formation to students, the Congregation for Catholic Education in 1997 sent to all the faculties and institutes of canon law that it had itself established a questionnaire requesting information on the state of each one. They were specifically asked whether they considered an extension of the study curriculum appropriate. After receiving their answers, the Congregation went ahead with various consultations.

Over and above matters of lesser importance, there was agreement on the need to extend the curriculum for the licence to three years or six semesters, and to make the first cycle obligatory and better structured for all students who might not have completed the first cycle of theology at a faculty or the curriculum of philosophy-theology at a seminary, without making any exception for those who already hold an academic degree in civil law. This proposal was submitted to the Plenary Congregations of this Congregation in 1998 and 2002. Indeed, the Fathers expressed an almost unanimous agreement. Moreover, since several innovations would have affected the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, the matter was submitted to Higher Authority, who was favourable to the continuation of this process.


Therefore, after having carefully considered all the dimensions of the matter, it has been decided that article 76 of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana and articles 56 and 57 of its norms should be modified as follows:

I. Art. 76 of the Apostolic Constitution 'Sapientia Christiana'

The curriculum of studies of a faculty of canon law should include:

a) the first cycle, lasting for four semesters or two years, for those who have no previous training in philosophy or theology, including those who already hold an academic degree in civil law; in this cycle students should study the fundamental concepts of canon law and the philosophical and theological disciplines required for an advanced formation in canon law;

b) The second cycle, lasting for six semesters or three years, during which the entire Code should be studied in depth by way of the complete study of its sources, both magisterial and disciplinary, along with other disciplines having an affinity with it;

c) the third cycle, lasting for at least two semesters or one year, in which students perfect the canon law training necessary for scholarly research in view of preparing a doctoral dissertation.

II. Art. 56 of the 'Norms'

The following disciplines are obligatory:

1. In the first cycle

a) elements of philosophy: philosophical anthropology, metaphysics, ethics;

b) elements of theology: an introduction to Sacred Scripture; fundamental theology: the transmission and credibility of divine revelation: Trinitarian theology; Christology; divine grace; in a special way, ecclesiology; general and special sacramental theology; fundamental and special moral theology;

c) fundamental canonical structures (institutiones generales) of canon law;

d) Latin.

2. In the second cycle

a) The books of the Code of Canon Law or the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, and other norms in force;

b) Related disciplines: the theology of canon law; the philosophy of law; fundamental concepts of Roman law; elements of civil law; the history of the fundamental canonical structures of canon law; the history of the sources of canon law; the relationship between the Church and civil society; canonical administrative and judicial praxis;

c) an introduction to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches for students at a Latin faculty of canon law; and introduction to the Code of Canon Law for students at an Oriental faculty of canon law;

d) Latin;

e) the optional courses, exercises and seminars as required by each faculty.

3. In the third cycle

a) canonical Latin

b) optional courses or exercises as required by each faculty.

III. Art 57 of the 'Norms'

1. Students who successfully completed the philosophical-theological curriculum in a seminary or in a theological faculty can be admitted immediately into the second cycle, unless the Dean deems it necessary or opportune, prior to their admittance, to require that they take a preliminary course in Latin or in the fundamental concepts of canon law.

Students who prove they have studied some of the subjects of the first cycle at an appropriate faculty or university institute may be dispensed from them.

2. Students who hold an academic degree in civil law may be dispensed from some courses of the second cycle (such as Roman law and civil law), but may not be exempt from the three-year curriculum of studies for the licence.

3. After completing the second cycle, students must know Latin in such a way as to be able to understand thoroughly the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, as well as the other canonical documents; this obligation also applies to the third cycle, so that they may be able to interpret correctly the sources of the law.

What this decree establishes for faculties of canon law also applies to institutes of canon law established by this Congregation or connected with certain faculties of canon law in accord with art. nn. 62-63 of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana.

This decree will come into force at the beginning of the academic year 2003-2004, taking into account the different procedures in force in each region.

The Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience he granted the Cardinal Prefect on 2 September 2002, ratified and confirmed all that is established by this decree, and specifically approved art. 76 of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, as revised, anything to the contrary notwithstanding, and has ordered its publication.

Given in Rome, at the Office of the Congregation on 2 September 2002.

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

Archbishop Joseph Pittau, S.J.

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