Canon Law

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Book I : General Norms

Book II: People of God

Book II - Part III

Book III: Teaching Office

Book IV: Sanctifying Office

Book V: Temporal Goods

Book VI: Sanctions

Book VII: Processes


Code of Canons of Eastern Churches



Contact: Amy Hereford, csj, JD, JCD

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Vocation / Formation - Legal Issues

Screening Tool

www.ahereford.org_data_uploads_vocappcover.jpg Based on experience working with vocation and formation directors.

Used with various communities. Also available from NRVC and Amazon

Canon Law

  • Canon 641 The right to admit candidates to the novitiate belongs to the major Superiors, in accordance with the norms of the institute's own law.
  • Canon 642 Superiors are to exercise vigilant care to admit only those who, besides being of the required age, are healthy, have a suitable disposition, and have sufficient maturity to undertake the life which is proper to the institute. If necessary, the health, disposition, and maturity are to be established by experts, without prejudice to can. 220.
  • Canon 643 §1 The following are invalidly admitted to the novitiate:
    • 1° One who has not yet completed the seventeenth year of age;
    • 2° a spouse, while the marriage lasts;
    • 3° one who is currently bound by a sacred bond to some institute of consecrated life, or is incorporated in some society of apostolic life, without prejudice to can. 684;
    • 4° one who enters the institute through force, fear or deceit, or whom the Superior accepts under the same influences;
    • 5° one who has concealed his or her incorporation in an institute of consecrated life or society of apostolic life.
  • §2 An institute's own law can constitute other impediments even for the validity of admission, or attach other conditions.
  • Canon 644 Superiors are not to admit secular clerics to the novitiate without consulting their proper Ordinary; nor those who have debts which they are unable to meet.
  • Canon 645 §1 Before candidates are admitted to the novitiate they must produce proof of baptism and confirmation, and of their free status.
    • §2 The admission of clerics or others who had been admitted to another institute of consecrated life, to a society of apostolic life, or to a seminary, requires, in addition, the testimony of, respectively, the local Ordinary, or the major Superior of the institute or society, or the rector of the seminary.
    • §3 An institute's own law can demand further proofs concerning the suitability of candidates and their freedom from any impediment.
    • §4 The Superiors can seek other information, even under secrecy, if this seems necessary to them.
  • Canon 655 Temporary profession is to be made for the period defined by the institute's own law. This period may not be less than three years nor longer than six years.
  • Canon 656 Valid Temporary Profession The validity of temporary profession requires:
    • 1° that the person making it has completed at least the eighteenth year of age;
    • 2° that a valid novitiate has been made;
    • 3° that admission has been granted, freely and in accordance with the norms of law, by the competent Superior, after a vote of his or her council;
    • 4° that the profession be explicit and made without force, fear or deceit;
    • 5° that the profession be received by the lawful Superior, personally or through another.
  • Canon 657 … §2 If it seems opportune, the period of temporary profession can be extended by the competent Superior in accordance with the institute's own law. The total time during which the member is bound by temporary vows may not, however, extend beyond nine years.

Screening Workbook - Table of Contents

  • For Vocation and Formation Directors
  • Canon Law on Admission of Candidates
  • For Applicant
  • Prayer for Vocations
  • How do I know if I am called?
  • Address of Pope Francis on Vocational Discernment

Screening & Discernment Instrument for Religious Life

  • A. Identifying Information
  • B. Education
  • C. Employment
  • D. Activities
  • E. Spiritual Life
  • F. Vocational Discernment
  • G. Family
  • H. Personal & Behavioral
  • I. Medical History
  • J. Required Documents

Releases & Forms

  • A. Psychological assessment – Release of Information
  • B. Letter of Reference - Form
  • C. Medical Examination
  • D. Dental Examination
  • E. Ophthalmological Examination
  • A. Religious and Marital Status
  • B. Citizenship and Immigration Status
  • C. Family and Fiduciary Responsibilities
  • D. Health Care, Pension and Social Security
  • E. Ministry, Business and Professional
  • F. Banking and Financial Interests
  • G. Real and Personal Property
  • H. Debts and Liabilities
  • I. Settlements and Other Legal and Professional Concerns

Initial Info

  • Identifying Information
  • Name (First and Last)
  • Address
  • City, State ZIP
  • Phone Number(s)
  • Email Address
  • Citizenship (and SSN)
    • Immigration Status
    • Have a clear policy that can be shared with inquirers:
      • Citizen,
      • Lawful Permanent Resident
      • Temporary Resident,
      • Undocumented
      • DACA
  • Date / Place of Birth
  • Current Age - have a clear policy on age
  • Current Parish / Diocese - baptismal certificate


  • Schools, Colleges, Universities
  • Transcript of the highest level of education – 3rd Party Verification
  • Official transcripts of all may show disciplinary action
  • Is there education debt?
    • Reasonable? Documented? Ministerial?
    • Sources of payment:
      • Community
      • NRVC, Laboure, etc.
    • Recommendation: Service debt until finally professed + 5 years


  • Employment history &/or CV
  • Looking for
    • Stability, continuity, explain gaps.
    • types of work, ministry possibilities.
    • problems in the workplace.
    • Licenses to maintain
  • 3rd Party Verification
    • Ministry reference
    • Social Security statement
  • Protect resume


  • List clubs, societies, or social organizations of which you are or were a member or held office.
  • High School, College, Parish, Professional, Other
  • Reading, Hobbies, Leisure, Travel
  • Looking for: Interests, Expectations, Finance, Family, Social Ties

Spiritual Life

  • Prayer life
  • Sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation
    • Certificate – with notations: marriage, annulment, profession
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Catholic Education
  • Prior entrance in a religious community
    • Contact community: superior to superior
    • Concealment
  • Vocational Discernment
  • Vocation story
  • Experience of God and God's Call
  • Attractions and concerns for religious life

Family Background

  • Family of origin (behavioral)
  • Marriage
    • Divorce/Annulment – prior to novitiate - certificates
  • Dispensation from the impediment
  • Children
  • Parenthood is a lifelong vocation
  • Children must be independent
  • Effect on Grandchildren
  • Legal and behavioral issues

Personal and Behavioral

  • No legal issues here.
  • Present as a minimum for screening.


  • Present Medical Conditions
  • Disabilities, allergies, and dietary restrictions
  • Medical History
  • Psychological History
  • Family History
  • Lifestyle Habits
  • Sufficient health to live the life of the institute: apostolic, missionary, cloistered
  • Age-appropriate health

Required Documents

  • Submitted by Applicant:
    • Biographical data
    • Autobiography in narrative form (5-10 pages)
    • Legal and Financial Inventory
    • Names and complete contact information of persons providing:
      • Employment Reference (1)
      • Personal References (3) e.g. pastoral minister, spiritual director, teacher, religious
      • Reference from the leader of any previous religious communities you have been in
    • Signed releases of information for references listed above: Behavioral Assessment, Medical Information
    • Letter of request to be accepted for formation
    • Birth Certificate
    • Copy of Passport and Immigrant status if applicable
    • Baptismal Certificate
    • Marriage Certificate, divorce decree and decree of nullity (if applicable)
    • Transcripts from most recent educational institutions
    • Document on Remuneration (after acceptance, prior to arrival)
  • Required Documents
  • Submitted by others on behalf of the applicant:
    • Physical exam (supplied by a primary physician)
    • Vision exam (supplied by a vision examiner)
    • Dental exam (supplied by a dentist)
    • Behavioral assessment
    • Criminal Check
    • Letter of affirmation by mentor
    • Letter of affirmation by Vocation Director
    • Letters from Personal References:
      • How long have you known the person?
      • In what capacity have you know the person?
      • Describe the person generally?
      • How would you assess the person's aptitude for religious life?
  • Inventory
    • A. Religious and Marital Status
    • B. Citizenship and Immigration Status
    • C. Family and Fiduciary Responsibilities
    • D. Health Care, Pension and Social Security
    • E. Ministry, Business and Professional
    • F. Banking and Financial Interests
    • G. Real and Personal Property
    • H. Debts and Liabilities
    • I. Settlements and Other Legal and Professional Concerns

Individual Formation Plan

Policy, Congregation, Individual

  • Formation spans several leadership teams, several formation persons
  • Dealing with various issues over time
  • Property, immigration, debt, license, professional obligations, employment, insurance, etc.
  • Written, but flexible


  • Pre-entrance - discernment and screening
  • Pre-novitiate - preparation for novitiate for this candidate:
    • Theology, Language, Immigration, Family, Finance, Professional
  • Novitiate - Sabbatical for formation
    • Beginning of religious life.
    • Learn more about the history, spirit, and charism of the Congregation
    • Prepare to live as a publicly vowed religious in the Church.
    • At least one year, ordinarily two years, no more than 2 1/2.
    • Novice director and Novitiate.
  • Temporary Profession
    • Life as a professed religious
    • Accountability and responsibility
    • Continued preparation for final profession
    • Sharing common life and ministry
    • Three to six years, rarely extended to nine years.

Length of Novitiate

  • Canon 648 §1. To be valid, a novitiate must include twelve months spent in the community itself of the novitiate, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 647, §3.
    • [ §3. A major superior can permit a group of novices to reside for a certain period of time in another house of the institute designated by the superior.]
    • §2. To complete the formation of novices, in addition to the period mentioned in §1, the constitutions can establish one or more periods of apostolic exercises to be spent outside the community of the novitiate.
    • §3. The novitiate is not to last longer than two years.
  • Canon 649 §1. Without prejudice to the prescripts of can. 647, §3 and can. 648, §2, an absence from the novitiate house which lasts more than three months, either continuous or interrupted, renders the novitiate invalid. An absence which lasts more than fifteen days must be made up.
    • §2. With the permission of the competent major superior, first profession can be anticipated, but not by more than fifteen days.
  • Canon 653 §1. A novice can freely leave an institute; moreover, the competent authority of the institute can dismiss a novice.
    • §2. At the end of the novitiate, if judged suitable, a novice is to be admitted to temporary profession; otherwise, the novice is to be dismissed. If there is doubt about the suitability of a novice, the major superior can extend the time of probation according to the norm of proper law, but not beyond six months.


  • During Pre-entrance
  • During Pre-novitiate
  • During Novitiate (see above)
  • During Temporary Profession

Temporary Profession

  • Canon 655 - Temporary profession not less than three nor more than six years. Canon 657.2 If it seems opportune…. [competent Superior extends] not beyond nine years.


  • Principles
    • Enough documentation to support formation
    • Confidentiality - need to know.
    • Screening obtains all and only the information needed.
  • Permanent record - screening done, letters requesting, and admitting to various stages.
    • Dates and places of formation, formation program, ministry sites.
    • Sacramental Certificates, CV, Transcripts (returned on departure)
    • Record of departure date, recommendation (would or would not readmit: yes, yes with res, no).


The ethics of Vocation Ministry are guided by these foundational principles:

  1. Gospel Values, Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Great Commandment.
  2. Respect for human dignity, diversity, human rights, and social justice
  3. Collegiality, Subsidiarity, Mutuality, and Collaboration
  4. Personal and Professional integrity


  • Honest assessment of the candidate
  • Honest presentation of community
  • Honest assessment of the viability of the community and its formation program
  • Honest presentation of admission criteria
  • Appropriate selection and preparation of Vocation and Formation personnel
  • Use discretion in combining vocation, formation, and leadership roles.
  • Understand unconscious bias and work to respect all candidates.
  • Maintain confidentiality regarding candidates
  • At the services of the discerner, candidate
  • Recordkeeping and confidentiality


  • Understand roles and their limits
  • Don't mix counseling, spiritual direction, etc with vocation or formation direction
  • Directors/Ministers hold a power position, used it reverently
  • Consult if unsure
  • Appropriate meeting times and places
  • Prudence in self-disclosure


  • Safe environment training obtained and followed
  • Permission of parents - open communication with minors
  • Contacts include another responsible adult, presentation, emails, social media.


  • Discerners - Meeting discerners, live-in experiences, travel - more online, but on ground crucial to the discernment process
  • Pre-novitiate: most flexible timeframe, ensure suitability for religious life and readiness for novitiate. Constitutions must be followed regarding residency and timelines.
  • Novitiate: canonical timelines apply, on-ground community experience essential. The apostolic year requires more planning - esp how to engage without putting the community at risk. Some input could be virtual, but prayer and community should be on ground.
  • Profession: can be done with a small group, in Mass.
  • Temporary profession: more flexible - could delay profession till appropriate celebration, not beyond

Thanks for Coming! Please complete the exit survey.

vocation.txt · Last modified: 2020/08/18 10:25 by amycsj