Canon Law 101

The 2014 On-Line Canon Law Institute

Canon law is the legal system of the Catholic Church; it has laws, courts, legislature, judges and lawyers that work together for the good order and governance of the community of faith. The Church's legal system began as soon as Christians began to gather in communities to live the Gospel, to worship together and to proclaim the Good News to others.

Canon law is one of the world's oldest legal systems, the earliest canonical norms being found in the New Testament. Throughout the history of the Church, councils, popes and bishops have issued "canons", laws and norms to help guide the Christian community. After the Second Vatican Council, canon law was revised with the promulgation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which guides Church life today. In addition to the Code, diocese, parishes, religious communities and associations can enact their own laws to guide their internal life. There is also a Code for the Eastern Catholic Churches.

The 1983 Code has seven major sections called Books. Book One covers General Norms and explains the general application of the code and gives basic definitions. Book Two covers the Christian faithful and sets forth the hierarchical organization of the Church, and it also covers the nature, life and mission of religious communities. Book Three sets forth norms for the teaching function of the church, including preaching, teaching, mission activity and social communication. Book Four gives basic norms for the sacraments which are further specified in liturgical books. It also has laws regarding other acts of worship, and regarding sacred times and places (i.e. feast days and churches).

The final three books cover the governance of the Church. Book Five has norms regarding temporal goods, covering acquisition, ownership and stewardship of goods, and contracts. Book Six sets forth sanctions, establishing canonical crimes and their punishment. And finally Book Seven establishes the procedures for trials and tribunals in the Church and provides for other administrative processes.

The Code of Canon Law, like any legal system embodies the values of the community of faith.  In the current code of Canon Law, theological statements are included along side legal norms in order to give a foundation for understanding and applying those norms. These statements encourage and guide the pastoral application of the Code of Canon Law.

For more on on Canon Law, register for November's series of 4 webcasts: Canon Law 101 – an introductory course in canon law, available live or on-demand.

Recorded Webcasts: Not available for a webcast? You can register to view it On-Demand or on CD-ROM.

Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you or your congregation.


Amy Hereford

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