Dr. Edward Peters 

To work for the proper implementation of canon law is to play an extraordinarily

constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II







1983 Code



1917 Code


 Liber Extra



 Eastern Code


1152 x 864


10 jan 2013

Review of

  • Velasio de Paolis, DE SANCTIONIBUS IN ECCLESIA (1986);

  • Antonio Calabrese, DIRITTO PENALE CANONICO (1990); and

  • Alphonse Borras, LES SANCTIONS DANS L'EGLISE (1990).


Edward Peters, Review of Velasio de Paolis, DE SANCTIONIBUS IN ECCLESIA: ADNOTATIONES IN CODICEM: LIBER VI (1986); Antonio Calabrese, DIRITTO PENALE CANONICO (1990); and Alphonse Borras, LES SANCTIONS DANS L'EGLISE: COMMENTAIRE DES CANONS 1311-1399 (1990), in The Jurist 55 (1995) 952-954.


These three works are the leading Latin, Italian, and French studies to date of penal canon law under the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Canonists will immediately recognize de Paolis and Borras as major authors in the field of ecclesiastical crimes and penalties, while Calabrese, a rotal advocate, is perhaps better known for his works in religious law. Each of these studies shares a similar methodology, namely, a sequential discussion, usually canon-by-canon, of materials presented in Book Six of the Code. Each share similar strengths and weaknesses.


During the revision of penal canon law, there were repeated calls for the inclusion of canonical definitions for various penal institutes. Unfortunately, these calls were, for the most part, rejected as being mere exercises in scholastic science. Happily, though, what the revision commission omitted each of these authors discusses at least to some extent. De Paolis also includes some review of the importance of the "Principles Guiding the Revision of Canon Law" to penal canon law. Each author, of course, notes several signature characteristics of modern penal canon law, including its brevity relative to the penal provisions of the 1917 Code and the greater place given in the new law to the necessity of exhausting options for pastoral resolutions of potential penal situations.


From the point of view of utility, each volume admits of easy preliminary research as a consequence of the canon-by-canon discussion format, but they differ rather markedly in their ability to serve for more detailed research. Only Borras, for example, provides extensive footnotes to such things as conciliar texts and other canonical and secular penal authors. Calabrese uses far fewer footnotes, and many of these are simply references to related provisions of the 1983 code. De Paolis uses no footnotes at all. Only Borras provides an index of canons discussed, while only Calabrese offers an analytical index. De Paolis and Borras attach useful bibliographies, but they include therein only more recent commentaries on modern penal canon law or the revision process. For those of us who do not work in Latin everyday, it is worth noting that de Paolis uses a very functional Latin style in which, for example, word order tends to track that of modern languages. Calabrese's Italian is also accessible to those who use that language primarily for research, while Borras' French text may be termed positively graceful.


Because of the relative brevity of modern penal canon law, and notwithstanding the practical importance of the recent heightened emphasis on pastoral sensitivity in the penal arena, it is my opinion that the extensive (if perhaps excessive) penal literature developed under the 1917 code remains important for an informed application of the Church's coercive function. Only Borras, though, makes an attempt to reference this considerable body of material, and most of his references are to French authorities. The failure of the authors to make more systematic use of 1917 code penal insights leaves the impression of a greater discontinuity between the old law and the new than, perhaps, is warranted.


A related weakness in all three works is the almost complete omission of materials related to penal procedural law. Under the 1917 code, penal authors tended to omit penal procedures as being of interest only to procedural experts, while the procedural experts, perhaps being engrossed in marriage issues, avoided penal procedural discussions as being of interest only to penal experts. But procedural law of any type exists to serve the substantive goals of the area in question, and therefore experts in substantive penal law will have to devote more attention to penal procedural law if we, under the 1983 code, are to avoid the practical handicaps faced by those who were called upon to administer penal law under the 1917 code. It is perhaps here that one or several of the English language experts in penal canon law might make an important contribution, especially as those authors might approach penal procedural questions out of the experience of the procedurally mature common law societies.


As a basic orientation to the place of penal canon law in the Church, I believe that de Paolis' text would be most useful, while as a text for a formal course in ecclesiastical crimes and penalties Borras' work is clearly the best. Notwithstanding the omission of procedural topics, Calabrese's work would be of use especially to ecclesiastical administrators and advocates. +++