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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

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Pope John Paul II on the importance of canon law and lawyers in the Church


Excerpts from Pope John Paul II's “Message to the Ottawa Conference on Canon Law”. For complete text, see Communicationes 16: 125-127 (1984)

 

 

While John Paul II is not considered a "jurist-pope" in the tradition of Innocent III, Benedict XIV, or even Pius XII, he did have more than a passing familiarity with canonical research. Besides promulgating the 1983 Code of Canon Law (in the drafting of which he showed active interest upon becoming pope in 1978), a young Bp. Karol Wojtyła published a solid scholarly study of a famous section in Gratian. See "Le Traité De poenitentia de Gratien dans le l'abrégé Gdansk Mar. F. 275", Studia Gratiana 7 (1959) 355-390.

 

The new Code of Canon Law is extremely necessary for the Catholic Church. Since the Church is established as a social and visible structure, it must also have norms in order that

  • its hierarchical and organic structure be apparent;

  • the exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, especially that of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, be adequately organized;

  • the mutual relations of the faithful be regulated according to justice based upon charity, with the rights of individuals guaranteed and well-defined;  

  • and finally, that common initiatives undertaken to live a Christian life ever more perfectly be sustained, strengthened and fostered by canonical laws.

Because the 1983 Code is necessary for the Church, how important are Canon Lawyers who are thoroughly acquainted with the new legislation, who can help interpret it accurately and in conformity with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and who can apply it with equity and charity. This is the great challenge and responsibility that belongs to those who render a vital service to the Church by properly relating it to the life and mission of the Church.

 

A true understanding of the role of Canon Lawyers within the ecclesial community can follow only from an appropriate consideration of the purpose of the law itself and of the Code that enshrines it. My apostolic constitution “Sacrae disciplinae leges” [¶ 16] points out, the purpose of the Code is “to create such an order in the ecclesial society, that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charism, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life both of the ecclesial society and of the individuals persons who belong to it.” In this sense the Code is an “indispensable instrument” of the Church’s life and vitality.

 

To work for the proper implementation of the Code is to work for the upbuilding of the Church herself. It is to work for the salvation of the world. It is to play an extraordinarily constructive role in continuing the redemptive mission of Christ himself. (Emphasis added.) Canon Lawyers must be aware of their grave responsibilities in the task of consolidating the life of the Church at every level, according to the spirit of the Gospel, overcoming uncertainties and banishing laxity in the observance of a discipline that, by reason of its ordination to the life and mission of the Church, is truly sacred and salvific.

 

I wish therefore to express my admiration for the invaluable contribution that Canon Lawyers are making to the pastoral and apostolic mission of the Church. As I have stated on other occasions, the 1983 Code is the last major document called for by the Second Vatican Council. With its promulgation we have reached a new stage in the task of bringing about that interior renewal which the Council intended and for which we continue to “work and pray”. May all canonists persevere in the vital work that lies before them, as generous servants ever willing to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, as faithful stewards seeking to place their talents and gifts fully at the service of the Father’s will...

 


Some remarks of Pope Pius XII to law students:

from The Catholic Lawyer 2 (1956) 335.

 

Remember that you are embarking on a career that requires a true vocation . . . You will have to travel slowly along your chosen path in order to acquire the experience necessary to teach you how to use in practical life the abstract principles contained in the legal texts and scientific works you have studied. It is a career that demands continuing application and study, for it will impose responsibilities on you by which you will be obligated in conscience, and of which someday you will be required to account before the tribunal of the Eternal Judge.

 

Your vocation to the practice of the Law will require of you spiritual integrity and moral uprightness, so that your profession will not be merely an instrument for acquiring wealth or influence, but a kind of priesthood dedicated to the ideals of the good and the just, although at times it will be easier and more materially rewarding to stray into the path of corruption and untruth. It is a vocation, finally, in which you can never for a moment lose sight of the universal rule of human conduct which is the moral law, beyond whose limits you must never trespass.

 

If you wish a single recommendation which might summarize all We are seeking to convey to you, We will tell you that over and beyond all of the studies in your specialized fields of concentration, you should attempt to cultivate and form your minds in the spirit of the Eternal Truth which is the foundation of all Law and of all justice.