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1983 Code of Canon Law

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1983 Code of Canon Law

"Code of Canon Law" redirects here. For the code governing the Eastern Catholic Churches, see Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. For the Latin code in effect prior to 1983, see 1917 Code of Canon Law.
For the history of canonical codification, see Canon law (Catholic Church) and Legal history of the Catholic Church.
This article is part of the series:
Legislation and Legal System of the Catholic Church

The 1983 Code of Canon Law (abbreviated 1983 CIC from its Latin title Codex Iuris Canonici) is the codification of canonical legislation for the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. It was promulgated on 25 January 1983 by John Paul II[1] and obtained the force of law on the First Sunday of Advent (27 November)[2] 1983. It replaced the 1917 Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Benedict XV on 27 May 1917.


The current Code of Canon Law is the second comprehensive codification of the non-liturgical laws of the Latin Church, replacing the Pio-Benedictine code that had been promulgated by Benedict XV in 1917.[3] See also Canon Law-Codification and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.[4]

Christus Dominus, Presbyterorum Ordinis, Perfectae Caritatis, and Ad Gentes. In 1966, Pope Paul VI issued norms to apply these instructions through the motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae.

The Pontificia Commissio Codici iuris canonici recognoscendo, which had been established in 1963, continued the work of revising the Code of Canon Law through the pontificate of Paul VI, completing the work in the first years of the pontificate of John Paul II.

On 25 January 1983, with the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges John Paul II promulgated the current Code of Canon Law for all members of the Catholic Church who belonged to the Latin Rite. It entered into force the first Sunday of the following Advent,[1] which was 27 November 1983.[2] In the Apostolic Constitution, the Pope described the new Code as "the last document of Vatican II".

In 1998 Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio Ad Tuendam Fidem, which amended two canons (750 and 1371) of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and two canons (598 and 1436) of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, so as to add "new norms which expressly impose the obligation of upholding truths proposed in a definitive way by the Magisterium of the Church, and which also establish related canonical sanctions."

On December 15, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Omnium in Mentem, which amended five canons (1008, 1009, 1086, 1117, 1124) of the 1983 Code of Canon Law clarifying that, among those in Holy Orders, only bishops and priests received the power and mission to act in the person of Christ the Head while deacons obtained the faculty to exercise the diakonias of service, Word, and charity. The amendments also removed formal defection from the Catholic faith as excusing Catholics from the canonical form of marriage.[5]

While there have been many vernacular translations of the Code, only the original Latin text has the force of law.[6]

Ecclesiological inspiration of the 1983 Code

The Vatican II Decree Optatam totius (no. 16), in view of the decision to reform the existing Code, laid down that "the teaching of Canon law should take into account the mystery of the Church, according to the dogmatic constitution De Ecclesia". The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code was in fact structured according to the Roman law division of "norms, persons, things, procedures, penalties". The 1983 Code, in total contrast, was deliberately given a much more doctrinal-theological structure. Thus it is configured, as far as possible, according to the "mystery of the Church", the most significant books - Two, Three and Four - corresponding to the munus regendi, the munus sanctificandi, and the munus docendi (the "missions" of governance, of worship/sanctification, and of teaching) which in turn derive from the kingly, the priestly and the prophetic roles or functions of Christ.[7]

John Paul II described the ecclesiological inspiration of the Code in this way:

Structure in detail

The 1983 Code of Canon Law contains 1752 canons,[8] or laws, most subdivided into paragraphs (indicated by "§") and/or numbers (indicated by "°"). Hence a citation of the Code would be written as Can. (or Canon) 934, §2, 1°.[9]

The Code is organized into seven Books, which are further divided into Part, Section, Title, Chapter and Article. Not every book contains all five subdivisions.

This is the outline of the seven books of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.


  • Explains the general application of laws

BOOK II. THE PEOPLE OF GOD (Cann. 204–746)

  • Goes into the rights and obligations of laypeople and clergy, and outlines the hierarchical organization of the Church


  • Christian ministry, missionary activity, education, and social communication


  • Sacraments and other acts of worship; places of worship and feast-days


  • Ownership, contracts, and wills; akin to the civil Business Law


  • Crimes and punishment

BOOK VII PROCESSES (Cann. 1400–1752)

  • Trials and Tribunals


Book I. General Norms (Cann. 1–203)

This part of the Codex contains the general norms. It contains the general rules concerning

  • legal sources
  • persons
  • governance and offices
  • time

Legal sources are laws (including custom as a special way of legislation because of the need of the approval of the legislator), which contain universal regulations, general decrees, instructions and statues, which refer to a special group and in case of statues even are legislated by this group itself and administrative acts, which only decide single cases.

Persons are physical persons or juridical person. In opposition to traditional secular legislation, not every person is a physical person according to the Corpus Juris Canonici. One is constituted a person with duties and rights only by christening.

The Codex the premises for the validity of a juridical act especially in relation to form, coercion, misapprehension and lack of participation.

The power of law is divided in the three authorities of legislative, executive and judiciary. The ability to conduct juridical acts can be joined to an office or it can be delegated to a person. Relating to office, the provision and loss of the ecclesiastical office is regulated.

Time regulates prescription, which goes along with the national regulations, but can only be achieved in good faith, and definitions of time.

Book II. The People of God (Cann. 204–746)

Book two describes the "People of God". It discusses the general rights and obligations of members of the church, and then discusses the ordering of the church, from the Holy See to the local parish.

Adequate to the regulations of part two the hierarchical constitution of religious and secular institutes and societies of apostolic life is shown. A religious institute is a society in which members, according to proper law, pronounce public vows. This book is divided into three parts

  • The Christian faithful
  • The hierarchical constitution of the church
  • Institutions of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life.

The Christian faithful shows the obligations of the faithful in common, those of the lay and those of the sacred ministers or clerics with special consideration of the formation and enrolment of clerics and personal prelatures. Furthermore the associations of the Christian faithful especially their recognition as a juridic person are constituted, divided in public, private associations and those of the lay.

Part II is entitled, "The Hierarchical Constitution of the Church". This part describes the composition, rights and obligations of the Supreme Authority of the Church, consisting of the Roman Pontiff, the College of Bishops, the Synod of Bishops, the College of Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Papal legates. Furthermore the dioceses, their organisation with bishop curia and synod and their involvement in ecclesiastical provc vows and lead a life of brothers or sisters in common. A secular institute is an institute of consecrated life in which the Christian faithful, living in the world, strive for the perfection of charity and seek to contribute to the sanctification of the world, especially from within. Societies of apostolic life do not use a vow.

Book III. The Teaching Function of the Church (Cann. 747–833)

Book III describes the teaching function of the church. The forms of teaching are the ministry of the Divine Word in the forms of the preaching of the word of God and the catechetical instruction, the missionary action of the church, the Catholic education in schools, Catholic universities and other institutes of higher studies and the ecclesiastical universities and faculties, the instruments of communication and books in particular and finally the profession of faith.

Book IV. The Sanctifying Office of the Church (cann. 834–1123)[10]

In book four the function of the church and its religious acts are explained. This book is composed of three parts

  • the sacraments
  • the other acts of divine worship
  • sacred places and times

The sacraments are baptism, confirmation, the most holy Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders and marriage. These sacraments are described with conditions, ceremony and participants.

Other acts of divine worship are sacramentals, the liturgy of the hours, ecclesiastical funerals, the veneration of the saints, sacred images and relics and the vow and oath.

Sacred places are those which are dedicated for divine worship or for the burial of the faithful. The Code knows five kinds of sacred places: churches, oratories and private chapels, shrines, altars and cemeteries. Sacred times are feast days and days of penance.

Book V. The Temporal Goods of the Church (Cann. 1254–1310)

This part of the Corpus Juris is the regulation of the civil law. There are instructions concerning the acquisition and administration of goods especially the acquisition by bestowal either through an act inter vivos or through an act mortis causa and contracts with special care of alimentation.

Book VI. Sanctions in the Church (Cann. 1311–1399)

Book VI contains the canonical equivalent to secular criminal law. The book has two parts:

  • Delicts and penalties in general
  • Penalties for individual delicts

The first part declares the necessity of a violation of a law and shows the limits and requirements of such a penal law. It determines reasons, which eliminate the punishment as lack the use of reason, nonage (less than seventeen years), mistake in law or facts, missing causality or intent and self-defence. It also describes social cases as complicity, wilful default and attempt. Possible penalties are censures (excommunication and suspension), expiatory penalties (prohibition or an order concerning residence in a certain place or territory, privation of a power, office, function, right, privilege, faculty, favor, title or insignia) and penal remedies and penances. Finally the right of the application and cessation of penalties is regulated

The second part shows individual delicts, fragmented to delicts against religion and unity of the church, against ecclesiastical authorities and the freedom of the church, against special obligations, against human life and freedom, usurpation of ecclesiastical functions and delicts in their exercise and the crime of falsehood. In addition to these cases (and those stated in other laws) the external violation of a divine or canonical law can be punished, when the special gravity of the violation demands punishment and there is an urgent need to prevent or repair scandals.

Book VII. Processes (Cann. 1400–1752)

Book VII contains the legal procedure. It is divided in 5 parts.

  • Trials in general
  • The contentious trial
  • Special processes
  • The penal process
  • The method of proceeding in administrative recourse and in the removal or transfer of pastors

Part I

The first part trials in general defines the court system, its two local instances and the Roman Pontiff as the supreme judge with the representation by the tribunals of the Apostolic See, especially the Roman Rota. It determines the participants of the lawsuit, the judge, the auditors and relators, the promoter of justice, the Defender of the Bond, the notary, the petitioner, the respondent, and the procurators for litigation and advocates. Finally it describes the discipline to be observed in tribunals, with the duty of judges and ministers, the order of adjudication, the time limits and delays, the place of the trial, the persons to be admitted to the court, the manner of preparing and keeping the acts, and the actions and exceptions in general and specific.

Part II

The contentious trial begins with the introductory libellus of litigation and the citation and notification of juridical act. The joinder of the issue occurs when the terms of the controversy are defined by the judge, through a decree of the judge. Further on, this part explains the trial of the litigation, especially the absence of a party, the intervention of a third person and the proofs. There are six kinds of proof: declarations of the parties, documents, testimonies, experts, judicial examination and inspection, and presumptions. After taking evidence the acts are published, the case concluded and then discussed. The case ends with the sentence of the judge. The sentence can be challenged by complaint of nullity and by appeal. Finally the res inducta and restitutio in integrum, the execution of the judgement, the judicial expenses and gratuitous legal assistance are regulated. As an alternative to this contentious trial there is the possibility of an oral contentious process.

Part III

Part three defines special processes and their special regulations, the process for declaring the nullity of marriage, cases of separation of spouses, process for the dispensation of a marriage ratum sed non consummatum, the process in the presumed death of spouses, and cases for declaring the nullity of sacred ordination. This part also shows methods of avoiding trials.

Part IV

Part four shows the proceedings of the penal process, with the preliminary investigation, the trial, and the adhesive procedure.

Part V

The last part shows the methods of proceeding in administrative recourse, which can be made by any person who claims to have been aggrieved by a decree, and the removal or transfer of pastors with display of the reasons for the removal or transfer.

The final canon, 1752, ends with a reminder that the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls (commonly formulated Salus animarum lex suprema est.)

Notable canons

Canon 97 reduces the canonical age of majority from 21 to 18, according to the consensus of civil law.

Canon 332 governs papal resignations

Canons 823 to 824 decree that bishops are obligated to censor material concerning faith or morals.

The implementation of Canon 915 is quite controversial. See the article Canon 915 for more information.

Canon 916 decrees clergy in mortal sin are not allowed to celebrate Mass, and laypeople in mortal sin are not allowed to receive the Eucharist, except when they have a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess, in which case they must make an Act of Perfect Contrition and confess their mortal sins as soon as possible.

Canon 919 §1 decrees a one-hour fast before the reception of the Eucharist (this fast does not include water or medicine).


  1. ^ a b c d Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, accessed Jan-11-2013
  2. ^ a b, "New Canon Law Code in Effect for Catholics", 27-Nov-1983, accessed June-25-2013
  3. ^ Ap. Const. Providentissima Mater Ecclesia
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Leaving the Catholic Church no Longer Possible". 
  6. ^, accessed Jan-11-2013
  7. ^ Confer "CANON LAW AND COMMUNIO Writings on the Constitutional Law of the Church", 1, 1, at [1].
  8. ^ Dr. Edward N. Peters, "A Simple Overview of Canon Law", accessed June-11-2013
  9. ^ Alesandro, John (2008), "The Code of Canon Law: Twenty-Five Years Later", New Theology Review (May): 5–15 
  10. ^ IntraText, accessed Jan-11-2013

External links

  • [1983] Codex Iuris Canonici (original and sole official Latin text)
  • Code of Canon Law with the 1998 modification of canons 750 and 1371 (English translation by the Canon Law Society of America)
  • Code of Canon Law (English translation by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, assisted by the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Canadian Canon Law Society)
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