Canon Law Explained

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by Fr. Laurence J. Spiteri

A Handbook for Laymen

Not only inefficiency, but frustration, disorder, anger, and injustice threaten all human endeavors, no matter how pure their motives or high their ideals. That’s why successful organizations always create employee handbooks and clear procedure manuals that delineate where authority lies, how conflicts are to be resolved, and, above all, how each organization’s mission is (and is not) to be accomplished.

Is it any wonder then that the Catholic Church—comprised not of 200 persons but 1.2 billion members in 200 countries—also governs itself by means of a handbook, which it calls the Code of Canon Law?

Because handbooks and manuals concern themselves with the day-to-day inner working of organizations, they often reveal more than do news releases about the actual purposes and genuine spirit of organizations: a fact that’s particularly true in the case of the Catholic Church.

Indeed, if you want to know the Church for who She is, you need to be familiar with the Code of Canon Law. Unfortunately, it contains over 1,752 rules (or canons).

Thankfully, Vatican expert and veteran author Fr. Laurence Spiteri has in the pages of Canon Law Explained relieved you of the need to read all 1,752 of these rules. Here he acquaints you with the fundamental canons by which the Church seeks to bring about, as it declares in the very last canon, the purpose all of them serve: “The salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church.”

Fr. Spiteri’s brief, but lucid explanations of the origins and meaning of the canons make sense of much that puzzles non-Catholics about our Church and that sometimes frustrates even us Catholics. As he relates the Church’s laws and procedures directly to Christ’s command “to go forth and teach all nations”—and to the role those laws and procedures play in your salvation and mine—Fr. Spiteri transforms what seem to be dry-as-dust rules into the sweet waters of salvation.

If you want to know the Church for who She is—and to love Her more—Canon Law Explained is the book for you.

Among the things you’ll learn in the pages of Canon Law Explained:

  • When Church authorities must consult you (and when they are free to act on their own)
  • The Biblical justification for Diocesan Marriage Tribunals (Yes, there is one!)
  • The strict limits on the authority of priests and bishops, even within their own jurisdictions
  • Your rights – and your duties – as a Catholic (can you list any of them?)
  • The many and often curious impediments to a valid marriage (including murdering your spouse to marry someone else!)
  • The vital role of the Vicar General (Do you know who yours is and what he does?)
  • Who will choose your next bishop (and how it will be done)
  • The rule limiting absences of bishops from their dioceses (and how violators are punished)
  • USCCB, NCCB, Synods, Councils, Deaneries: what they are, what they do
  • What missionaries can do – and what Canon Law strictly forbids them to do – in winning souls for Christ
  • Your local bishop’s obligations to (yes!) the entire world
  • Marriage: Did you know that Church law specifically guards everyone’s natural right to it?
  • Priestless parishes: who can do what in them
  • Plus background information and explanations to show you how these rules and procedures came about and the wisdom of the Church in adopting them