Fr. Joseph Irimpan


Pope John Paul II, while promulgating the New Code of Conon Law in 1983 through the Apostolic constitution “Sacrae Disciplinae Leges” made the following statement: “In fact a Code of Canon Law is absolutely necessary for the Church. Since the Church is established in the form of a social and visible unit, it needs rules, so that its hierarchical and organic structure may be visible; that its exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, particularly of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, is properly ordered; that the mutual relationships of Christ’s faithful are reconciled in justice based on charity, with the rights of each person safeguarded and defined, and lastly, that the common initiatives which are undertaken so that christian life may be ever more perfectly carried out, are supported strengthened and promoted by canonical laws”. This vital impact of Canon Law on the existence and mission of the Church calls for the necessity of a deep awareness of the same by the future ministers.

1. The Function and role of Canon Law in the Church

The Congregation for Catholic Education published a document in 1975, “On the Teaching of Canon Law to those preparing to be Priests”. For the first part of this paper we rely mainly on this document. The document, while dealing with the function and role of Canon Law, explains the Dogmatic Constitution, ‘Lumen Gentium’, sets forth a deeper understanding of the Church in her two-fold aspects: charismatic and institutional. The outlook here is, above all, Christocentric, that is the Church is seen as the continuation of the Incarnation and of the Easter Mystery. Among the co-essential elements of the Church, the first place is given to the communication of the Divine Life. The sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church serves as means to this end, namely to the communication of the Divine Life.

The Council, after emphasizing the sacramental structure of the Church, has underlined the fact that both the Society which is constituted by an organic hierarchy and the Mystical Body of Christ, the visible community and the supernatural entity, form only one complex reality, an element that is twofold, human and divine. The Church is compared by analogy to the mystery of the Incarnate Word: “Just as the assumed nature inseparably united to the Divine Word serves Him as a living instrument of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the communal structure of the Church serve Christ’s Spirit, who vivifies her by building up her Body” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8); “ (The Church) united on behalf of heavenly values and enriches by them … has been constituted and organized in the world as a Society by Christ and is equipped with those means which befit her as a visible and social unity. Thus the Church, one and at the same time a visible community and a spiritual community, goes forward together with humanity…” (Gaudium et Spes, ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’, n. 40).

This view of the Church makes it easy to see how, in her totality and in her unity, the Church is inseparably, although under different aspects, a community of grace and a hierarchical Society. One can also see that her structures are and must ever be profoundly determined in their nature by a supernatural point of view. Between the divine and human elements in the Church the kind of relationship must be maintained which was established by Christ Himself.

In the light of the conciliar ecclesiology, therefore, the place and the necessity of Canon Law appear more clearly. The “Law” acquires greater value because its function in the Church’s life is better understood.

II. The need for studying Canon Law

The same document gives some arguments to assert the necessity of promoting studies in Canon Law in the Seminaries. The document says, “Competent canonists are needed in teaching Theology, in the structures of diocesan curial offices, in regional Church tribunals, in the governmental structure of Religious Families, etc. The Bishops’ Conferences, various Synods, Diocesan Ordinaries and Religious Superiors need to have people to rely on, who are juridically prepared. Such men not only can help in canonically forming future priests and in correctly interpreting general laws, but they also can be useful in formulating, with appropriate competence, local laws, this is, and they can help to draft these laws in the best way from the point of view of content and form. They can also assist in the application of these particular laws.” The document goes further and says that, it is necessary to have collaboration of canonists with the authorities of the Church in their function of governing her (which cannot be separated from their function of giving her “pastoral care”. The purpose of this collaboration is an orderly and peaceful development of the social life of the whole Christian Community, the promotion of the Church’s apostolate, and the effective protection of the rights of everyone.

It flows from this that there is a severe need for the proper preparation of canonists. Nobody can deny that even a priest who is directly occupied with the care of souls needs an adequate training in law to carry out suitably his pastoral ministry in the way a good shepherd should. From all that had been asserted here, it follows that Bishops and Major Religious Superiors must become more conscious of their obligation to promote and encourage the study of Canon Law.



A survey done among the Major Seminaries and Theological Institutes of our Country shows that the importance given to Canon Law in the curriculum is not satisfactory. The total hours set apart for Canon Law studies range from 30-337 hours. In fact not a single Seminary covers the whole Code of Canon Law. If at all one or two do it, it is not covered in detail.

A Statistical Survey on ‘teaching Canon Law in Seminaries’ is given below

1. St. Peter’s Pontifical Seminary and Institute of Theology, Bangalore

This is an Institute with a special faculty for Canon Law. It confers a Degree of Masters in Canon Law, which is given approbation by the Pontifical University of Urbanianum, Rome. The duration of this course is of two years.

In the curriculum of the Seminary they have allotted 160 hours for Canon Law, during the first three years of the Theology course. During these hours they deal mainly upon the General Norms, Marriage Laws, Penal Laws, etc. At the Seminary level there are three residential professors; and at the M.C.L. level there are 15 professors in all, residential and visiting.

2. Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, Bangalore

Canon Law is taught here during the second and third year of Theology formation. Altogether there are 90 hours, in which they touch almost all the areas of the Code. They have two residential professors.

3. Vidya Deep, C.R.I Brothers’ Institute, Bangalore

They teach Canon Law in the third year, and they have allotted thirty hours. They deal only with the religious law. There is only one visiting professor.

4. St. Paul College, Bombay

They follow the cycle system for the first three years of Theology. Altogether they have 129 hours, and they cover almost all the books of the Code. They have three visiting professors.

5. Kristu Jyoti College, Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore

Canon Law is taught during the first three years of the Theology course. The total of periods allotted is 84. They teach moral and canonical aspects of the Sacraments separately. They have 72 periods for that. There is only one residential professor.

6. Bhopal Regional Theologate

They have allotted 70 hours for teaching Canon Law. They follow the cycle system for the first three years of Theology. They give some classes in Oriental Canon Law. There are two visiting professors.

7. Mission Seminary, Pilar, Goa

During the first three year of Theology course they teach Canon Law; and each year they have set apart 30 hours in which they cover almost all the books of the Code. There is only one residential professor and one visiting professor.

8. Patriarchal Seminary, Rachol, Goa

They teach Canon Law during the third and fourth year of Theology. They are dealing with almost all the books of the Code in 337 hours. There is only one residential professor.

9. St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Kottayam
During the first three years Canon Law is taught in this Seminary. Being a Seminary of Oriental Churches, vital importance is given to teaching Oriental Canon Law. They spare altogether 120 hours; and almost all the books are covered. Short lessons are also given on Latin Code. There is only one residential professor and one visiting professor. They are giving detailed classes to the M.Th. Studies.

10. Capuchin Vidyabhavan (St. Francis Theological College), Kottayam

Every year of Theology course, they spare some classes for Canon Law. They have altogether 60 hours. There is only one residential professor.

11. St. Paul’s Seminary, Thiruchirapilly

In the first three years of Theology course, they teach Canon Law. They have allotted 135 hours for Canon Law; and they cover almost all the books of the Code. There is only one residential professor.

12. St. Albert’s College, Faculty of Theology, Ranchi

Canon Law is taught to I-II-III years together, except during second term of the third year. Altogether they spare 135 hours, in which time they cover almost the entire Code. Since they have the M.Th. faculty, Canon Law is taught there also, which comprises 70 hours. Ten hours are allotted for Oriental Canon Law also. There are three residential professors in the Institute.

13. Kripalaya, Capuchin Theologate, Mysore

This Seminary follows a cycle system. Hence classes are taken together for all the batches. They have a three year cycle. It comprises altogether 162 hours. They cover all the books of the Code. There is only one residential professor.

14. Good Shepherd College, myleripalayam, Coimabatore

They too are following the cycle system. By the end of the third year of Theology they finish all the books of the Code. Every week they have allotted two hours for Canon Law. There is only one residential professor.

15. Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye

Since this Seminary is an inter-ritual Seminary it has got separate classes for Latins and Orientals. But certain books, namely, General Norms, Marriage Laws, Introduction to Canon Law, etc. are given in common, there are separate professors both for latin Law and Oriental Law. Almost all the books are covered by the end of the fourth year of Theology. They have altogether 176 hours for Canon Law. (But certain sections of the law are dealt in conjunction with Moral Theology and Sacraments.)



1) No major Seminary should be without professorship of Canon Law. The teaching of Canon Law must be ranked with the necessary disciplines.

2) In the lessons imparted to the students, they should be taught the general theological foundation of all Canon Law and also the theological basis of each particular juridical institution. In this general way, the spirit that animates the Law of the Church, a Law that is different from other laws, should be shown to the seminarians. They should also be taught to see the pastoral function of Canon Law.

3) The seminarians should get not only the theoretical side of Canon Law but should also be introduced to canonical practices both administrative and juridical, by learning and using appropriate and precise formularies, by viewing juridical procedures (with analysis of their various phases of development), etc. To accomplish this practical end, it would be very useful to organize visits of the seminaries to chancery offices and to diocesan and regional tribunals. Judges, defenders of the bond, etc. could be invited to Seminaries to give some lectures.

4) The seminarians should get in touch with the Penal and Procedure laws of the Church. Certain classes should be set apart for this purpose.

5) Seminarians should get a chance to know the main differences between CIC and CCEO. As it is done in some Seminaries a few classes on this subject will be useful for the students.

6) The Canon Law Society of India, if possible, should begin a publication, (eg. a quarterly) on Canon Law. It is also advisable that some foreign Canon Law books either be re-printed in India or translated from other languages such as, latin, Italian, German,, Spanish, so as to enlighten our seminarians on important topics dealt in Church law. Such materials should also be available in the Seminary.

7) Those who teach Canon Law must keep in touch with those teaching theological disciplines especially Moral Theology, so that in a spirit of fraternal collaboration they can make their contribution both to the planning and the implementation of the Seminary study programme.

8) The Canon Law professors should also have some experience in pastoral work. Therefore, side by side, they should work either in a parish, marriage tribunal or curia, so that the professors can clarify the law to the students by giving concrete examples/case studies. Moreover, by attending some courses, the professors should make themselves up to date in the latest jurisprudence and canonical problems. The Canon Law Society of India or the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India should take initiative in conducting such courses.

9) In promoting the continuing education of the clergy, care should be taken to devote some time to the teaching of the latest trends in canonical and legal questions. After some years of pastoral experience priests will be in a position to understand and appreciate the pastoral stand of Canon Law.

10) Considering the vital importance of Canon Law in the pastoral life of the priests more time should be allotted for Canon Law studies in Seminaries.

11) As the new codes, both CIC and CCEO demand, only canonist be appointed in the tribunal. Therefore more opportunities should be available for priests, the religious and even the laity to study Canon Law. Hence more theological institutes could take the initiative to begin Canon Law faculty for specialization.