New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: Study Edition edited by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green (Paulist Press) Why a new English commentary on the 1983 Code of Canon Law? Because things change. The earlier work, The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, also commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, was published in 1985. One could fairly ask why another one is needed, since the code itself remains almost the same as when it was issued in 1983. But much has changed in the nearly twenty years since the authors of the previous commentary did their work.
The Church has changed. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States and worldwide continues to experience remarkable developments in its ministry, in its diocesan and parish life, and in its witness and outreach. Among those experiences, the Church has come to terms with the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a long-awaited revision of the first code, issued in 1917. That revision, eighteen years in the making (1965‑1983), took place in the light of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and consciously attempted to translate the council's teachings into rules for the life of the Church. By now the Church has had considerable experience living by those new rules. It is that experience which this new commentary tries to capture and assess.
Canon law has changed. The 1983 code itself has undergone just one formal amendment (the minor additions to canons 750 and 1371 introduced by the May 1998 apostolic letter Ad tuendam fzdem) since its promulgation. However, many new documents and official interpretations have enlarged and reshaped the canonical scene in the intervening years. The 1988 apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia, the 1990 ritual for the celebration of marriage, the 1993 directory on ecumenism, the 1996 apostolic constitution on papal elections, the 1998 motu proprio on episcopal conferences, and especially the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, as well as many other documents, have influenced the meaning and practice of canon law. The Pontifical Council on the Interpretation of
Legislative Texts has issued dozens of authentic interpretations of the canons. Scores of decisions made by ecclesiastical tribunals have shed light on the meaning of particular canons. Many other canonical commentaries have appeared in various languages since 1985. Several papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations as well as the teaching and policy statements of episcopal synods and conferences have given new nuance to the canonical texts and allowed for a new understanding of them. A lot has changed in canon law.
The Canon Law Society of America has done a new English translation of the code. After nearly six years of painstaking effort, consultations, and corrections by a special committee, the society published an entirely new English translation of the 1983 code in 1999. This translation greatly improved upon the 1983 CLSA translation, especially in its accuracy and consistency of language and style. The president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops granted a nihil obstat for the new translation in 1997. This new translation, contained herein, forms the basis for the explanations and reflections that make up this new commentary.
The authors have changed. Of the thirty‑six contributors to this commentary, about three‑fourths are different from the authors of the 1985 commentary. All are members of the Canon Law Society of America and all hold doctoral degrees in canon law. Seven are women, three are Europeans, and two are Canadians. They pursued their canonical studies at many different schools, North American as well as European. The commentators bring fresh vision and diverse views based on a wide range of pastoral and academic experiences.
The purpose of this commentary is different. The Canon Law Society's board of governors commissioned this new commentary in April 1996. From the outset its purpose was distinct from that of the commentary published in 1985. Both are basically expository and explanatory, that is, they tell the reader what the Church's official rules are and how they are to be understood and applied. Both view the canons as standing under and subject to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. However, the 1985 commentary focused on the differences between the 1917 and 1983 codes, and how the canons were formed in the long process of revision after the council. This commentary focuses on the lived experience of the canons in use since 1983. It emphasizes the contemporary understanding and applications of the canons based on that experience. The commentators take account of the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the other relevant documents, and the views expressed by other commentators and authors. The contributors present the state of the question on controverted issues and bring their own views to these ongoing debates.
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