Canon Law Society of America

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Canon Law Society of America

The Canon Law Society of America is a non-profit research association of canon lawyers that helps the Roman Catholic Church to address contemporary issues and internal conflicts within the framework of the church's system of Canon Law. The society drafts opinions on topics at the request of bishops and other persons within the church.

Canon law is the set of rules a church or religion establishes for itself in order to make administrative and ecclesiastical (religious) decisions. The Roman Catholic Church has an elaborate body of canon law that has been evolving since the fourth century and which has played a historical role in the development of public law.

The Canon Law Society of America helps Catholic decision makers, especially bishops and tribunal judges, to evaluate and set policy. The church's tribunal courts were the model for secular court systems and operate similarly. Tribunal judges decide cases such as marriage annulments based on the facts of each case. When a tribunal judge wants more information before ruling on an unusual or difficult case the judge may request research or an Advisory Opinion from the Canon Law Society.

The society's written opinions are advisory only and carry no authority in the church. However, the society's position has influenced the church's stand on such controversial topics as whether females may serve as altar attendants (now they may). Other issues addressed by the society in the 1990s include questions about the scope of ordained ministers' duties, the role of lay ministers, and how Mass should be celebrated.

Another activity of the society is to promote the use of codes of canon law issued by the Vatican (the seat of Roman Catholic administration) in 1983 and 1990.

Periodicals produced by the society include the Canon Law Digest; Proceedings, which recaps the society's annual meeting; and Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions, which tracks tribunal case law. The society also has published studies on marriage annulment, confidentiality, and due process for persons in the church, a procedural handbook for the clergy, and other materials.

Established in 1939 and based at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., the society is supported by annual membership dues. In 1995, it consisted of 1,550 members internationally. Membership is open to non-Catholics. Institutions and interested individuals may join as associate members.

Further readings

Canon Law Society of America. Available online at <> (Accessed November 20, 2003).

Green, Thomas J. 1993. "The Canon Law Society of America and the Revision of the Code: Historical Reflections and Continuing Concerns." The Jurist 53 (winter).

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