Instruction in Canon Law

One of the most important documents to come out of the Holy See this summer is an Instruction on the merger or suppression of parishes.  It is named Instruction on “The Pastoral Conversion of the Parish Community in the Service of the Evangelizing Mission of the Church”.  It was issued by the Congregation for the Clergy on July 20, 2020.

 Let’s start with the term Instruction.  In Canon Law processes, like marriage annulments or penal trials, the case is instructed, as in instruct as a verb.  It means the taking of evidence in the case.  The actual gathering of evidence is the instruction of the case.

When you switch that around and have Instruction as a noun, you are talking about guidelines for interpreting canon law.  Those are covered in the Code of Canon Law, in canon 34 of Book 1 on General Norms.  Instructions are meant to clarify the law and determine an approach to be followed in implementing the law.  Instructions are given for the use of a person whose concern it is to see that the laws are implemented and/or used. 

Persons who have executive power to issue such Instructions can only do it in their field of power.  An Instruction does not change the law or contradict the law.  If it seems to, the law wins.  Again, Canon 34 is three short paragraphs on Instruction in the Code,  and a quick read. 

This summer’s Instruction on parishes is twenty-three pages long.  It covers a lot of ground and yet doesn’t really say a lot.  The fact it is an Instruction, a document with no force or implications for not being followed, pretty much highlights that it is not necessarily the first document on your In Pile, that you need to read.  If you are one of the many hurt and confused parish members who have seen their parish life turned upside down though, this is important reading. 

So that’s Monday’s lesson in Canon Law.  Tomorrow in “Tuesday’s Issue”, I will deal with this Instruction on parishes.  Stay safe and if you know someone who is interested in this topic, let them know.  We can all meet up here in our next blog entry.

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