THE NEW CODE of Canon Law may be issued on November 28, the first Sunday of Advent, a Church law professor from Rome said recently.
The professor, Jesuit Father Francesco Urrutia of Rome's pontifical Gregorian University, said that Pope John Paul is meeting with six canonists twice a week until October to study and approve the new law code for possible promulgation at the beginning of the Church's liturgical year.
When the revised code is enacted it will be the first complete new codification of the general law governing the Western church since 1917.
At a meeting at St Charles
Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, United States, which drew more than 30 canon lawyers from diocesan offices in the Middle Atlantic area, Fr Urrutia concurred with three other Jesuits from the Gregorian faculty in noting that those who are looking for dramatic changes in the new code will be disappointed.
The other three, also teaching in the study week, were Fr Urbano Navarette, rector of the Gregorian, Fr Jean Beyer, dean of the university's canon law faculty, and Fr Ignazio Gordon Cuvillo, a canon law professor. All three also hold posts with the Apostolic Signatura, the Church's supreme court.
While many laws of the new code are vastly different from the 1917 code, the new law will not make many significant changes in current church practice.
The reason is that most of the changes have already taken place. The chief purpose of the new code is not to break new ground in law but to integrate into a single new code of general law the many changes by individual decree, declaration, constitution or other official church document over the years since 1917, particularly in the 20 years since the Second Vatican Council was Fr Urrutia noted that the new code is briefer, with 1,776 canons in contrast to the 2,414 of the old code, and that it is less detailed, more clearly pastoral in spirit, and more based on theology "with a clear effort at decentralization."
The musch discussed "lex fundamentalis" or "constitutional law" of the church — originally planned as a separate statement of basic principles governing church law, will not be promulgated, Fr Urrutia said. Instead, features of it are to be incorporated directly into the new code itself.
Ten guiding principles for the new code, he said, were outlined by the 1967 World Synod of Bishops. The synod directed that the revised code should be juridical in character, not just a set of broad moral principles; primarily 'intended for the external forum (determinable fact, as opposed to the internal forum or private conscience); clearly pastoral in spirit; incorporating most of the faculties bishops need in their work; reflective of subsidiarity or decentralization; sensitive to human rights; with clear procedures for administrative processes and tribunals; based on the principle of territoriality; with penalties reduced; and with a new structure for the code.
Fr Navarette stressed the longterm influence that the new spirit of the law will have on Church life. For example, le said, lay people will have a greater sense of participation in a Church community whose law speaks of them as brothers and sisters, rather than as subjects.
Reflections in the law on marriage as a communion of life, he said, should help make marriage partners more aware of their responsibility ' for each other.
Fr Urrutia emphasized that the impact of the new code will depend on the clergy. "If the clergy dismiss it, it will probably be because they do not know it," he said.