From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Region’s Church law specialists gather in Spokane

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the May 24, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Ask a Catholic about canon law and the response is likely to be something along the lines of “Uh, does that have something to do with the church?”

Canon law is the code by which the church is governed. Many – if not most – Catholics are not aware of its inner workings. However, a group of hard-working individuals “dedicated to the promotion of the study and application of canon law in the Roman Catholic Church” met in Spokane recently.

Forty canon lawyers and personnel from chanceries and tribunals gathered April 26-28 at the West Coast River Inn in Spokane for the annual regional meeting of the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA). Those attending were from every diocese in Region XII – Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Two canonists from Calgary, Alberta, also attended.

Father Kevin McKenna of the Diocese of Rochester and vice-president of the CLSA, informed participants of recent activity of the Society and encouraged interest in membership and participation in the national convention in Albuquerque, N.M., in October.

Father Mark Pautler, Judicial Vicar of Spokane, hosted the convention with help from Father Michael Ibach and tribunal personnel from the Yakima Diocese.

Father Robert Kennedy of the Archdiocese of New York, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, addressed the convention on the subject of “Juridic Persons.” This is the generic term used by canon law to identify certain ecclesiastical entities – e.g., a diocese, a parish, a religious institute – whose existence and mission will continue for long periods of time. Canon law determines which of these entities are established by the law itself, and how other “juridic persons are created by ecclesiastical authority.

The convention’s other presenter was Michael Geraghty, a local civil attorney who represents the Spokane Diocese. He spoke on the civil statute of “corporation sole” under which the Diocese of Spokane and many other dioceses are civilly incorporated.

Father Pautler said Bishop Skylstad attended Father Kennedy’s presentation on April 24. Msgr. John Steiner, Vicar General of the Spokane Diocese, was celebrant for the convention’s liturgy at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes April 25.

Father Kennedy had studied in Rome 40 years ago with Father Charles Skok of this diocese and the two men renewed their friendship during the convention.

The Church’s first Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1917. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Code was “thoroughly revised.” Pope John Paul II promulgated the revised code in 1983. The CLSA published an English translation of the new code in 1983. “Translations of the 1917 code were not permitted,” said Father Pautler. A revised translation was made available in 1999.

Father Pautler explained that “from earliest times, the church was organized through acts of legislation that have come through bishops and church councils. It follows an extensive legal tradition from both the Old Testament and the New.”

Next year the regional convention will be held in Yakima.


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