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Code of Professional Responsibility

First Adopted October, 1983

The following Code of Professional Responsibility was adopted at the 41st Annual General Meeting of the Canon Law Society of America in October of 1983 for an experimental period of three years. It was revised at the conclusion of that time, and the following revised version was adopted at the 45th Annual General Meeting of the Society in October of 1987.

Prologue: The Canonist in the Contemporary Church
I. The Ideals to Which the Canonist Aspires
II. Duties of the Canonist


Prologue: The Canonist in the Contemporary Church

The Church, the people of God, is a community of persons bound together by faith, hope and charity, equal in dignity and freedom, for whom the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14). As a community, the Church is a public and visible society, serving the world by witnessing the Good News of salvation. Divine in origin and spirit, the Church is also thoroughly human, sinful as well as virtuous. Because love can be illusory without justice, and justice cruel without love, the members of this pilgrim people commit themselves to constant growth in communion through love and justice.

To promote the unity and mission of this people, God gives charisms of service as gifts to the Church. Among these is the charism of the canonical vocation. This charism is to be exercised in mutual collaboration with all members of the Church, including apostolic leadership, so that God's gracious design may be accomplished. Thus canonists, like the law they are skilled in, serve a limited but important function in the Church--to foster and to promote justice and love in the public life of the Church.

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I. The Ideals to Which the Canonist Aspires

A. The Characteristics of the Canonist

  1. Since the legal system of the Church exists within and promotes the pastoral mission of the Church, the canonist is a person firmly committed to Christ and the Church. Through regular prayer, service to the people of God, study and reflection, coupled with openness to the Holy Spirit, canonists strive to deepen their appreciation of the revealed mysteries and transcendent values which are the foundation of the canonist's ministry and to which the canonist gives witness in the public life of the Church. The canonist seeks to grow in Christian virtue so that personal defects may not interfere with the course of justice.
  2. The canonist is marked by a zeal for justice in the Church, aware that while each individual must sacrifice for the common good, true communion is advanced only when the dignity and fundamental rights of each person are held inviolable. The canonist takes as a solemn obligation fidelity to the cause of justice and to the competent fulfillment of one's office, even in the face of misunderstanding or opposition.
  3. As servants of the whole Church, canonists are marked by integrity in the pursuit of justice and the fulfillment of their office, scrupulously avoiding partiality-- except where a canonist has expressly undertaken to act for a party--and heedless of attempts, from whatever source, to influence them improperly. Moreover, because all offices within the Church exist for the sake of faithful service to God's people, no canonist should ever be swayed by self-interest or egotistical ambition.
  4. The canonist is mindful that the integral pursuit of justice must be governed by the spirit of equity. Realizing that the law--a limited human instrument--has no other purpose but to manifest and to serve the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the canonist tempers the rigor of the law according to the demands of that Spirit of love in each situation. Since the laws of the Church are to be interpreted and administered in the spirit of justice and equity, issuing in charity, the canonist strives to be a person of compassion, emotional balance and sound judgment, committed to the pastoral care of the people of God.
  5. Because compassion without competence can be a cruel hoax, the canonist should take most seriously the obligation to acquire and to develop professional competence. Canonists ought to have a substantive background in Sacred Scripture, theology and church history, and be thoroughly knowledgeable in the law, jurisprudence and the social sciences, particularly within their own areas of specialization. Canonists should further the advance of their knowledge and skills through private study, participation in professional programs, and utilization of existing channels of communication. Furthermore, canonists should support and encourage the efforts of their peers in achieving this purpose.
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B. Concerns of the Canonist

  1. In order that members of the Church may be aware of their rights and duties, the canonist has a responsibility to educate and to advise the members of the Church as to the substance and procedures of church law, and should make every reasonable effort to correct misinformation. Their dealings with all members of the Church ought to be marked by honesty, integrity and unselfishness. Should the situation seem to call for it, a contractual arrangement between the canonist and the local Church could clarify rights and expectations.
  2. In order to advance the protection of human and ecclesial rights in the Church, the canonist has a responsibility to assist in and to support the improvement and development of church law and procedure. Hearing the needs and concerns of the Christian faithful, especially within the local church wherein they live and minister, canonists bring their particular expertise as skilled servants to the articulation and protection of the rights of all.
  3. In order to respond more effectively to the above concerns, and to promote the canonist's own professional development, the canonist should be a member of a professional society of canonists and support its corporate efforts whenever occasion and conscience permit.
  4. In order to serve the Christian community most fully, the canonist should cooperate in the pastoral care of persons involved in canonical cases and administrative procedures to the fullest extent consistent with the other provisions of this Code. While the same person should not ordinarily try to serve as pastoral counselor and a canonist in the same matter, the canonist should make known both to pastoral counselors and to concerned parties the pastoral options available under the law in a given case, and should encourage those involved to seek the counselling they need.
  5. Recognizing the import of these aspirations for canonists, we, the Canon Law Society of America, adopt this Code of Professional Responsibility as a guide to ethical judgments, an instrument for individual and mutual professional evaluation, and a standard for accountability of canonists, whether their professional tasks be administrative, executive, judicial or educational.
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II. The Duties Of The Canonist

Canon One: The Scope of This Code

This Code shall apply to all members of the Canon Law Society of America, and is proposed as a guide to canonists who are not members. The duties delineated in this Code are not a complete list of the responsibilities of the canonists. This Code does, however, identify the principal obligations for which the canonist may be held accountable.

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Canon Two: Responsibilities to Represented Parties

The canonist who undertakes to represent or to advise a party is obliged to investigate carefully and to represent and protect with diligence the rights and remedies to which the party is legally entitled. The canonist is further obliged to avoid undue delays, to seek appropriate consultation as needed, and to employ only such means as are consistent with truth and honor. Furthermore, the canonist is to refrain from unduly influencing the party represented to accept a compromise or informal solution in lieu of the enforcement of legal rights. Pastoral sensitivity to the actual situation and the persons concerned is the best guide in delicate matters.

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Canon Three: Responsibilities in the Judicial Process

Canonists who undertake the duties of ecclesiastical judges should uphold the integrity of the judiciary, avoid impropriety and perform the duties of their office impartially and diligently. Canonists charged with rendering a decision or recommendation in a case must do so promptly, in accordance with their best professional judgment of the law and the facts, or, if the matter is committed to the canonist's discretion, in accordance with his or her own prudential judgment of how the matter should be disposed of. The canonist should not be deferred from this duty by any personal, pastoral or other consideration extraneous to the applicable law and facts in the case, or by the influence of any person, even one's religious or canonical superior.

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Canon Four: Confidentiality

The canonist should exercise mature professional judgment with respect to confidentiality, exercising due care that any information obtained in the course of any canonical investigation or proceeding is disclosed only to appropriate persons. When a doubt exists as to whether certain information should be disclosed to a specific person, the canonist ought to engage in appropriate consultation to resolve that doubt before revealing such information. This consultation should include the person who has provided the information in question. Furthermore, canonists are not to reveal anything communicated to them in confidence by persons seeking representation or advice except to the extent necessary to prevent the commission of a crime or serious injustice, or to avoid grave public harm.

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Canon Five: Responsibilities as an Educator

  1. When requested to do so or when representing a party, the canonist has the obligation of advising as fully as possible the interested parties as to their rights and remedies under the law.
  2. The canonist has a continuing duty to advise the ordinary about canonical matters, particularly when the ordinary makes such a request, when the ordinary's action is required, or when the ordinary's view are sought by other authorities in the Church.
  3. When assisted by persons who are not professionally trained canonists, the canonist is responsible for their education and supervision.
  4. The canonist has a duty to advise all engaged in pastoral ministry about canonical matters which protect the rights of persons, and also those concerned with the good order necessary in the administration of the Church, in matters both spiritual and temporal.
  5. Furthermore, canonists have an ongoing obligation to raise the consciousness of others in the Church concerning possible areas of injustice or inequitable practice.
  6. Canonists bear a special responsibility for the education of all the Christian faithful concerning their rights and responsibilities in the life and mission of the Church.
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Canon Six: Evaluative Responsibility

Canonists have a responsibility to cooperate with reasonable requests from appropriate parties to use their professional expertise in the valuation of canonical and quasi-canonical agencies or structures within the Church, as regards either the design or the functioning of these agencies or structures.

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Canon Seven: Responsibilities to the Canonical Profession

In order to promote greater understanding of the developmental character of church law, the canonist should cooperate with professional colleagues by sharing insights and experiential knowledge gained as church lawyers, always safeguarding confidentiality in this process. Active participation in interdisciplinary projects with other professionals is another aspect of this responsibility. The canonist should never refuse to respond to reasonable requests for information or for legal opinions, but should so respond only when informed as fully as possible concerning the pertinent law and the facts of the matter.

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Canon Eight: Evaluation of Compliance with Professional Standards

Canonists should meet regularly with colleagues to evaluate their own performance in regard to the professional standards expressed in this Code of Professional Responsibility, and should periodically seek evaluations from those who have used their services. Since the canonical ministry is an enabling one for the life of the Christian faithful, canonists are responsible to them corporately as well as individually.

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Canon Nine: Enforcement of this Code

  1. Canonists are accountable as regards professional competence performance to their respective ordinaries and to those who share in the ordinary's pastoral ministry within the local church, to their superiors and communities if they are members of a religious institute, to their professional colleagues, and to individuals or groups whom they advise or represent.
  2. Should a complaint be made to the Canon Law Society of America by one of the parties to whom a member-canonist is accountable, that the member-canonist has violated duties enumerated in Part II of this Code, that canonist has the right and the duty to submit to a fair hearing by professional peers.
    1. The three senior consultors of the Canon Law Society of America's Board of Governors shall constitute a standing Committee on Professional Responsibility.
    2. The Board of Governors shall appoint three members of the Society to serve staggered three-year terms as Hearing Officers to deal with complaints arising under this Code. Such service may be renewed by consent of the Board of Governors.
    3. The Board of Governors, by majority vote, shall designate on an ad hoc basis at least three of their number to serve as an Appellate Review Panel in any case where a party seeks review of a determination of the Hearing Officer.
    1. The Functions of the Committee on Professional Responsibility shall be to receive complaints of any party aggrieved with respect to provisions of this Code, to make an initial finding that the complaint is not frivolous, and in the event that a majority of the Committee considers the complaint to be serious in character, to refer the matter to one of the Hearing Officers.
      The Committee on Professional Responsibility may issue advisory opinions on the application of this Code or on other questions concerning the professional responsibility of canonists.
      The Committee may publish to the members of the Society and to other interested persons those opinions and decisions it considers helpful in developing a general understanding of the professional responsibility of canonists. Except where a public reprimand has been ordered, names and identifying circumstances shall be withheld so as to protect privacy and reputations.
    2. The functions of the Hearing Officer shall be to attempt wherever possible informal disposition of the complaint by appropriate means of conciliation and mediation, and in the event that informal resolution of the dispute proves unsuccessful, to gather evidence and to conduct hearings, following standard principles and procedures of due process, and to enter appropriate findings of fact.

    Among the possible options available to the Hearing Officer are the following:
    1. If the Hearing Officer determines that it has not been established by clear and convincing evidence that a canonist has failed to act in accord with the standards of this Code, the Hearing Officer shall issue a statement to that effect to the parties concerned.
    2. If the Hearing Officer determines that it has been established by clear and convincing evidence that a canonist, although acting in good faith, has failed to act in accord with the standards of this Code, the Hearing Officer shall issue a statement to that effect to the parties concerned. The statement shall explain the nature of the violation of this Code. The Hearing Officer may also, in appropriate cases, require the canonist to make good any harm done to individuals, albeit unwittingly, by the violation of this Code.
    3. If the Hearing Officer determines that it has been established beyond a reasonable doubt that a canonist has knowingly and willfully violated this Code of Professional Responsibility, the Hearing Officer shall issue an appropriate reprimand. If the violation is extremely grave, bringing into disrepute the canonical profession, the Hearing Officer may recommend to the Board of Governors a penalty as serious as expulsion from the Society. This penalty shall be imposed only by a majority vote of the Board of Governors.

    The Hearing Officer may also recommend appropriate remedial actions, and the Board of Governors may require the offender to comply with the recommendations under the sanction of possible expulsion, when fundamental rights of persons require this.

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