Canonical Content of the Proper Law of an Institute

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Prepared by Fr. Jason Gray, June 26, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Fr. Jason Gray
All rights reserved

Other persons are permitted to copy, distribute, or display this work with the following provisions:  Reproduction of this work must contain proper attribution to the author.  No reproduction of this work is allowed for commercial purposes.  This text may not be used to produce a derivative work, whether by altering, transforming, or building on this text.  Other permissions to copy, distribute, display, or reprint this work require the expressed permission of the author.  This document is cited as follows:

Gray, Jason A., Canonical Content of the Proper Law of an Institute; available from http://www.jgray.org/docs/proper_law.html; Internet; accessed 1 January 2006.

              

The proper law of a religious institute is divided between the fundamental code or the constitution which contains the constitutive law of the institute and the other norms that are collected in the statutes or directory of the institute.  Both of these collections of norms are governed by the Code of Canon Law.  An institute should carefully attend to the provisions in the code when composing or reviewing its proper law.

The parts of the code that make reference to the proper law of an institute have been collected in the following list.  This list will be helpful to insure that an institute addresses comprehensively those areas which the code defers to the proper law.

In reviewing this list, it is important to recall that an item that the code refers to in the "constitution" must be included in the constitution or fundamental code of the institute.  However, an item that the code refers to in the "proper law" may be included either in the constitution or in the statutes or directory of the institute.  When an institute considers placing a law in its constitution or its statutes, care should be taken because items placed in the constitution are considered more fundamental and therefore more difficult to change, while items placed in the statutes or directory are less fundamental and are more easily subject to change.

The code gives proper law the option of creating law to govern certain matters.  These canons are marked as "optional" since the provisions included do not need to be included in proper law.

Finally, there are many aspects of religious life that proper law will address in addition to those provisions listed below.  Within the provisions of the code, proper law can promulgate laws that stricter than the code or that regulate areas beyond those addressed in the code.  Each institute will want to tailor its proper law according to the nature and the needs of its observance of consecrated life.

Items to include in the Constitution of the Institute
Items to include in the Proper Law,
whether in the Constitution or in the Statutes or Directory
General Content of Proper Law
  • Define rules in observance of the patrimony of the institute composed of the mind and designs of the founders regarding the nature, purpose, spirit and character of the institute in keeping with sound traditions (c. 578, 587 §1).
  • Define fundamental norms regarding governance of the institute, discipline of members, incorporation and formation of members and the proper object of the sacred bonds (c. 587 §1).
  • Combine spiritual and juridic elements joined together, but without multiplying norms unnecessarily (c. 587 §3).
  • Define other norms established by competent authority which can be reviewed and adapted according to the needs of place and time (c. 587 §4).
  • Optional:  Identify the institute as clerical or lay (c. 588), as an institute of pontifical or diocesan right (c. 589).
  • Optional:  Identify the institute as exempt from local governance if this is the case (c. 591).
Rule of Life
  • Express the supreme rule of life by which members follow Christ (c. 662). The proper law should:
  • Define the vows or sacred bonds by which the members profess the evangelical counsels (c. 573 §2).
  • Define how members must arrange their life within the institute and thereby strive for perfection in their state (c. 598 §2).
 
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Observance of the Vows or Bonds
  • Define the manner in which the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience must be observed (cc. 598 §1, 599, 600, 601).
  • Define the manner in which superiors command members under obedience (c. 601).
  • Determine how poverty is observed in the dependence and limitation of a member in the use and disposition of goods (c. 600).
  • Determine the pronouncement of public vows whether perpetual or temporary and the period of time of temporary vows (c. 607 §2).
Approval of Proper Law
  • Be approved and altered only by competent authority:  either the Holy See for institutes of pontifical right or the diocesan bishop for institutes of diocesan right (cc. 587 §2, 593, 594, 595 §1).
  • Optional:  Determine who (in addition to the diocesan bishop) may dispense from the constitution in particular cases (c. 595 §2).
  • Identify those things approved by the Apostolic See that cannot be changed without its approval (cc. 583, 595 §1).
 
Parts of the Institute
  • Determine the competent authority to divide an institute into parts, erect new parts, join those erected or to redefine their boundaries (c. 581), as well as the competent authority to suppress parts of an institute (c. 585).  This includes the authority to erect and suppress a province (c. 621).
  • Optional:  Note that the suppression of an institute pertains to the Apostolic See (c. 584).
 
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
House
  • Define the authority competent to erect a house of the institute with the consent of the diocesan bishop (c. 609 §1).
  • Optional:  Note that a novitiate house can only be established by a supreme moderator (c. 647 §1).
  • Optional:  Exclude the capacity for a legitimately erected house to acquire, possess, administer and alienate temporal goods (c. 634 §1).
  • Determine the manner in which a supreme moderator suppresses a legitimately erected house (c. 616 §1), but not the only house of an institute (c. 616 §2).
  • Determine the provision of the goods of a suppressed house (c. 616 §1).
Autonomous House
  • Optional:  Determine that a religious house of canons regular or of monks under the governance and care of its own moderator is not autonomous (c. 613 §1).
  • Optional:  Determine that the suppression of an autonomous house belongs to an authority other than the general chapter (c. 616 §3).
  • Optional:  Determine the provision of the goods of a suppressed autonomous monastery of nuns (c. 616 §4).
 
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Relationship between Institutes
  • Optional:  Determine the spiritual bond or affiliation between institutes by aggregation, who may petition on behalf of the aggregated institute and who may grant the petition on behalf of the aggregating institute (c. 580).
  • Optional:  Define the relationship between a monastery of nuns which is associated to an institute of men including the mutual rights and obligations (c. 614).
  • Optional:  If an institute belongs to a federation or confederation, define the relationship with the federation or confederation and the powers recognized by the head of the federation or confederation (cc. 582, 620).
 
Superiors of the Institute
  • Define the power that superiors and chapters possess over members (c. 596 §1).
  • Determine the manner in which a supreme moderator exercises power over the provinces, houses and members of an institute (c. 622).
  • Define the function of superiors and exercise of power by superiors (c. 617, 622).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Eligibility for Election as a Superior
  • Define the time required in perpetual profession before eligible to be elected as a major superior (c. 623). But the proper law should:
  • Define the time required in perpetual profession before eligible to be elected as a superior (c. 623).
 
Election of a Superior
  • Determine the norms for the canonical election of the supreme moderator (c. 625 §1).
  • Determine the manner of election or appointment of other superiors (c. 625 §3).
  • Determine the norms to be observed by superiors in the conferral of offices and by members in elections (c. 626).
Term of Office of a Superior
 
  • Determine the length of a term of office for a superior and the maximum time a superior may serve in office without interruption (c. 624 §2). But the constitution should:
  • Optional:  Define exceptions to terms for supreme moderators and superiors of an autonomous house (c. 624 §1).
Removal and Transfer of a Superior
 
  • Define the reasons for which a superior can be removed from office during their function or be transferred to another office (c. 624 §3).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Councils of Superiors
  • Determine the council for each superior (c. 627 §1).
  • Optional:  If the supreme moderator’s council is less than four members, provision should be made for additional members to assist the supreme moderator in the dismissal of a member (c. 699 §1).
  • Determine the cases in which the superior must have the consent or counsel of the council in order to act validly (c. 627 §2).
  • Optional:  Determine another manner of convoking the council other than according to canon 166 when their counsel is required (c. 127 §1).
Responsibilities of Superiors
 
  • Determine the manner and times in which a superior visits the houses and members entrusted to them (c. 628 §1).
  • Define when a superior may be absent from their house (c. 629).
  • Determine the manner by which superiors provide for suitable confessors for the members of the institute (c. 630 §2).
Chapters
  • Determine the manner by which the general chapter exercises supreme authority within the institute.  In particular, to define how the general chapter protects the (spiritual) patrimony of the institute, promotes suitable renewal according to that patrimony, elects the supreme moderator, treats affairs of greater importance, and issues norms which all are bound to obey (c. 631 §1).
  • Determine the composition and extent of the power of a general chapter (c. 631 §2).
  • Determine the order to be observed in the celebration of a general chapter, especially regarding elections and affairs (c. 631 §2).
  • Determine the manner by which a province, local community or individual member is allowed to freely send wishes and suggestions to a general chapter (c. 631 §3).
  • Determine what pertains to other chapters and assemblies, including their nature, authority, composition, way of proceeding and time of celebration (c. 632).
  • Determine the responsibilities of any organs of participation or consultation (c. 633 §1).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Administration of Goods
 
  • Define additional norms concerning the use and administration of goods, by which poverty proper to the institute is to be fostered, protected, and expressed (c. 635 §2).
  • Determine the manner of selecting the finance officer of an institute or province governed by a major superior.  The finance officer manages the administration of goods under the direction of the respective superior (c. 636 §1).
  • Determine the time and manner for a finance officer and other administrators to render account to competent authority (c. 636 §2).
  • Determine acts of extraordinary administration and the requirements for their valid execution (c. 638 §1).
  • Determine the persons, in addition to superiors, who may incur expenses and perform juridic acts of ordinary administration within the limits of their function (c. 638 §2).
Admission of New Members
 
  • Determine what qualities are required of a candidate who seeks admission into an institute (c. 597 §1).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Novitiate
  • Optional:  Define one or more periods of apostolic exercise to be spent outside the community during the novitiate (c. 648 §2).
  • Determine the norms that govern the admission of a candidate to the novitiate by a major superior (c. 641).
  • Optional:  Determine additional impediments or conditions, even for validity, for admission to the novitiate (c. 643 §2).
  • Optional:  Determine the requirement of additional proofs regarding the suitability of a candidate for the novitiate (c. 645 §3).
  • Define the program of formation for novices (c. 650 §1).
  • Optional:  Note that the novitiate is to last between one and two years (c. 648).
  • Determine the norms governing the extension of the novitiate by a major superior, but not beyond six months (c. 653 §2).
Profession
 
  • Determine the length of temporary profession, between three and six years (c. 655).
  • Determine the norms governing the extension of temporary profession by a competent superior, but not beyond a total of nine years (c. 657 §2).
  • Optional:  Define additional impediments for validity of perpetual profession (c. 658).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Residence and Cloister
 
  • Determine the manner in which members live in a legitimately established house under the authority of a superior (c. 608).
  • Determine the cloister to be observed in the house (c. 667 §1). The constitution should:
  • For monasteries of nuns entirely ordered to the contemplative life, determine the cloister, following the norms given by the Apostolic See (c. 667 §3).
Rights and Obligations of Members
  • Define those things that are necessary to achieve the purpose of the vocation of a member.  These things must be supplied by the institute (c. 670).
  • Define the program of formation of all members (c. 659 §2).
  • Determine the manner in which the liturgy of the hours is celebrated (c. 663 §3).
  • Determine the habit of the institute (c. 669 §1).
  • Optional:  Determine the norms that govern the right of a member to join an association of the faithful with the consent of the superior (c. 307 §3).
Items in the Constitution
Items in the Proper Law
Disposition of Goods of Members
  • Optional:  Determine any exceptions to the obligation of making an act of cession before first profession (c. 668 §1).
  • Determine the manner in which a member changes his or her act of cession with the permission of the competent superior (c. 668 §2).
  • Optional:  Determine any exceptions to the rule that goods which accrue to a member by way of pension, subsidy, or insurance are acquired by the institute (c. 668 §3).
  • Determine the manner by which a member makes an act of renunciation with the permission of the supreme moderator (c. 668 §4).
  • Determine the disposition of goods that accrue to a member who has made an act of renunciation (c. 668 §5).
Transfer and Dismissal
 
  • Determine any requirements for a religious to transfer from one autonomous monastery to another of the same federation or confederation beyond the permission of the respective major superiors (c. 684 §3).
  • Determine the time and manner of probation which precedes the profession of a member who transfers into the institute (c. 684 §4).
  • Determine grave causes that can give cause for the dismissal of a perpetually professed member (c. 696 §1).
  • Determine causes of lesser gravity that can give cause for the dismissal of a temporarily professed member (c. 696 §2).