Canon Lawyers

Is anyone here a Canon Lawyer, and if so would they be willing to share any details of the nature of their work? I.e., how much of their week does it take up, what sort of things do they do, what training did they receive, etc.

I, too, am interested in hearing about this. I also wish to know if any deacons (permanent) can be canon lawyers.

As to the first question, poster Dans0622 is a canon lawyer and is often on the site. You can go here to ask him a question: or here:

As a deacon who is NOT a canon lawyer but has taken canon law classes and works with the tribunal I can tell you that deacons can of course be canon lawyers. The amount of time they would spend on canon law would depend upon whether they were employed as a canon lawyer or merely assigned to a ministry involving canon law.

Yes, deacons can become canonists, as well as laypersons, too.

Laity and deacons can serve as tribunal judges, but the Judicial Vicar (the head judge), must be a priest.

Canonists typically have regular desk jobs, and work almost exclusively on annulments.

There would be very little reason to investigate becoming a canonist if you were not sponsored / employed by the Church, to work for a diocesan tribunal. (The education is too costly and specialized for someone to just pay for it out of pocket, thinking they could get a future job in the Church.)

The closest universities that grant degrees in Canon law are in Toronto, Canada and Washington, DC.

God bless,


I just noticed your message to my profile page. Sorry about the delay.

As noted, canon lawyers work in Tribunals, (on marriage cases, mostly), chanceries (administration of a diocese), schools, or independently.

The nature of my work is, for the most part, processing marriage nullity cases. It’s a regular, “9-5” job. Other than that, I comment here when I want, and have my somewhat active blog. Training–undergraduate degree, master of divinity and license in canon law. A month after getting the license, I got my first job.

Yes, it can be expensive to pay for all the studies required to get the license. Schools in the USA are most expensive. I attended St. Paul’s in Ottawa, Ontario, and was not sponsored by anyone.


Interesting topic… dumb question… to be a Canon Lawyer, do you also have to have attended regular Law School and pass the bar exam? I’m thinking they are two different things, but just curious.


Your thinking is correct. To be admitted to a canon law program, a person does not need any particular education in civil law but does need to be adequately instructed in Catholic history, theology, philosophy, etc.


If you speak Spanish, Mexico City also has university with a canon law program. Also, the Angelicum in Rome has an arrangement (I think) with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for completing part of the canon law program in the USA.

Okay… let me add another stupid question. I know you can get an ecclesiastic bachelors degree in canon law (JCB - Juris Canonici Baccalaureatus). What is the purpose of that degree? In other words would there ever be a reason to get an JCB and not continue on to get a JCL or JCD? (not that I’m planning on dropping everything to go to DC or Ottawa to pursue any of them)


At first, I was going to say this: I know of no office or function mentioned in the 1983 Code which requires only a “JCB.” So, in a sense, there is no reason to get such a degree. At the same time, it could be a good resume enhancer for any number of other positions/offices that do not require a JCL/JCD.

Then, I was going to say: I think you may have to reconsider the very existence of the JCB. I don’t recall ever attaining it on my way to getting the JCL…maybe I did but since it is totally irrelevant, I didn’t pay attention to it. Besides, in the pertinent, governing document, there is no mention of the JCB as there is a Baccalaureate in Philosophy and Theology. See here and compare articles 72, 75-78, 82:

Finally, I did a search and found that my alma mater offers a JCB:

So, there it is.


To follow up on what you said, Dan, I think the only point of having a JCB is for someone who wants a bachelor degree, thinks a JCB is cool, but doesn’t plan on a career in canon law that requires being a canonist because that would require going on for the JCL or JCD. I don’t have a JCB nor do most of the canon lawyers I know. Most of us got our bachelor and master degrees in anything but canon law and then went on to the licentiate in canon law.

Thanks, Dan and SerraSemper. It was the JCB program at St Paul University that made me wonder. I have known people with an STB on the sacred theology side, but not the equivalent in Canon law. I thought it might be like those who want to study civil law from the stand point of theory, but not take the bar and practice. It almost looks like the JCB is a foundation in Canon Law that would have been covered in a JCL, so the JCL just includes cycles 1 and 2 without awarding the JCB (?).

Anyway, thanks for the info. I had just been curious if any of our JCLs had ever ran into an illusive JCB somewhere in their careers?

Sorry, quick follow up.

I know that most modern canonist spend the majority of their careers on annulments, but what did they do 50+ years back when annulments were comparitively rare? Laws particular to marriage are only a small percentage of canon law so are there specialists that deal with cases around clergy, religious, etc?

I guess my question is if a member of the faithful can request adjudication on anything outside of a marriage annulment? For instance if a valid marriage was not recorded by the parish as per can 535§2 could they request the tribunal to intercede on their behalf?

In other words what can a tribunal or the JV do outside of hearing cases of nullity?

Certainly, the activity of tribunals prior to 1970, in the USA, was extremely small in comparison to today. Nevertheless, a diocese would still have needed a certain number of canon lawyers to fulfill the required offices (J.V., other judges, defender, promoter of justice, auditor…). The chancery would still have needed some experts in canon law (perhaps, for example, the appointed Defender of the Bond could have worked at the chancery, too). Due to the light workload, I suppose they also had parochial duties.

As for specialists in cases other than marriage: specialists become so through real-world experience. There certainly are some of those specialists out there, today.

What can a tribunal do? Only the following:

Can. 1400 §1. The object of a trial is:

  1. the pursuit or vindication of the rights of physical or juridic persons, or the declaration of juridic facts;
  1. the imposition or declaration of a penalty for delicts.

§2. Nevertheless, controversies arising from an act of administrative power can be brought only before the superior or an administrative tribunal.

Can. 1401 By proper and exclusive right the Church adjudicates:

  1. cases which regard spiritual matters or those connected to spiritual matters;
  1. the violation of ecclesiastical laws and all those matters in which there is a question of sin, in what pertains to the determination of culpability and the imposition of ecclesiastical penalties.

Your example (recording a marriage) would not seem to fall within the subject matter of a trial. At most, it is an act of administrative power (that doesn’t even seem quite right) and so it’s a problem that should be handled through direct recourse to the pastor’s superior.


Thanks as always, Dan. So in the example of recording (or not recording) a marriage it really would come down to cannon 1400§2. So if the parish and pastor are not willing to take the JV’s pronouncement of the marriages validity, then it should then be a matter for the Bishop as a matter of administration.

I appreciate your help in enlightening those of us who find canon law fascinating.

You’re welcome.

Now, if your hypothetical situation is a couple saying “We were married on such and such a date, at this parish” but the pastor responds with “There is no record of it. I consider you to be in a state of fornication.” Then we are dealing with a matter of declaring a juridic fact–the married state, or not, of the parties. If the people involved could not come to an amicable solution on their own, then the couple could approach a tribunal. The Judge should try to have the people settle the matter outside of court (cf. c. 1446) but if that fails and the couple presents a petition, I think the judge would have to accept it and start the case.

The actual process used would not have to be as lengthy as a marriage nullity case but it would still involve a petition, citation of respondent (the priest), formulation of the doubt, gathering of evidence, and decision. This is the “oral contentious process” (cc. 1656-1670). If it should happen that the judge determines that the couple did, in fact, marry in accord with canonical form at the parish, I contend that he could not order the priest to do anything. The judge would only declare that the couple is presumptively married. They could then go to the bishop and the bishop would have the authority to command that the marriage be properly recorded by the priest.

If, on the other hand, it is a matter of a couple saying “We were married on this date, at this location but there is no record of it” but the priest says “Fine, you’re married. But, I don’t care about the records” then this is (in my opinion) a matter that the judge has no competence over. The couple could not go through the judicial branch. The executive branch of government is competent (the chancery, up to the bishop) to get the records corrected.

I’m starting to long for a non-marital nullity case…


Thanks for your input.

In my case, it’s that my wife and I married before either of use became Catholic. Both parishes say that they accept our marriage, but don’t have to record it because it was not performed in a Catholic Church. While it bothers me, it has only been since discerning for the permanent diaconate that it has become more relevant. As it stands neither my wife or my records include notation of our marriage. The JV had me include additional information showing that we were married before I made a profession of faith and she was baptized. Everyone agrees that the marriage is valid, but none want to correct the records since “it’s not important”. It simply feels unjust to say it’s valid, but not to consider it as relating to our canonical state and therefore worthy of recording. :mad:

Too be honest that is why I’ve never pursued a JCL. While it’s an important function of the Church, I just think I would feel depressed working on things relating to failure of marriage day after day. It’s why I have focused on marriage prep instead. I hope that better marriage prep can help make your case load lighter in the future. I would love to live to see the day that annulments are comparatively rare.

Bless you for taking on this work.

It makes as much sense to not include data of the marriage as it would to not include data regarding baptism. In other words, that makes no sense. “It’s not important”? Then why have it recorded in any circumstance? Canon 535.2 seems quite pertinent here. I don’t understand the resistance to making your records accurate and complete.

In the words of Darth Sidious, “I feel your anger.”


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