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72 Jurist 605 (2012)
Classifying Authentic Interpretations of Canon Law

handle is hein.journals/juristcu72 and id is 617 raw text is: THE JURIST 72(2012) 605-640

Classifying Authentic
Interpretations of Canon Law
The canonical system recognizes several modes of interpretation of canon
law. These are interpretations made by private persons (authors, practi-
tioners, and others); the public ecclesiastical administration (church offi-
cials) by means of an administrative act; and judges in a judicial sentence (c.
16, §3). In addition, there is a special form of interpretation that officially
and authoritatively resolves the meaning of a doubtful law. This is called
authentic interpretation and may only be made by the legislator or one to
whom he has entrusted the power to interpret the law authentically (c. 16
§ i). The focus of this study is authentic interpretation given in the form of
law (per modum legis), in particular, how to determine whether these inter-
pretations should be classified as declarative, explanatory, extensive, or re-
strictive (c. 16 §2). This is not just an interesting intellectual exercise, but it
has an important consequence for church practice. If an interpretation is
merely declarative, it is retroactive, and in some cases its classification as
declarative may have consequences for judging the validity or invalidity
of acts (including marriages) which had been placed prior to the authentic
Since the 1983 code took effect, twenty-nine authentic interpretations
on various canons have been promulgated. Two decades ago, Lawrence
Wrenn authored a small but enduringly influential book, Authentic Interpre-
tations on the 1983 Code, in which he categorizes the twenty-five authentic in-
terpretations promulgated between 1984 and 1991.' After briefly analyzing
* Professor, Faculty of Canon Law, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Canada.
i. Washington: Canon Law Society of America, 1993. Two of these interpretations were
issued at the same time and on the same canon (c. 700). Wrenn treats these two together.

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