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Women in Canon Law

Women in Canon Law

Canon Law on Woman


With the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici – CIC) in 1983, women and men are recognized as members of the Christian faithful, baptized in Jesus Christ, incorporated into the church from which flow duties and rights in accord to their condition (canon 96). In virtue of baptism, each faithful shares in the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry of Christ (canon 204).

Women are either members of the laity (canon 207, 1) or of the consecrated life (canon 207, 2). Women enjoy equality with men in determination of domicile (canon 104), in changing rite at the time of marriage (canon 112, 1b), in establishing associations of the faithful (canon 299, 1) or in joining them (canon 298) as well as in choosing a place of Christian burial (canon 1177).

Teaching Function

In certain cases canon 766 permits lay persons, both men and women, to preach in a church or oratory without prejudice to the prescriptions for the homily in canon 767, 1.

In case sacred ministers are unavailable, lay people, women included, can supply certain of their functions. For example they can exercise the ministry of the Word, preside over liturgical prayers, confer baptisms and distribute Holy Communion in accord with canon 230, 3.

Canon 830, 1 includes the laity among the censors chosen by the local ordinary for judging books.

Sanctifying function

Canon 861, 2 allows in the absence of an ordinary minister any lay person with the right intention to lawfully confer baptism.

In accord with canon 230, 2 a lay person can receive a temporary deputation as lector in liturgical functions. Likewise, a lay person can be active in the liturgy as commentator and cantor.

In 1992, the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts permitted female altar servers. In a letter dated April 12, 1994 from the Congregation of Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments advised presidents of Episcopal conferences that each ordinary would make a prudential judgment on the matter in his own diocese.

In accord with canons 230, 3; 910, 2 a lay person can be committed as extraordinary minister of Holy Communion.

In the absence of priests and deacons, the local ordinary can even delegate lay persons to assist at marriages if such an option is granted by the Holy See (see canon 1112).

Women who are appropriately equipped may with the permission of their bishop administer certain sacramentals (see canon 1168).

Governing function

Lay persons who are suited can be admitted to certain ecclesiastical offices (see canon 228, 1). Lay persons with the proper education can be part of councils as experts and/or advisors in lieu of canon 228, 2.

Lay persons may exercise the office of chancellor or vice chancellor in the diocesan curia (canon 482). Likewise, lay persons may serve as diocesan notaries (canons 482, 3; 483,1). A lay person with at least a licentiate in canon law can be appointed as a judge in a collegiate tribunal (canon 1421, 2, 3). Lay persons can also serve as auditors (canon 1428, 1, 2), as ponens or relator (canon 1429), as promoter of justice (canon 1430) or defender of the bond (canon 1432).

Furthermore, lay persons can be appointed to parish councils (canon 536,1), to the parish finance committee (canon 537) and, due to the shortage of priests, a local ordinary can appoint lay persons as public juridical persons subject to him (canon 1279,2).

Finally, lay persons may also be designated to represent the Apostolic See as a delegate or observer at international councils, conferences or meetings (canon 363,2).

Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches

The common law for the Eastern Churches likewise reflects conciliar and postconciliar teachings on the equality and dignity of persons.

With a few exceptions, women share an equal juridical status with laymen.

Although a wife is free to transfer to the church of her husband at their marriage celebration there is no mention whether or not the husband could do likewise (canon 33).

In contrast to the Latin code, the Eastern code recognizes abduction or detention of a person (man or woman) by another for the purpose of marriage as an invalidating impediment to marriage (canon 806).

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