Authentic interpretation

Authentic interpretation

An authentic interpretation is an official interpretation of a statute issued by the statute's legislator. In civil law and canon law, an authentic interpretation has the force of law.

Roman Catholic Church

Besides the Pope, who has plenary legislative power, there are several other legislative authorities in the Roman Catholic Church with varying degrees of authority. Primary examples are diocesan bishops and their equivalents, episcopal conferences, and particular councils. [Canon L. Socy. Gr. Brit. & Ir., "The Canon Law Letter and Spirit: A Practical Guide to the Code of Canon Law" ¶ 46, at 15, 15 n. 2 (Gerard Sheehy et al. eds., Liturgical Press 1995).] Any of these legislators can issue authentic interpretations of their laws [Codex Iuris Canonici [CIC] canon 16 § 1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium [CCEO] canon 1498.] and their predecessor's laws. ["The Canon Law Letter and Spirit" ¶ 46, at 15 (Rev. Augustine Mendonça, JCD).] These authentic interpretations trump even administrative decisions of ordinaries and judgments of ecclesiastical courts, for neither of those acts have the force of law like an authentic interpretation. [CIC canon 16 § 3; CCEO canon 1498 § 3.] The effect of an authentic interpretation depends on the extent of the interpretation:

An authentic interpretation which is presented by way of a law has the same force as the law itself, and must be promulgated. If it simply declares the words which are certain in themselves, it has retroactive force. If it restricts or extends a law or explains a doubtful one, it is not retroactive. [CIC canon 16 § 2, "translated in" "The Canon Law Letter and Spirit" 16 ("Interpretatio authentica per modum legis exhibita eandem vim habet ac lex ipsa et promulgari debet; si verba legis in se certa declaret tantum, valet retrorsum; si legem coarctet vel extendataut dubiam explicet, non retrotrahitur.").]

Legislators also can entrust the power to authentically interpret their laws to someone else. [CIC canon 16 § 1; CCEO canon 1498 § 1.] For the Code of Canon Law, the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, and other Papal laws, the Pope has delegated the authority to issue authentic interpretations to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. [John Paul II, ap. con. "Pastor Bonus" art. 155, 80 Acta Apostolicae Sedis 841 (1988).] The following table contains the authentic interpretations issued by that dicastery.

Table of authentic interpretations



* "New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law", ed. by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, and Thomas J. Green, Paulist Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8091-0502-1 (hardback). ISBN 978-0-8091-4066-4 (paperback, 2002).
* "Code of Canon Law Annotated", second English edition, ed. by Ernest Caparros, Michel Thériault, and Jean Thorn, 2004. ISBN 978-2-89127-629-0 (Wilson & Lafleur). ISBN 978-1-890177-44-7 (Midwest Theological Forum).
* "Authentic Interpretations on the 1983 Code", by Lawrence G. Wrenn, Canon Law Society of America, 1993. ISBN 978-0-943616-61-2.

External links

* [ 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Rite (CIC)]
* [ 1990 Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Rites (CCEO)]
* [ Apostolic Constitution "Pastor Bonus"] , June 28, 1988, by Pope John Paul II
* [ "Interpretationes Authenticae"] , Latin text of authentic interpretations through 1998, on Vatican website
* [ English translation of authentic interpretations] , from a 2000 canon law course at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio

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