Second Vatican Council reminds us that among the principal
duties of Bishops "the preaching of the Gospel occupies an eminent
place" (Lumen Gentium, 25). This is in keeping with the mission
given by the Lord to teach all nations and to preach the Gospel to every
creature (cf. Mt28:19).
The social communications media surely have to be counted among
the most effective instruments available today for spreading the message of the
Gospel. Not only does the Church claim the right to use them (cf. can. 747);
she also encourages Bishops to take advantage of them in fulfilling their
mission (cf. can. 822, §1 ).
The decree of the Second Vatican Council, Inter Mirifica,
and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications' pastoral instructions, Communio
et Progressio and Aetatis Novae, have already given full treatment to
the importance of the social communications media and their place in light of
the Church's mission to evangelize. Mention likewise should be made of the "Guide
to the Training of Future Priests concerning the Instruments of Social
Communication" issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education.
The new Code of Canon Law also deals with the instruments of
social communication (can. 822-832) and entrusts their care and
supervision to the Bishops. Religious superiors, especially major superiors,
also have specific responsibilities in this regard by virtue of their
The difficulties encountered for various reasons by those who
are called to the care and supervision of the media are well known. Still,
erroneous ideas are becoming ever more widespread due to the social
communications media in general and the publication of books in particular. With
the publication of its Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the
theologian on May 24, 1990, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
offered from the doctrinal perspective an outline of the responsibilities
Bishops have with regard to the authentic magisterium. In accordance with its
mission to promote and defend the Church's teaching on faith and morals, this
same Congregation has judged it good to issue the present Instruction, which has
been prepared in agreement with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated
Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and after due consultation with the
Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
The Instruction sets forth the pertinent legislation of the
Church in an organic fashion. Its aim is to give encouragement and help to the
Bishops in the fulfilment of their obligations (cf. can. 34) by calling
to mind the norms of canon law, explaining their various provisions, and
defining and making explicit the processes by which they are implemented.
The norms of canon law guarantee the freedom of all: whether it
be the individual Christian faithful who have a right to receive the Gospel
message in all its integrity and purity or those engaged in pastoral work,
theologians, and all Catholics engaged in journalism who have the right to
communicate their thought while maintaining the integrity of the faith and the
Church's teaching on morals and due respect for the Bishops. By the same token,
civil laws regarding the dissemination of information should protect and foster
the right of all who use the social communications media to a truthful
presentation of the facts. They likewise assure journalists in general of the
right to communicate their thought within the limits of a professional code of
ethics which also has concern for the way in which religious topics are handled.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is aware of the
difficult conditions under which theologians, those engaged in pastoral work,
Catholic journalists, and journalists in general must labour in the fulfilment
of their tasks. Thus it feels it right here to express a particular word of
esteem and appreciation to them for the contribution they make with their
efforts in this field.
BISHOPS' RESPONSIBILITIES IN GENERAL
1. The responsibility of instructing the faithful
1. Bishops, in as much as they are authentic teachers of
the faith (cf. can. 375 and 753), must take care to instruct the faithful
concerning the right and duty they have to:
a) "work so that the divine message of salvation may
increasingly reach the whole of humankind in every age and in every land" (can.
b) make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and
their desires to the pastors of the Church (cf. can. 212, §2 );
c) manifest to the pastors their opinion on matters which
pertain to the good of the Church (cf. can. 212, §3 );
d) make their own opinion as to what pertains to the good
of the Church known to others of the Christian faithful "with due regard
for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors and
with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons" (can.
2. The faithful are also to be instructed in their duty
a) "maintain always, even in their own patterns of
activity, communion with the Church" (can. 209, §1 ; cf. can. 205);
b) "follow by Christian obedience what the sacred
pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or
determine as leaders of the Church" (can. 212, §1 );
c) observe due respect for the magisterium of the Church
if they are engaged in the sacred disciplines even while they enjoy a lawful
freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in
which they have expertise (cf. can. 218);
d) cooperate so that the use of the instruments of social
communication is animated with a human and Christian spirit (cf. can. 822,§2
) in such a way that "the Church effectively fulfils her responsibility
through such instruments" (can. 822, §3).
2. Responsibilities regarding written works and the use of
the media of social communication
In the context of their duty to watch over the deposit of faith
and preserve it intact(cf. can. 386 and 747, §1) and to satisfy the
faithful's right to guidance in the way of sound doctrine (cf. can. 213 and
317), the Bishops also have the right and duty to:
a) "be vigilant lest harm be done to the faith or
morals of the Christian faithful through writings or the use of the instruments
of social communication" (can. 823, §1);
b) "demand that writings to be published by the
Christian faithful which touch upon faith or morals be submitted to their
judgement" (can. 823, §1);
c) "denounce writings which harm correct faith or
good morals" (can. 823, §1);
d) apply, as the case requires, those administrative and
penal sanctions provided for in the Church's law to those who by infringement of
the canonical norms abuse their proper office, constitute a danger to
ecclesiastical communion, or do harm to the faith and morals of the faithful (cf.
can. 805; 810, §1; 194, §1, n. 2; 1369; 1371, 1; 1389).
3. The obligation to take action with the proper means
The moral and juridical instruments provided for by the Church
are placed at the disposal of the Bishops for the safeguarding of faith and
morals. Only if the Church's pastors were to fail in their obligations could
they neglect these instruments when the good of souls calls for and recommends
them. Bishops should maintain continual contact with the cultural and
theological world of their respective dioceses. In this way, any difficulties
arising may be quickly resolved through a fraternal dialogue which provides the
interested parties with an opportunity to make the needed clarifications. In
following the procedures of canon law, disciplinary measures would be the last
means to be applied (cf. can. 1341), although it should not be forgotten
that for the sake of good order in the Church the application of penalties
proves necessary in certain cases (cf. can. 1317).
4. Particular responsibilities of Diocesan Bishops
With due respect for the competence of the Holy See (cf.
Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, art. 48, 50-52) and that of Episcopal
Conferences and Particular Councils (cf. can. 823, §2), Bishops, in as
much as they are pastors and the ones primarily responsible for correct teaching
about faith and morals (cf. can. 386; 392; 753; and 756, §2), should
make timely if prudent exercise of their right and duty of vigilance within
their own diocese and proper jurisdiction. In fulfilling his responsibility, the
Bishop will also call the matter, when necessary, to the attention of the
Episcopal Conference or Particular Councils or to the Holy See itself through
the competent dicastery (cf. can. 823, §2).
5. The assistance of Doctrinal Commissions
§ 1. Doctrinal commissions, whether on the diocesan or
Episcopal Conference level, should be a great help to Bishops. The work of such
commissions should be followed and encouraged because of the invaluable aid
which they can offer the Bishops in the fulfilment of their teaching mission (cf.
the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed to the
presidents of all the Episcopal Conferences on November 23, 1990).
§ 2. The collaboration of people and institutions, such
as seminaries, universities, and ecclesiastical faculties, should also be
sought. When they have the required competence in their disciplines and are
faithful to the Church's teaching, these too can make a contribution to the
Bishops in the fulfilment of their duties.
6. Communion with the Holy See
Bishops should maintain contact with the dicasteries of the
Roman Curia and in particular with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith (cf. can. 360; Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, art. 48-55). To the
doctrinal Congregation should be referred those questions exceeding the Bishops'
competence (cf. Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, art. 13 ) or which for any
reason indicate the appropriateness of action by or consultation with the Holy
See. The Bishops should also convey to the Congregation all that has doctrinal
relevance to the question, whether this be seen in a positive or negative light,
along with their suggestions as to possible courses of action.
APPROVAL OR PERMISSION
FOR VARIOUS KINDS OF
7. The requirement of approval or permission
§1. Either approval or permission is required by the
Code for certain kinds of publications.
a) In particular, prior approval is needed for the
publication of books of the Sacred Scriptures and translations of them into the
vernacular languages (cf. can. 825, §1), for catechisms and other
writings dealing with catechetical formation (cf. can. 775, §2; 827, §1),
for textbooks dealing with those disciplines that touch on faith or morals and
on which instruction is based in elementary, middle, and also higher schools (cf.
can. 827, §2).
b) Prior permission is required, on the other hand, for
the Christian faithful to prepare and publish translations of the Sacred
Scriptures in collaboration with separated brothers and sisters (cf. can.
825, §2), for prayer books intended for public or private use (cf. can.
826, §3), for new editions of collections of decrees or acts issued by
ecclesiastical authority (cf. can. 828), for what is written by clerics
and members of religious institutes for newspapers, magazines, or periodicals
which are accustomed to attack openly the Catholic religion or good morals (cf.
can. 831, §1), for the publication of writings by members of religious
institutes which deal with questions of religion or morals (cf. can. 832).
§2. Eccesiastical approval or permission presupposes
that the censor or censors, if more than one is considered appropriate (cf.
can. 830), found nothing objectionable; it guarantees that the writing in
question contains nothing contrary to the Church's authentic magisterium on
faith or morals; and it attests that all the pertinent prescriptions of canon
law have been fulfilled. It is appropriate, then, that in the act of granting
the approval or permission itself explicit reference be made to the relative
8. Writings for which it is appropriate that the Local
Ordinary give his judgement
§1. The Code recommends that books which deal with
matters of Sacred Scripture, theology, canon law, church history, or religious
or moral disciplines be submitted to the judgement of the local Ordinary even if
they are not employed as textbooks for teaching; the same is true for writings
in which something is found of special concern to religion or to good moral
behaviour (cf. can. 827, §3).
§2. The diocesan Bishop, by virtue of his right to guard
faith and morals in their integrity, could, if there were particular specific
reasons, even require by an individual precept (cf. can. 49) that such
writings be submitted to his judgement. In fact, can. 823, §1 accords Bishops
the right to "demand that writings to be published by the Christian
faithful which touch upon faith or morals be submitted to their judgement."
No limitation is placed on this right save one of a general order, so that
"the integrity of the truths of the faith and morals be preserved."
Such a precept could be imposed with regard to particular cases involving either
individual persons or categories of persons (clerics, members of religious
institutes, Catholic publishing houses, etc.) or with regard to specific subject
§3. In cases like these, ecclesiastical permission also
carries the sense of an official declaration guaranteeing that the writing in
question contains nothing contrary to the integrity of faith and morals.
§4. If a writing contained opinions or questions which
are specialized or in the domain of a particular expertise and when it could
cause scandal or confusion only in certain places or among certain people and
not elsewhere, permission might be granted under specific conditions which would
affect the way it is to be published or the language but which, in any case,
would make it possible to avoid the dangers involved.
9. Extending approval or permission
The approval or permission to publish some work applies only to
the original text; this cannot be extended to new editions or translations of
the same work (cf. can. 829). A simple reprinting of a work is not
considered to be a new edition.
10. The right to approval or permission
§1. Ecclesiastical permission constitutes both a
juridical and a moral guarantee for the authors, the publishers and the readers.
Thus, whether permission is required or only recommended, when a person requests
it, he has a right to receive an answer from the competent authority.
§2. The examination preceding the granting of permission
calls for the greatest of care and seriousness with consideration given both to
the rights of the authors (cf. can. 218) and those of all the faithful (cf.
can. 213, 217).
§3. When permission or approval is denied,
administrative recourse in accordance with can. 1732-1739 can be had to the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the dicastery competent for
such questions (cf. Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, 48).
11. The competent authority for granting approval or
§1. According to the norm of can. 824, the competent
authority for granting approval or permission is either the proper local
Ordinary of the author or the Ordinary of the place in which the work is to be
§2. If permission is denied by one local Ordinary,
recourse may be had to the other competent Ordinary. There is the obligation,
nonetheless, to make the fact of the prior refusal of permission known. The
second Ordinary is not to grant permission without having learned from the first
Ordinary his reasons for denying it (cf. can. 65, §1).
12. The procedure to be followed
§1. Before giving permission, the Ordinary should submit
the writing in question to the judgement of people he holds as reliable. It may
be that he chooses them from a list compiled by the Episcopal Conference or he
may consult the commission of censors, if one has been established in accordance
with the norm of can. 830, §1. In giving his judgement, the censor should
follow the criteria given in can. 830, §2.
§2. The censor should give his judgement in writing. If
the judgement is favourable, the Ordinary should give the permission in his own
name, detailing the date and place it was granted. If he were to judge, however,
that granting permission is not opportune, he should communicate the reasons for
this to the author (cf. can. 830, §3).
§3. Relations with authors should always be carried on
in a constructive spirit of respectful dialogue and eclesial communion so that
ways may be found to ensure that nothing contrary to the Church's doctrine comes
to be published.
§4. Information concerning the granting of permission
should be printed in a place readily noted in the books which are published.
Thus, it is not sufficient to use the formula "with ecclesiastical
approval" or something similar; the name of the Ordinary who gives his
permission as well as the date and place in which it was given ought to appear
in print (cf. the authentic interpretation of can. 830, §3: AAS 79 ,
13. Permission to write for the various communications media
The local Ordinary should give careful consideration whether and
in what circumstances permission might be granted to clerics or religious to
write for newspapers, magazines or periodicals which are accustomed to attack
openly the Catholic religion or good morals (cf. can. 831, §1).
THE APOSTOLATE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITHFUL
IN THE PUBLISHING FIELD
AND IN PARTICULAR CATHOLIC PUBLISHING HOUSES
14. The commitment and cooperation of all
The Christian faithful who are employed in the publishing trade,
which here includes the sale and distribution of written works, have, in
accordance with their specific tasks, a proper and particular responsibility for
the promotion of sound doctrine and good morals. They are not only bound,
therefore, to avoid cooperating in the distribution of works contrary to faith
and morals but they should make positive efforts towards the dissemination of
written works which contribute to the human and Christian welfare of their
readers (cf. can. 822, par§2-3).
15. Publishing houses under the sponsorship of Catholic
§1. Publishing concerns sponsored by Catholic
institutions (dioceses, religious institutes, Catholic associations, etc.) have
a particular responsibility in this area. In consideration of the special link
they have with ecclesiastical authority, their activities should be conducted in
harmony with the Church's doctrine, in communion with her Bishops, and in
conformity with her laws. Catholic publishers are not to issue works which do
not have the prescribed ecclesiastical permission.
§2. Publishing houses sponsored by Catholic institutions
ought to be an object of particular concern for local Ordinaries so that their
publications always conform to Church teaching and make an effective
contribution to the good of souls.
§3. Bishops have an obligation to prevent the sale and
display in their churches of publications which deal with questions of religion
or morals and have not received the permission or approval of Church authority
(cf. can. 827, §4).
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RELIGIOUS SUPERIORS
16. General principles
§1. Religious superiors cannot be considered authentic
teachers of the faith in a proper sense and they are not, strictly speaking,
pastors. They do, however, possess a power which comes from God through the
ministry of the Church (cf. can. 618).
§2. Apostolic action on the part of religious institutes
is to be exercised in the name and by the mandate of the Church and should be
carried out in communion with her (cf. can. 675, §3). The prescription
of can. 209, §1 on the obligation which all the Christian faithful have always
to maintain communion with the Church in their patterns of activity has
particular application in the case of religious. Can. 590 gives a reminder to
institutes of consecrated life regarding their special subjection to the supreme
authority of the Church and the bond of obedience which binds their individual
members to the Roman Pontiff.
§3. Along with the local Ordinary, religious superiors
have the responsibility of granting permission for the publication of writings
dealing with questions of religion or morals by members of their institutes (cf.
can. 824 e 832).
§4. All superiors, especially those who are Ordinaries (cf.
can. 134, §1), are obliged to take care that within their institutes
ecclesiastical discipline is followed also as regards the instruments of social
communication. If abuses emerge, they are to insist upon its application.
§5. Religious superiors, especially those whose
institutes are dedicated precisely to the apostolate of the press and the social
communications media, should see to it that their members faithfully follow the
pertinent norms of canon law. They should give special attention to publishing
houses, book stores, etc. associated with the institute, to encourage their
being faithful and effective vehicles for the Church and her magisterium.
§6. Religious superiors should cooperate with diocesan
Bishops (cf. can. 678, §3); it may be that such cooperation is even
formalized through written agreements (cf. can. 681, par§1-2).
17. Permission of the religious superior
§1. The religious superior, who in accordance with can.
832 is competent to grant his own religious members permission to publish
writings dealing with questions of religion or morals, should not proceed to do
so until he has the prior judgement of at least one censor he considers reliable
and is satisfied that the work does not contain anything which might be harmful
to the doctrine of the faith or morals.
§2. The superior can require that his permission precede
that of the local Ordinary and that explicit mention of the fact be made in the
§3. This permission can be given in a general fashion
when it is a question of an ongoing collaboration in the publication of
§4. It is particularly important that in this area too
there be good cooperation between local Ordinaries and religious superiors (cf.
can. 678, §3).
18. Religious publishing houses
What has been said in general about publishing houses sponsored
by Catholic institutions is applicable in the case of publishing houses
sponsored by religious institutes. Their publishing efforts should always be
looked upon as apostolic works which are to be pursued by mandate of the Church
and carried out in communion with her, in fidelity to the proper charism of the
institute, and in obedience to the diocesan Bishop (cf. can. 678, §1).
This Instruction was adopted at an ordinary meeting of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was approved at an audience
granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John
Paul II, who ordered its publication.
Given in Rome, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, March