The Catholic University of America

School of Canon Law

Officers of Instruction


Rev. Robert Kaslyn, S.J., J.C.D.

Dean and O’Brien Professor of Canon Law

Rev. John P. Beal, J.C.D.


Rev. John J.M. Foster, J.C.D.

Assistant Professor

Rev. Msgr. Thomas J. Green, J.C.D.

Stephan Kuttner Professor of Canon Law

Kurt Martens, J.C.D.

Associate Professor

Sister Rose McDermott,

S.S.J., J.C.D.

Associate Professor

Kenneth J. Pennington, Ph.D.

Kelly-Quinn Professor of Ecclesiastical and Legal History

Rev. Sean Sheridan, T.O.R.; J.D., J.C.D.

Assistant Professor

Rev. John E. Lynch, C.S.P., Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Rev. Ladislas M. Orsy, S.J., J.C.D.

Professor Emeritus

Rev. Msgr. Brian E. Ferme, J.C.D.

Quondam Dean, 2003-2007

Rev. Msgr. Ronny Jenkins, J.C.D.

Adjunct Associate Professor

Rev. Robert T. Kennedy, J.U.D.

Retired, Distinguished Lecturer

Rev. Msgr. J. James Cuneo, J.C.D.



Prof. Sarah Duggin

Professor, Columbus School of Law; Lecturer

Chorbishop John Faris

Adjunct Professor of Eastern Catholic Law

Rev. Msgr. Patrick Lagges


Rev. Robert Oliver


Rev. Msgr. Roch Pagé, J.C.D.


Prof. Mark Rienzi

Assistant Professor, Columbus School of Law; Lecturer

Sister Patricia Smith




Graduate study in canon law has been part of the plan for The Catholic University of America since its inception in 1887. Instruction in canon law actually began in 1891 with the appointment of Sebastian Messner, later archbishop of Milwaukee, to the Myles O'Connor Chair of Canon Law. In 1923, canon law was separated from the School of Theology and erected as a school in its own right. In 1976, the School of Canon Law was integrated as a department into the new School of Religious Studies. In 2002, canon law was re-established as an independent school within the university. The School of Canon Law remains the only graduate program in canon law in the United States.


The School of Canon Law's ecclesiastical faculty prepares students for licentiate and doctorate degrees authorized by the Apostolic See. The school is a community of students, faculty and staff working together for the purpose of the study of canon law in service to the Catholic Church, with particular attention to the needs and opportunities of the Church in the United States.

The purpose of instruction in this school is to familiarize students with the body of law of the Catholic Church, its development, interpretation and application.

The courses are planned to prepare for the professional practice of canon law in diocesan and religious administration, ecclesiastical tribunals, the teaching of canon law, and for scientific and canonical research.

In accord with this purpose, the canonical degrees, Licentiate in Canon Law, J.C.L., and Doctorate in Canon Law, J.C.D., are awarded.

The primary focus of courses offered in the school is the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983. Attention is also given, as appropriate, to the Code of Canons in Eastern Churches, promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. A proper understanding and implementation of the provisions of the current law of the Church require not only acquired skill in the technicalities of legal interpretation, but also a broad grasp of the historical, theological and sociological factors which have contributed to its development and a sensitivity to the law's pastoral application. Proper service to the Church as a canonist also requires skill in evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the law in order to contribute to its ongoing development.

In keeping with the Declaration on Christian Education (n. 11) of the Second Vatican Council, the curriculum affords clergy, religious, and lay persons a thorough, contemporary, scholarly, pastoral preparation for service to the Church in positions of canonical responsibility.

The personal guidance of the faculty is directed at every level of instruction and inquiry to the practical needs of canonists at the present time, as well as to thesis and dissertational work that will acquaint and equip students with the applied methods of canonical research and writing needed by both practitioners and scholars.


All applicants should submit an application form with the required application fee no later than one month prior to the beginning of the academic term. Online application may be obtained at  Part-time students and those desiring to audit courses should consult the dean of the school.

February 1st is the Priority deadline for scholarship consideration for all applications to the JCL and JCD degree programs.

Admission to study is open to properly qualified persons who meet the following requirements: A master’s degree or its equivalent, superior achievement, and ability to pursue graduate studies. The ability to pursue graduate studies will be evaluated on the basis of the following information, which should be submitted by the applicant together with his or her application:

Applications must include:

1. Official transcripts of undergraduate studies and any post-graduate studies.

2. Two or more letters of recommendation from officials or faculty members of institutions previously attended.

3. A letter of support from a bishop or religious superior (for clerical or religious candidates).

4. A personal statement addressing motivations and goals for joining the program.

5. Official GRE test scores (information can be found online at

6. Writing sample (Licentiate program only: paper, homily or article—does not need to be more than two pages).


Doctoral Students (in addition to the above)

7. Submission of a formal letter of application to the dean of the school stating why the student wishes to pursue doctoral studies.

8. One copy of the student’s licentiate thesis.


“First Cycle” refers to the preparatory theological and philosophical course work necessary to begin the study of canon law proper. 

“Second cycle” refers to the six semesters in which students study the Code and upon the successful completion of which leads to the conferral of the Licentiate in Canon Law. 

“Third cycle” refers to the further juridical formation, the writing of the doctoral dissertation and upon successful completion of which leads to the conferral of the doctor of canon law degree

First [Preparatory] Cycle

The study of canon law requires an adequate understanding of the church, its life and ministry. A preliminary background, evidenced by a master's degree in theology or its equivalent, such as the completion of the philosophical and theological program required for priestly ordination, is required before being admitted to the regular licentiate program. For persons who do not yet have this background, the School of Canon Law, in conjunction with the School of Theology and Religious Studies, offers the First Cycle.

For those who have no previous training in philosophy or theology, the First Cycle lasts for four semesters or two years. The following disciplines are obligatory:

  1. Elements of philosophy: philosophical anthropology, metaphysics, ethics.
  2. Elements of theology: an introduction to Sacred Scripture; fundamental theology; the transmission and credibility of divine revelation; Trinitarian theology; Christology; divine grace; in a special way, Ecclesiology; general and special sacramental theology; fundamental and special moral theology.
  3. Fundamental institutes of canon law.
  4. Latin

The First Cycle does not itself result in a degree, but qualifies a student to enter the Second Cycle or regular J.C.L. degree seeking program.

Graduate credits from other universities or theologates in the above areas of study and related areas may be transferred with the approval of the Dean.

If the requirements of the First Cycle have been satisfied, an applicant may be admitted directly to the Second Cycle. In individual cases, minor deficiencies may be supplied during the regular course of studies in the Second Cycle.



The purpose of the six-semester or three-year licentiate program is to help the student become acquainted with the whole corpus of church law, understand it in terms of its theological, philosophical, and historical background, and learn the method and practice of scientific research. The level of research for the licentiate is that expected of professional canonists, specifically the exacting investigation of canonical questions encountered in curial, tribunal, and similar practice, and the articulation of one's findings in written opinions and briefs.

Dual-Degree Program

In conjunction with the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, the School of Canon Law offers a dual-degree program for students who qualify for admission to the canon law program and to the law school program. The dual-degree program makes it possible to earn a J.D. degree in American law and a J.C.L. degree in canon law. Requirements of the respective degree programs must be met, but some courses in the law program are accepted as electives for canon law, and some canon law courses are accepted as law electives. For more information, contact the dean of the School of Canon Law.


The Second Cycle lasts for a maximum of three years or six semesters, which fulfill the residence requirements for the licentiate. The actual time necessary to complete the requirements of the degree program will, of course, vary from student to student. Continuous enrollment is required unless an authorized academic leave of absence has been granted.

Students may choose to complete the program in two years, i.e., six consecutive semesters (fall, spring, and summer), or in three years, excluding summer semesters.  The JCL may also be earned through our Summer Program.

The Summer Program requires students to be in residence during the summer for the months of June and July.  In addition, students must complete one course online during each of the intervening fall and spring semesters.  Necessary accommodations in students’ schedule must be made at home during the fall and spring semesters to view online classes weekly and complete class requirements on time. 

Language Requirements

Canon Law is an international law. The official texts of the law and of many documents with canonical importance are in Latin. Other texts appear from time to time in various modern languages. Many of the significant commentaries on the law, and studies about canon law topics, appear in languages other than English.

In order to understand this law more accurately, to interpret and apply it more fully, and to instruct others more effectively as to its meaning and proper application, it is important to have access to more than the limited amount available in English translations or studies concerning canon law. The development of an ability to use canonical Latin or the canonical literature in a modern language is an integral dimension of formation as a canon lawyer and subsequent professional work.

The following policy of the School of Canon Law is designed to facilitate this formation within the licentiate program in canon law:

  1. Students are to demonstrate an ability to use canonical literature in Latin and in one of the following modern languages: French, German, Italian, or Spanish in the following manner:
    1. satisfactory completion of a written examination in French, German, Italian, or Spanish, administered by the School of Canon Law;
    2. satisfactory completion of a credit course in canonical Latin offered by the School of Canon Law during the regular academic year.
  2. The purpose for the examination is to demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the material to be able to use it reliably in addressing a canonical issue. The material of the examination will usually be taken from a commentary on the code or from an article or monograph dealing with some aspect of the current law of the church.  You must provide your own dictionary for the examination.
  3. The emphasis in the examination is on your comprehension of the material. The examination is on a pass/fail basis. If you fail to pass, the language examination may be retaken. No grade is reported on your permanent record, only the report that the language requirement has been satisfied.


The course of studies is divided into six semesters (A-B-C-D-E-F). Semester A is a prerequisite for the other semesters. These courses include required courses and various elective courses offered in the School of Canon Law or in other schools of the university.

The course of studies normally is as follows:

Semester A

CL 701

History of Canon Law

CL 711

General Norms I

CL 721

Structures of the Particular Church

CL 734

Juridical Structure of Marriage


Latin I

Semester B

CL 712

General Norms II

CL 715

Elements of American Law

CL 720

Ordained Ministry

CL 731

Sacramental Law


Latin II

Semester C

CL 724

Consecrated Life

CL 741

Procedural Law

CL 726

Lay Ministry

CL 751



Latin III

Semester D

CL 716

Religious Liberty

CL 750

Teaching Office

CL 771

Eastern Law



Semester E

CL 744

Temporal Goods

CL 728

Supra-Diocesan Structures

CL 739

Matrimonial Jurisprudence

CL 746

Protection of Rights


Latin III

Semester F

CL 727

Philosophy and the Theology of Law

CL 760

Roman Law









In the third year of the Second Cycle, or its equivalent, the student is to write a thesis that investigates a minor but significant problem. It must demonstrate the student's familiarity with basic methods and techniques of research, technical mastery of a limited subject matter, and ability to exercise sound canonical judgment and formulate accurate conclusions.

Comprehensive Examination

Besides the regular course examinations or equivalent tests in the various disciplines, at the end of the Second Cycle there is a comprehensive oral examination whereby the student is expected to demonstrate mastery of the whole corpus of Church law. A student who twice fails the comprehensive examination is no longer eligible to receive the licentiate.


Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD) Third Cycle

Admission: [please see application section above]

For admission to candidacy for the doctorate, the student must have successfully received the licentiate degree and demonstrated superior academic ability as demonstrated by achievement of an overall A- average in the various components of the licentiate program (i.e., coursework, thesis, comprehensive examination) taken in the aggregate. However, within this overall average, the grade for the thesis must be at least A-.

Before a formal submission of the proposal for the doctoral dissertation, a candidate must demonstrate a fluency in canonical Latin and pass proficiency examinations in two modern languages (Italian, Spanish, German, French) administered by the School of Canon Law.


The residency requirement for the Third Cycle is at minimum one year or two academic semesters. The actual time necessary to complete the requirements of the degree program usually extends to three or four semesters, chiefly dependent on the time needed to complete the dissertation (below).

Continuous enrollment is required unless an authorized academic leave of absence is granted for very serious reasons; such a leave cannot be longer than a maximum of four semesters.


Upon admission to the doctoral program, and in each subsequent semester, including the semesters which follow admission to candidacy, the student must register for dissertation guidance.  In addition, during residency, the student must complete four courses or seminars, determined in consultation with the Dean and/or Faculty Director and which includes the Seminar in Sources (CL 702).


The candidate must submit a written dissertation to the faculty, reflecting a level of research expected of Ph.D. candidates. The candidate must defend the dissertation in a public examination on the dissertation and on 10 theses closely related to it or subjects of special study. If the dissertation is approved, the specified number of printed copies must be deposited in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies.

Courses Offered

Please consult the registrar's Web site at for descriptions of courses offered in the current semester.


Course Title


History of Canon Law


Seminar in Sources


General Norms


General Norms II


American Law for Canonists


Religious Liberty


Selected Issues in Canon and Civil Law


Constitutional Law of the Church


The Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law


Ordained Ministry


Structures of the Particular Church


Administration in the Diocesan Curia




Selected Issues in Particular Church


Law for Consecrated Life


Selected Issues in Consecrated Life


Special Issues in Lay Ministry


Philosophy and the Theology of Law


Supradiocesan Structures of the Church


Liturgical Law


Liturgical Law: Selected Issues


Sacramental Law: Selected Issues in Discipline of Church's Sanctifying Office


The Sanctifying Office: Parts II and III


Juridical Structure: Sacrament of Matrimony


Selected Issues in Marriage


Matrimonial Jurisprudence


Selected Issues in Matrimonial Jurisprudence


Procedural Law


Selected Tribunal Issues


Temporal Goods


Due Process, Hierarchical Recourse and Human Rights.


Protection of Rights in Administrative Life of the Church


Selected Issues in the Law on Clergy


Teaching Office of the Church




Selected Issues in Chancery Practice


Special Procedures Grave Delicts


Roman Law


Survey of Eastern Canon Law


Ecumenism and Canon Law


Contemporary Ecclesiastical Latin Usage


Latin for Canonists I


Latin for Canonists II


Latin for Canonists III


Seminar in Canonical Studies




Readings in General Norms


Readings in Clergy, Laity, Ministry


Readings in Church Structures


Readings in Religious Law


Readings in the Church's Office of Teaching


Readings in the Church's Office of Sanctifying


Readings in the Church's Office of Governance


Readings in the Law on Temporal Goods


Readings in the Law on Penalties


Readings in Procedural Law


Licentiate Thesis Guidance


Doctoral Dissertation Guidance