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Authentic interpretation

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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.[1] Any of these legislators can issue authentic interpretations of their laws[2] and their predecessor's laws.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

Legislators also can entrust the power to authentically interpret their laws to someone else.[6] 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.[7] The following table contains the authentic interpretations issued by that dicastery.

Table of authentic interpretations

Latin Canon(s) Publication Summary
Can. 87, §1 AAS, v. 77 (1985), p. 771 Diocesan bishop cannot dispense from canonical form for the marriage of two Catholics.
Can. 119, 1º AAS, v. 82 (1990), p. 845 Relative majority suffices on the third scrutiny.
Can. 127, §1 AAS, v. 77 (1985), p. 771 Superior does not have the right of voting, unless it is an existing custom in the community.
Can. 230, §2 AAS, v. 86 (1994), p. 541-542 Both lay men and women can serve at the altar.
Cann. 346, §1 and 402, §1 AAS, v. 83 (1991), p. 1093 Bishops emeriti may be elected to the Synod of Bishops.
Cann. 434 and 452 AAS, v. 81 (1989), p. 388 Auxiliary bishops cannot fill office of president of an episcopal conference.
Can. 455, §1 (also cann. 31-33) AAS, v. 77 (1985), p. 771 "General decrees" includes general executory decrees.
Can. 502, §1 AAS, v. 76 (1984), p. 746-747 Consultor continues in office even when no longer a member of presbyteral council.

Consultors need not be replaced unless the minimum required number is lacking.

Can. 509, §1 AAS, v. 81 (1989), p. 991 It is not required to select the president of a chapter of canons by election.
Can. 684, §3 AAS, v. 79 (1987), p. 1249 "Religious" includes religious in temporary vows.
Can. 700 AAS, v. 78 (1986), p. 1323-1324 Religious to be notified of dismissal after confirmation by Holy See.

Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes to receive suspensive recourse against dismissal.

Cann. 705-707 AAS, v. 78 (1986), p. 1323-1324 A religious bishop does not enjoy active and passive voice in his own institute.
Cann. 705-707 AAS, v. 80 (1988), p. 1818-1819 Religious appointed judges of the Roman Rota are not exempt from the religious Ordinary.
Can. 767, §1 AAS, v. 79 (1987), p. 1249 Diocesan bishop cannot dispense from the prescription that the homily is reserved to priests or deacons.
Can. 830, §3 AAS, v. 79 (1987), p. 1249 Imprimaturs must indicate the name of the Ordinary giving his permission, and where and when the permission was given.
Can. 910, §2 (also can. 230, §3) AAS, v. 80 (1988), p. 1373 Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion cannot exercise their function when ordinary ministers (who are not impeded from distributing the Eucharist) are present in the church, even though not celebrating the Mass.
Can. 917 AAS, v. 76 (1984), p. 746-747 A person may receive Holy Communion on the same day only twice, outside of the danger of death.
Can. 951, §1 AAS, v. 79 (1987), p. 1132 Mass offerings for multiple celebrations on the same day are to be sent to the proper Ordinary of the celebrant.
Can. 964, §2 AAS, v. 90 (1998), p. 711[8] A priest may choose to hear confession in a confessional with a fixed grille.
Can. 1103 AAS, v. 79 (1987), p. 1132 Force and fear invalidate the matrimonial consent of non-Catholics as well.
Can. 1263 AAS, v. 81 (1989), p. 991 External schools of religious institutes of pontifical right are not subject to taxation by diocesan bishop.
Can. 1367[9] AAS, v. 91 (1999), p. 918 "Desecration" includes any voluntary and gravely comptemptuous action towards the Eucharistic species.
Can. 1398 AAS, v. 80 (1988), p. 1818-1819 "Abortion" includes the killing of a fetus in any way whatsoever, at any time from the moment of conception onwards.
Cann. 1522 and 1525 AAS, v. 78 (1986), p. 1324 Can reintroduce a case in another tribunal after instance is finished through peremption or renunciation.
Can. 1673, 3º AAS, v. 78 (1986), p. 1323-1324 The judicial vicar of the interdiocesan tribunal of the respondent cannot give the consent required for hearing a nullity case in the diocese of the plaintiff.
Can. 1686 (also cann. 1066-1067) AAS, v. 76 (1984), p. 746-747 The pre-nuptial investigation suffices to determine the invalidity of a prior marriage due to lack of canonical form; a declaration of nullity via the documentary process is not required.
Can. 1737 (also can. 299, §3) AAS, v. 80 (1988), p. 1818 A non-juridical group with a grievance must take hierarchical recourse as individuals.


  1. 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).
  2. Codex Iuris Canonici [CIC] canon 16 § 1; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium [CCEO] canon 1498.
  3. The Canon Law Letter and Spirit ¶ 46, at 15 (Rev. Augustine Mendonça, JCD).
  4. CIC canon 16 § 3; CCEO canon 1498 § 3.
  5. 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.").
  6. CIC canon 16 § 1; CCEO canon 1498 § 1.
  7. John Paul II, ap. con. Pastor Bonus art. 155, 80 Acta Apostolicae Sedis 841 (1988).
  8. Caparros, et al., p. 1629
  9. Caparros, et al., p. 1633


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