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Pope Pius XII reforms of Eastern Canon Law

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Pius XII reforms of Eastern Canon Law describes several reforms of the Codex Iuris Canonici(CIC) Orientalis, applying mainly to the Oriental Churches united with the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican policy in this area had always two objectives, the pastoral care of approximately ten million Christians united with Rome and the creation of positive ecumenical signals to the two-hundred and fifty million Orthodox Christians outside the Church of Rome.

Reforms of Canon Law

With his concern for the United Oriental Churches with its ten million members, Pope Pius continued the initiatives of his predecessors, especially Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI. These churches, not unlike the Latin rite churches before 1917, had their own ancient laws, which were not codified. The reform of Oriental Church laws, the CIC Orientalis for the Oriental Churches, was completed during the pontificate of Pius XII. The new, very comprehensive Church laws define Marriage laws, Church trials, the administration of properties of Religious institutes and Churches, and individual rights. Marital regulations,[1] Church trials,[2] administration of Church properties and religious orders[3] and individual rights.[4]

New Oriental dioceses in the West

After World War II , a new situation developed, as millions of United Christians from Eastern Europe, emigrated to the Western hemisphere: USA, Western Europe, Canada, South America, the Middle East and Australia. The new Church law was welcomed, yet in some points, it was critiqued, for not fully adopting to these new Western circumstances. Traditional Orientals insisted on legal exemptions, allowing them to keep most of the ancient customs and laws.[5] Pastorally, the Pope tried to meet this challenge, by creating independent new oriental dioceses in Canada, Brazil, Iraq, France and the USA. They were legally independent from the jurisdiction of Roman Catholic bishops in these regions.

Decentralization from Rome

Decentralized authority and increased the independence of the United Churches were aimed at in the Corpis Iuris Canonici (CIC) reform. In its new constitutions, Eastern Patriarchs were made almost independent from Rome (CIC Orientalis, 1957) These reforms and writings of Pope Pius XII were intended to establish Eastern Orientals as equal parts of the mystical body of Christ, as pronounced in the encyclical Mystici Corporis.[6]


Several encyclicals addressed non-legal issues of the Oriental Churches. Orientalis Ecclesiae was issued in 1944 on the 15th centenary of the death of Cyril of Alexandria, a saint common to Orthodox and Latin Churches. Pius XII asks for prayer for better understanding and unification of the Churches. Orientales Omnes, issued in 1945 on the 350th aniversay of the reunion, is a call to continued unity of the Ruthenian Church, threatened in its very existence by the authorities of the Soviet Union. The persecutions of the Church and a foreseeable schism are specifically mentioned and deplored. Sempiternus Rex was issued in 1951 on the 15th anniversary of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. It included a call to oriental communities adhering to monophysitism to return to the Catholic Church. Orientales Ecclesias was issued in 1952 and addressed to the Oriental Churches, protesting the continued Stalinist persecution of the Church in all Eastern Nations and the Balkans, asking for prayers. Several Apostolic Letters were sent to the bishops in the East. On May 13, 1956, Pope Pius addressed all bishops of the Eastern Rite. Mary, the mother of God was the subject of encyclical letters to the people of Russia in Fulgens Corona and a papal letter to the people of Russia.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13]

Later developments

These individual Canon Law reforms of Pope Pius XII were revised in 1991. Pope John XXIII had ordered a general revision of the Church's canon law of 1917 , as a result of which a complete Code for members of the Eastern Catholic Churches came into effect on 1 October 1991.[14]


  1. AAS 1949, 89-119
  2. AAS1950 5-120
  3. AAS 1952 65-120
  4. AAS 1957, 433-603
  5. Herder Korrespondenz Orbis Catholicus, (HK) 13, 84
  6. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi on the Vatican website
  7. Orientalis Ecclesiae AAS 1944, 129
  8. Orientales Omnes, AAS 1946, 33-63
  9. Sempiternus Rex AAS 1951, 625-644
  10. Orientales Ecclesiae. AAS 1953, 5-15.
  11. Apostolic Letters to the bishops in the East. AAS 1956, 260-264
  12. Fulgens Corona AAS 1953, 577-593
  13. Papal letter to the People of Russia AAS 1952, 505-511
  14. (Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones of 18 October 1990)by John Paul II.


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