Regulations for Doctrinal Examination
The following is the English text of a new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It contains the current norms for dealing with theological dissent by theologians in the Church. The text is intact, although footnotes are not included.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Art. 1. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the function of promoting and safeguarding doctrine on faith and morals throughout the Catholic world. In accomplishing this purpose, it renders a service to the truth, by protecting the right of the People of God to receive the Gospel message in its purity and entirety. Therefore, in order that faith and morals not be harmed by errors however disseminated, it also has the duty of examining writings and opinions which appear contrary to correct faith or dangerous.
Art. 2. This fundamental pastoral responsibility concerns all pastors of the Church, who have the duty and the right to exercise vigilance, whether individually or gathered in particular Councils or Episcopal Conferences, in order that the faith and morals of the members of the faithful entrusted to their care not suffer harm. To this end, they can also be served by Doctrinal Commissions, institutionalized consultative bodies which assist Episcopal Conferences and individual Bishops in their solicitude for the doctrine of the faith. The principle remains, however, that the Holy See can always intervene and, as a rule, does so when the influence of a publication exceeds the boundaries of an individual Episcopal Conference, or when the danger to the faith is particularly grave. In such cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith uses the following procedures:
I. Preliminary Examination
Art. 3. The indicated writings or teachings, in whatever way they are disseminated, are given attention by the competent Office, which submits them to the examination of the Congresso [the weekly meeting of the Superiors and Officials of the Congregation]. After a preliminary evaluation of the gravity of the question, the Congresso decides whether or not to undertake a study by the Office.
II. Office Study
Art. 4. Once the authenticity of the writings has been verified, it is carefully examined with the collaboration of one or more Consultors or other experts in the particular area.
Art. 5. The outcome of this examination is then presented to the Congresso, which decides whether this is sufficient for an intervention with the local authorities, or whether the examination needs to proceed further by one of two established procedures: ordinary examination or examination in cases of urgency.
Art. 6. Should the Congresso judge that the study undertaken was sufficient, it can entrust the case directly to the author’s Ordinary and, through him, bring the doctrinal problems presented in the text to the author’s attention. In such a case, the Ordinary is invited to deepen the study of the question and ask the author to provide the needed clarifications for submission to the judgment of the Congregation.
III. Ordinary Procedure for Examination
Art. 8. An ordinary examination is used when a writing appears to contain grave doctrinal error, the identification of which requires attentive discernment, and the possible negative influence on the faithful does not seem to involve particular urgency. The examination is structured in two phases: an internal phase of preliminary investigation undertaken within the Congregation and an external phase involving the presentation of objections to the author and subsequent dialogue.
Art. 9. The Congresso designates two or more experts who examine the text in question, give their opinions, and evaluate whether it is in conformity with the doctrine of the Church.
Art. 10. The same Congresso appoints a relator pro auctore, who has the task of illustrating, in a spirit of truth, the positive aspects of the teaching and the merits of the author, of cooperating in the authentic interpretation of his thought within the overall theological context, and of expressing a judgment regarding the influence of the author’s opinions. For this purpose, the relator pro auctore has the right to examine all the acts relative to the case.
Art. 11. The Office Report, which contains all the information relevant to the examination of the case (including the antecedent elements), the opinions of the experts and the presentation of the relator pro auctore, is distributed to those who will take part in the Consultation.
Art. 12. The experts who had submitted opinions on the text can also be invited to participate in the Consultation– in addition to the Consultors themselves, the relator pro auctore and the author’s Ordinary (who cannot be substituted by another and is bound to secrecy). The discussion begins with an exposition by the relator pro auctore, who makes a comprehensive presentation of the case. After him, the author’s Ordinary, the experts, and the Consultors each express their own opinion, orally and in writing, on the content of the text under examination. The relator pro auctore and the experts may respond to the observations and offer clarifications.
Art. 13. When the discussion has finished, the Consultors alone remain in the room for the general vote on the outcome of the examination, aimed at determining whether doctrinal errors or dangerous opinions have been found in the text, and specifically identifying these in light of the different categories of truth- propositions found in the Professio fidei.
Art. 14. The entire file, including the minutes of the discussion, the general vote and the opinions of the Consultors, is submitted to the examination of the Ordinary Session of the Congregation, which decides whether to present objections to the author, and if so, on which points.
Art. 15. The decisions of Ordinary Sessions are submitted to the consideration of the Supreme Pontiff.
Art. 16. If, in the prior phase, it was decided to proceed to a presentation of objections, the author’s Ordinary or other concerned Ordinaries, as well as the competent Dicasteries of the Holy See, are informed.
Art. 17. The list of erroneous or dangerous propositions at issue, together with an explanatory argumentation and the documentation (reticito nomine) necessary for the defense, are communicated through the Ordinary to the author and his advisor, whom the author has the right to nominate, with the approval of his Ordinary, to assist him. The author must present a written response within three canonical months. It is appropriate that, together with the author’s response, the Ordinary also forwards his own opinion to the Congregation.
Art. 18. The possibility is also foreseen of a personal meeting between the author, assisted by his adviser (who takes an active part in the discussion) and delegates of the Congregation. In this eventuality, the Congregation’s delegates, who are appointed by the Congresso, are to keep minutes of the meeting, the text of which is to be signed by them, by the author and by his advisor.
Art. 19. Should the author not send the written response, as is always requested, the Ordinary Session of the Congregation takes the appropriate decisions.
Art. 20. The Congresso examines the written response of the author as well as the minutes of any meeting that has taken place. If this examination reveals truly new doctrinal elements requiring further evaluation, it is then decided whether the question should again be presented to the Consultation, which may be expanded to include additional experts, among these the author’s advisor, appointed in accordance with art. 17. Otherwise, the written response of the author and the minutes of any meeting are submitted directly to the judgment of the Ordinary Session.
Art. 21. If the Ordinary Session decides that the question has been resolved positively and that the response is sufficient, the process does not go further. Should this not be the case, adequate measures are then taken, also for the good of the faithful. Moreover, the Ordinary Session decides whether and in what way the results of the examination are to be made public.
Art. 22. The decisions of the Ordinary Session are submitted for the approval of the Supreme Pontiff and then communicated to the author’s Ordinary, to the Episcopal Conference and to concerned Dicasteries.
IV. Examination in Cases of Urgency
Art. 23. An urgent examination is employed when the writing is clearly and certainly erroneous and, at the same time, its dissemination could cause or already has caused grave harm to the faithful. In this case, the Ordinary or the concerned Ordinaries are immediately informed together with the competent Dicasteries of the Holy See.
Art. 24. The Congresso appoints a commission which is especially entrusted with promptly determining the erroneous or dangerous propositions.
Art. 25. The propositions identified by the Commission, together with the relative documentation, are submitted to the Ordinary Session, which will give priority to the examination of the question.
Art. 26. If the Ordinary Session judges that the above-mentioned propositions are in fact erroneous and dangerous, after the approval of the Holy Father, they are transmitted to the author, through his Ordinary, with the request that they be corrected within two canonical months.
Art. 27. If the Ordinary, having heard the author, believes it is necessary to ask him also for a written explanation, this text must be forwarded to the Congregation together with the opinion of the Ordinary. Such an explanation is then presented to the Ordinary Session for the appropriate decisions.
V. Disciplinary Measures
Art. 28. If the author has not corrected the indicated errors in a satisfactory way and with adequate publicity, and the Ordinary Session has concluded that he has committed the offense of heresy, apostasy, or schism, the Congregation proceeds to declare the latae sententiae penalties incurred; against such a declaration no recourse is admitted.
Art. 29. If the Ordinary Session ascertains the existence of doctrinal errors which do not involve latae sententiae penalties, the Congregation proceeds, according to the norm of law, whether universal or proper to the Congregation.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Prefect on May 30, 1997, confirmed these Regulations, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, approving at the same time in forma specifica articles 28-29, contrariis quibuslibet non ostantibus, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 1997, the Solemnity of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.
+ Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
+ Tarcisio Bertone,
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli