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Reviewed by:
  • Canon Law Explained: A Handbook for Laymen by Laurence J. Spiteri. Manchester
  • John Mary Fleming O.P.
Canon Law Explained: A Handbook for Laymen, by Laurence J. Spiteri. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2013. Pp. vii–292.

Canon Law Explained: A Handbook for Laymen is an excellent introductory presentation of the Church’s law and procedures. The author’s background in canon law, international law, psychology and biblical studies, as well as his work experience in diocesan tribunals and Roman Congregations, provide insight into what is of interest to the uninitiated approaching the Church’s law for the first time. Spiteri structures the work by topic, avoiding the formal structure of the Code of Canon Law by book and canon. In doing so, he moves easily from topic to topic with lucid and precise explanations of areas such as the laity, religious, dioceses and parishes, bishops, conferences of bishops, the liturgy, sacraments, marriage, and written publications. Though the book is not a complete treatment of the entire code, the topics addressed are direct and clear, giving the reader a grasp of the law, its application and its importance to the life of the individual and the Church.

Spiteri provides the reader a valuable resource due to the clear theological connection of the law to the Second Vatican Council by an extensive use of footnotes throughout the entire text. As he states in the Introduction, “When one reads the sources of the canons of the 1983 code, one cannot but be left very impressed with the superabundant references to the documents of the Vatican Council II. The 1983 code is imbued with the teachings and spirit of the great Council” (xx). The author makes liberal use of references to Church documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the canons of the Code of Canon Law, which provide a springboard for further reading.

The original title of this book was The Code in the Hand of the Laity: Canon Law for Everyone. The prime audience of the book is clearly the lay [End Page 673] faithful. It is intended for lay persons who are either taking up the law for the first time or are interested in an aspect of Church law. The book could also serve as a resource for pastors, deacons, religious and laity serving in parishes, schools and diocesan ministry. There is great need here as many people lack a reference tool to guide them when dealing with a pastoral issue of canon law. Students new to the study of canon law will also find the book a valuable resource. Due to the references and footnotes, those teaching an overview or introductory course in canon law could make excellent use of this work.

John Mary Fleming O.P.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Secretariat of Catholic Education
Washington, DC


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pp. 673-674
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