Saturday, December 10, 2011

Church Ascription Upon Conversion

Fr. George Gallaro is one of my heroes. In case you don't remember who he is, you can read his impressive credentials on this previous post. I've written him twice asking him to share his wisdom with all of us through this blog. Twice he has written me back almost immediately with a wealth of wisdom to share.

This is a topic I've received several requests to cover and have seen a lot of confusion over. I'm grateful that Father George shared it here with us and think it will be referenced frequently. I'm also grateful that he took the time to put it into text because I suspect these words will be searched on a regular basis. He gives the canonical low-down on joining a church sui juris when converting.

Fr. George Gallaro

The Second Vatican Council declares in its Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio) that, when those who have been validly baptized in non-Catholic Churches or Ecclesial Communities spontaneously ask to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, either as individuals or as groups, “it is necessary to impose no burden beyond what is essential.” (UR 18)

The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (i.e. CCEO) in its canon 897 affirms that: “A member of the Christian faithful of an Eastern non-Catholic Church is to be received into the Catholic Church with only the profession of the Catholic faith, after a doctrinal and spiritual preparation that is suited to that person’s condition.” Since this constitutes a very delicate act, it is advisable to ascertain the weighty reasons why one asks for admission into the Catholic Church.

The competent ecclesiastical authority to receive one into full communion is specified in the CCEO in the canons 898-899.

The same Code in canon 35, following the Decree on the Eastern Churches (Orientalium ecclesiarum), declares that: “Baptized non-Catholics coming into full communion with the Catholic Church should retain and practice their own rite and should observe it everywhere in the world as much as humanly possible.” In the case of Orthodox, the new Church of ascription shall be one of the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches, the closest in its ritual approach.

Protestants who enter into the full Catholic communion are to be ascribed to the Latin Church, since their Ecclesial Communities sprang from the Western/Latin tradition.

The rationale of this norm is mainly ecclesiological: full communion with the apostolic Church of Rome does not imply alienation or loss of the rite, understood as liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony. Canon 35 was written with an ecumenical perspective in mind: to establish and to preserve communion one must “lay no greater burden than necessary” (Acts 15: 28).

The Eastern Orthodox who joins the equivalent Eastern Catholic Church finds the surroundings in keeping with his/her Christian history and identity. That does not mean that he/she cannot continue to attend the Latin Church, even though it is desirable that he/she should be helped to uphold his/her own Church tradition.

Since the text of canon 35 does not explicitly specify if the norm is for validity or for lawfulness, one may infer that this is not an irritating law.

Canon 32 §1, dealing with Catholics who desire to transfer validly to another autonomous Catholic Church, requires the consent of the Holy See. Furthermore, insofar as legitimate ascription to another autonomous Catholic Church constitutes the basis for the validity or lawfulness of certain juridical act (e.g., the validity of a marriage or the lawful admission to a religious institute of another autonomous Catholic Church) one may conclude that canon 35 has a binding force, after all.

Sometimes, a baptized member of an Eastern non-Catholic Church who enters in full communion with the Catholic Church wants to be ascribed into the Latin Church. If so, one must, with the prior approval of the local Latin bishop, seek an indult (i.e. permission) from the Holy See. The canonical reason for such a petition must be serious, e.g., the spiritual wellbeing of the petitioner or the unity of the family when the petitioner is married to a Latin spouse.


  1. Glad to see your back in action again. I'm sure glad some of our Byzantine Catholic priests in their pastoral wisdom ignore this outdated law from the Latin church. Maybe when Martin Luther was around this law would make sense but protestants just because their not catholic shouldn't be automatically bond to the Latin rite. Some protestant churches come from people who just pick up a bible and get converted, who have no working knowledge of the divisions that are in Christian history. In an instance like this one the term protestant has no historical relevance and should not bind such people to the Latin rite, especially if some resources from the East are discovered and become part of their spiritual development. One group with similar roots that comes to mind are the Evangelical orthodox, who eventually converted to the Orthodox church. This group of Christians many from various non-Catholic traditions found themselves attracted to the East and were in their lives finding themselves being so enriched that they felt the need to go deeper by being incorporated into the Orthodox church. It would make no sense for such people to go to the Latin church who have developed spiritually from the East if perchance they wanted to become a Byzantine catholic. I know people in our Byzantine Catholic church with non-Catholic roots who our pastors recognized their calling to Eastern spirituality and felt that this law is a little arrogant.
    More on that church i spoke about-

  2. Video of Consecration and Installation of George Gallaro as Bishop of Piana degli Albanesi, Sicily, Italy



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