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School of Canon Law’s Reach Is National and International

Monsignor Ferme with students at the 2005 canon law school Christmas party.As CUA Magazine went to press, Catholic University’s School of Canon Law was preparing to welcome one of the senior officials from the Vatican’s highest court, the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, for the school’s annual James H. Provost Memorial Lecture on March 23, 2006.

Rev. Nikolaus Schöch, O.F.M., defender of the bond of the Apostolic Signature and a former colleague of Monsignor Brian Ferme, dean of CUA’s School of Canon Law, was to speak about the use of parish property after a parish has been closed. Father Schöch, the former dean of the School of Canon Law at the Antonianum in Rome, also was slated to serve as a featured speaker at the CUA School of Canon Law’s Spring Canonical Seminar, held March 24 and 25 at a hotel in Washington, D.C. The seminar was to focus on the canonical issues parishes currently face, including calls for penal actions against priests, disposition of parish property, impending civil lawsuits, and cases that might travel from diocesan tribunals to the Signature.

Father Schöch is one of the highest-profile visitors ever to speak at the CUA school, which is unique not just for being the only school of canon law in the United States, but also for the international backgrounds of its faculty, students and visiting scholars.

The school’s current international students hail from as far away as Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Mexico, Eastern Europe and the Philippines. The faculty also is particularly diverse, having obtained their canon law degrees from six different schools of canon law located in Europe, Canada and here at CUA.

“That is quite unusual,” says Monsignor Ferme, who was appointed dean in March 2003 after serving for many years as a leading canonist, professor, university administrator and Vatican consultor. “The variety of the canonical backgrounds of the faculty is a real strength.”

Monsignor Ferme is working to build on that diversity, encour-aging faculty to attend seminars, deliver papers and engage their colleagues abroad, and welcoming international students, visiting scholars and speakers like Father Schöch to campus. Canon law is the only international legal system, says the dean, and it’s important for students to learn to interpret and apply the code of Church law while taking other cultural viewpoints into account.

“I think it’s terribly important for canonists — especially in the United States because of a tendency for a certain amount of isolation and self-containment in such a large country — to be open to the understanding of how canon law is applied in other situations in the Church where the exact same text of the legal code is applied, but the cultural situations are different,” Monsignor Ferme says.

Students say they appreciate the diversity of their education at CUA.

“It certainly has been beneficial to study with faculty members and students who have been educated both here and abroad,” says first-year student Sister M. Maximilia Um, F.S.G.M., who, upon completion of her J.C.L., will be working on a marriage tribunal in the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. “In the course of our discussions and reflections, one gets the sense of the universality of the Church and, hence, the universality of the code of canon law.”

The school also is known for another type of diversity: an increasing number of lay men and women who are studying alongside parish priests and members of religious communities for the ecclesiastical degrees of licentiate (J.C.L.) and doctorate (J.C.D.) in canon law.

CUA law school alumna Kathleen Asdorian, J.D. 1990, is a laywoman with a real-estate law practice who will graduate with her licentiate degree in 2006. She hopes to work for a diocese and is doing her thesis work in the area of temporal goods, specifically the ownership of Church property. “I think that the broad range of perspectives the program offers is very helpful not just to myself, but also to the priests who are coming here from other countries,” Asdorian says.

While the school’s international focus is growing, it still holds a strong reputation for preparing canonists to deal with American concerns, says Rev. Arthur J. Espelage, O.F.M., executive coordi-nator of the Canon Law Society of America, who earned his J.C.L. and J.C.D. at CUA in 1979 and 1989, respectively.

The ministerial perspective offered at CUA is another key com-ponent of canonists’ education, Father Espelage says. “I really believe that Catholic U. is attempting to produce canonists who love the law, and are proficient in the understanding and appli-cation of the law, but who also are pastoral ministers — that’s so important today,” he explains. “I think, if anything, the School of Canon Law at Catholic U. can be saluted for teaching people how to think first of the salvation of souls. It’s the whole reason for the school.” – C.H.

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Revised: March 2006

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