Q: Many Catholics don't know that Eastern Churches have their own Code of Canon Law. What sort of differences are there between the two codes?
Vere: Many of the individual canons are similar, or in some cases even the same, but there are some significant differences. For example, for a marriage to be valid under the Eastern code, the couple must receive the blessing of the priest. This excludes deacons from presiding over marriages except in an emergency. On the other hand, nothing in the Latin code stops the deacon from acting as a qualified witness.
Another key difference, which again concerns marriage, is that a godparent cannot marry a godchild in the East. So a fiancée could not sponsor a non-Catholic fiancée into the Church under the Eastern Code, whereas there is no such prohibition in the West. There are also a few structural differences -- the Latin Code is divided into seven books, whereas the Eastern Code is divided into 30 titles. And, of course, the terminology often differs between the two codes to account for the different spiritual patrimonies.
That being said, the most profound difference, in my opinion, is the treatment of our Eastern Catholic Churches. Notice I said "Churches" and not "Rites." To me this denotes a profound shift in ecclesiology, that is, the Church's theology of what it is to be a Church. This is important because how one understands the Church as an entity will affect how one interprets the Church's law.
The Latin Code, promulgated in 1983, still treated our Eastern Catholic brethren as members of rites. In other words, Eastern Catholics were seen as an extension of the Latin Catholic Church, but with slightly different liturgies and customs, and in some parts of the world, their own hierarchy.
By using the expression "Churches sui iuris" in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO), that is to say Churches of their own authority, the 1990 Eastern code recognized that Eastern Catholics belonged to their own Churches, each with its own distinctive spiritual patrimony, that exist in full communion with Rome and the Latin Church. Together, these Churches make up the universal Church.
And in the end, this is why Michael and I felt it important to include a chapter about the CCEO in "Surprised by Canon Law Volume II." Although our spiritual patrimonies may differ somewhat between Churches "sui iuris," we exist in full communion with each other, sharing the same mission, which is the salvation and sanctification of souls.
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