Papal ban of Freemasonry
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The Catholic Church is a longstanding critic of Freemasonry, the Magisterium of the Church first declaring that Catholics were unable to join the association with the bull In eminenti apostolatus in 1738. Since then, eleven Popes have made pronouncements on the incompatibility of Catholic doctrines and Freemasonry, several of which prohibited Catholics from membership in Masonic associations and other secret societies under censure of excommunication, though since 1983 this sanction is no longer in effect.[contradictory] Although there was some confusion about membership following the 1965 Second Vatican Council, the Church still prohibits membership in Freemasonry because it concluded that Masonic principles are irreconcilable with the doctrines of the Church. The current norm, the 1983 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF) Declaration on Masonic associations, states that "faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion" and membership in Masonic associations is prohibited. The most recent CDF document about the "incompatibility of Freemasonry with the Catholic faith" was issued in 1985.
- 1 Current position of the Catholic Church
- 2 Freemasonry's position
- 3 History
- 3.1 In eminenti apostolatus
- 3.2 Reiteration of ban on membership by subsequent popes
- 3.3 Uncertainty following the Second Vatican Council
- 3.4 Declaration on Masonic Associations
- 3.5 Continued ban after the declaration
- 4 Enforcement in the United States
- 5 Catholic fraternal societies
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
Current position of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church's current norm on Masonic associations is the 1983 CDF Declaration on Masonic associations.[a] The 1983 CDF declaration states that Catholics "who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."
The 1983 CDF declaration clarified the editorial omission of association names in 1983 Code of Canon Law (1983 CIC) by stating that the "editorial criterion which was followed" did not mention association names since "they are contained in wider categories." 1983 CIC canon 1374 states that a Catholic "who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict." This contrasted with the 1917 Code of Canon Law (1917 CIC), which explicitly declared that joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication. The editorial omission of association names, like Masonic associations, from the 1983 CIC prompted Catholics and Masons to question whether the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons was still active, especially after the perceived liberalization of the Church after Vatican II.
A number of Catholics became Freemasons assuming that the Church had softened its stance.[b] The 1983 CDF declaration addressed this misinterpretation of the Code of Canon Law, clarifying that:
...the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden.
Near the time that the 1983 CDF declaration was released, bishops' conferences in Germany and America also released independent reports on the question of Freemasonry. The conclusions of the German Bishops' Conference (DBK) in its 1980 report on Masonry and cited by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its 1985 letter included that "research on the ritual and on the Masonic mentality makes it clear that it is impossible to belong to the Catholic Church and to Freemasonry at the same time."
According to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, DBK (1980) and CBCP (2010) "are significant texts as they address the theoretical and practical reasons for the irreconcilability of masonry and Catholicism as concepts of truth, religion, God, man and the world, spirituality, ethics, rituality and tolerance."
In eminenti apostolatus
In 1736, the Inquisition investigated a Masonic lodge in Florence, Italy, which it condemned in June 1737. The lodge had originally been founded in 1733 by the English Freemason Charles Sackville, 2nd Duke of Dorset, but accepted Italian members, such as the lodge's secretary Tommaso Crudeli. Also in 1736, on 26 December, Andrew Michael Ramsay delivered an oration to a masonic meeting in Paris on the eve of the election of Charles Radclyffe as Grand Master of the French Freemasons. In March 1737 he sent an edited copy to the chief minister, Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, seeking his approval for its delivery to an assembly of Freemasons, and his approval of the craft in general. Fleury's response was to brand the Freemasons as traitors, and ban their assemblies. This ban, and the Italian investigation led, in 1738, to Pope Clement XII promulgating In eminenti apostolatus, the first canonical prohibition of Masonic associations.
Clement XII wrote that the reasons for prohibiting masonic associations are that members, "content with [a] form of natural virtue, are associated with one another" by oaths with "grave penalties" "to conceal in inviolable silence whatever they secretly do together." These associations have aroused suspicions that "to join these associations is precisely synonymous with incurring the taint of evil and infamy, for if they were not involved in evil doing, they would never be so very averse to the light [of publicity]." "The rumor [of these doings] has so grown that" several governments have suppressed them "as being opposed to the welfare of the kingdom." Clement XII wrote, that these kinds of associations are "not consistent with the provisions of either civil or canon law" since they harm both "the peace of the civil state" and "the spiritual salvation of souls."[g]
Reiteration of ban on membership by subsequent popes
The ban in In eminenti apostolatus was reiterated and expanded upon by Benedict XIV (1751), Pius VII (1821), Leo XII (1826), Pius VIII (1829), Gregory XVI (1832), Pius IX (1846, 1849, 1864, 1865, 1869, 1873), and notably Pope Leo XIII in the encyclical Humanum genus (1884). 1917 CIC canon 2335 explicitly declared that joining "a Masonic sect or other societies of the same sort" incurs automatic, i.e. , excommunication. 1917 CIC canon 1399 also prohibited books which describe "Masonic sects and other such societies, [as] useful and not harmful to the Church and civil society."[h]
Uncertainty following the Second Vatican Council
Following the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965, questions began to arise as to whether the Catholic Church was easing its stance towards Masonry. In 1974 Cardinal Franjo Šeper, prefect of the CDF, sent a private letter to some episcopal conferences that stated, in part, that the CDF:
ruled that Canon 2335 no longer automatically bars a Catholic from membership of masonic groups... And so, a Catholic who joins the Freemasons is excommunicated only if the policies and actions of the Freemasons in his area are known to be hostile to the Church.[i]
German Bishops' Conference
In 1980, after years of study, including dialogue with Freemasons, the DBK addressed this question, producing a report on Freemasonry listing twelve conclusions.
Among the DBK's conclusions were that Freemasonry denies revelation and objective truth. They also alleged that religious indifference is fundamental to Freemasonry, that Freemasonry is Deist, and that it denies the possibility of divine revelation, so threatening the respect due to the Church's teaching office. The sacramental character of Masonic rituals was seen as signifying an individual transformation, and having a total claim on the life of a member. It concludes by stating that all lodges are forbidden to Catholics, including Catholic-friendly lodges and that German Protestant churches were also suspicious of Freemasonry.
The 1981 CDF Declaration concerning status of Catholics becoming Freemasons said that the leaked 1974 CDF private letter had "given rise to erroneous and tendentious interpretations." The 1981 CDF declaration also affirmed that the prohibition against Catholics joining Masonic orders had not changed and remained in effect.
Revised Code of Canon Law
The Catholic Church abrogated and replaced 1917 CIC in 1983 with a new code: 1983 CIC. Unlike the abrogated 1917 CIC canon 2335,[j] however, 1983 CIC canon 1374 does not name any secret societies it condemns. It states:
A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty;[k] one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict.
This omission caused some Catholics and Freemasons, especially in America, to believe that the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons may have been lifted after all,[l] and caused confusion in the church's hierarchy.[m] Many Catholics joined the fraternity, basing their membership on a permissive interpretation of Canon Law and justifying their membership by their belief that Freemasonry does not plot against the Church.[n]
The Catholic Church uses two parallel codes of canon law: the 1983 CIC in the Latin Church of the Catholic Church and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (1990 CCEO) in the sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches of the Catholic Church. 1983 CIC canon 1374 and 1990 CCEO canon 1448 §2 are parallel canons.[o] 1983 CIC canon 1374 differentiates between being a member of a forbidden association and being an officer or promoter but 1990 CCEO canon 1448 §2 does not.
Declaration on Masonic Associations
In 1983, Cardindal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the personal approval of Pope John Paul II, issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations, which reiterated the Church's objections to Freemasonry. The 1983 declaration states that "faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion. ... the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic association(s) remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. CDF 1983 "stipulated that neither" CDF 1974 nor CDF 1981 "allowed an individual bishop or bishops' conferences to permit Catholics to belong to masonic lodges."
Continued ban after the declaration
A USCCB committee concluded in its 1985 Letter to U.S. Bishops Concerning Masonry that "the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice." "Those who knowingly embrace" masonic "principles are committing serious sin" and, according to Law's parenthetical commentary on Whalen, that offense might be punishable under canon 1364. According to that canon, an apostate, heretic, or schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication and clerics can be punished with additional expiatory penalties including dismissal from the clerical state. Caparros et al. elucidates that, in cases where "registration into an association entails apostasy, heresy, or schism" then the offense is punishable under canon 1364. Nevertheless, citing CDF (1983), Caparros et al. states that "those masonic associations that would not be covered by" canon 1374 have "principles [which] are still seen to be incompatible with the doctrine of the Church." Every delict in canon law is a sin. The "distinction between penal law and morality" is, according to the USCCB committee, that not all sins are violations in canon law – so in a case where a sin is not also a violation or delict in canon law, it is a fallacy to conclude that "it is permissible to commit it." "Referring specifically to the secrecy of masonic organisations," CDF 1985 "reiterated the ban on masonic membership" in CDF 1983. According to McInvale (1992), the CDF (1985) "argues that Masonry establishes a relativistic symbolic concept of morality."
In 1996, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lincoln, legislated that Catholic members of masonic associations in the diocese, incur a latae sententiae censure of a one-month interdict during which they are forbidden to receive holy communion; those who continue membership incur a latae sententiae censure of excommunication. Those excommunications which were challenged through a process of canonical recourse were affirmed by a judgment of the Holy See in 2006.
In 2000, David Patterson, Executive Secretary of the Masonic Service Bureau of Los Angeles, asked Cardinal Roger Mahony "whether a practicing Catholic may join a Masonic Lodge." Father Thomas Anslow, Judicial Vicar of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, replied to Patterson that "the matter is too complex for a straightforward 'yes' or 'no' answer. But at least for Catholics in the United States, I believe the answer is probably yes." Because he was "unaware of any ideology or practice by the local lodges that challenges or subverts the doctrine and interests of the Catholic Church," Anslow wrote that his "qualified response" is "probably yes."  Anslow publicly retracted his 2000 letter in 2002, with the explanation that his analysis was faulty. He said that, according to the CDF (1985) reflection about the CDF (1983) declaration, Freemasonry fostered a "supraconfessional humanitarian" conception of the divine "that neutralizes or replaces the faith dimension of our relationship with God."
In 2002, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines decreed that:
- a Catholic who is a "publicly known" Freemason – who "actively participates" or "promotes its views" or "holds any office" – and refuses to renounce his membership after being warned in accord with 1983 CIC canon 1347, "is to be punished with an interdict," in accord with 1983 CIC canon 1374, including: exclusion from receiving the sacraments; prohibition against acting as a sponsor in Baptism and Confirmation; prohibition against being a member of any parish or diocesan structure; and denial of Catholic funeral rites, unless some signs of repentance before death were shown, regardless, to avoid public scandal in a case where a bishop allows funeral rites, Masonic services are prohibited in the church and prohibited immediately before or after the Catholic funeral rites at the cemetery.
- a Catholic who is a Freemason, "notoriously adhering to the Masonic vision," is automatically excommunicated under canon 1364 and is automatically censured in accord with 1983 CIC canon 1331
- a Freemason is prohibited from acting a witness to marriage in the Catholic Church, and prohibited from being a member of any associations of the faithful
Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, told the 2007 Freemasonry and the Catholic Church conference, at the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure in Rome, that doctrine has not changed. Girotti, quoting the CDF 1983 declaration, reiterated that masonic philosophy is incompatible with Catholic faith. Likewise, reacting to the news of an 85-year-old Catholic priest, Rosario Francesco Esposito, becoming a member in a Masonic lodge, Girotti told Vatican Radio in May 2007 that the CDF 1983 declaration "remains in force today[update]." Girotti called on priests who had declared themselves to be Freemasons to be disciplined by their direct superiors.
Enforcement in the United States
Before and during the American Revolutionary War, Catholics in British North America were part of the Apostolic Vicariate of the London District. In 1784, Pope Pius VI erected the Apostolic Prefecture of the United States. The Diocese of Baltimore was established from the apostolic prefecture in 1789 and the premier bishop of the United States, John Carroll, was consecrated as bishop and installed in 1790 with jurisdiction over the entire Catholic Church in the United States. The first national synod met in 1791. Although Clement XII (1738) and Benedict XIV (1751) condemned Masonic association, "there seems to have been some doubt" in late 18th century North America whether Clement XII (1738) "bound the Church universally" because in some areas Masonic association was "not considered incompatible" with Catholicism. At the same time, there was concern among the Catholic hierarchy of the United States about the spreading influence of Masonic associations. For example, Carroll wrote in 1794 that both Clement XII (1738) and Benedict XIV (1751) censured Masonic association with excommunication, but Carroll added, "I do not pretend that these decrees are received generally by the Church, or have full authority in this diocese; but they ought to be a very serious warning to all good Christians not to expose themselves to [the] dangers" surrounding Masonry, and advised to "avoid forming or continuing any connection with it." But, Carroll – whose brother, Daniel Carroll, was a Founding Father of the United States and a Mason – "apparently did not enforce" the decrees. The Diocese of Baltimore was elevated to a metropolitan archdiocese with four suffragan dioceses in 1808. Norms enforcing the two decrees within the United States were written in 1810 by the five prelates to interdict "publicly known" Freemasons and to frequently instruct congregations against membership in Masonic associations. Relatively few Catholics were Masons. For example, Stephen Girard, the founder of Girard Bank at Philadelphia, was denied Catholic funeral rites because of his Masonic association in 1831. In 1840, the Fourth Provincial Council of Baltimore clarified that the interdict applied to a condemned and prohibited category of groups, regardless of what they are named. There were several papal decrees about secret societies by 1843; that year, the Fifth Provincial Council of Baltimore wrote that secret associations "are to be shunned by whatsoever name they may be called" and reiterated "that sacramental absolution cannot be lawfully or validly imparted to" known members of secret associations. In 1846, a commission of theologians reported to the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore that a reason expressed by Benedict XIV (1751), requiring an oath of secrecy, was sufficient reason to categorize a group as a condemned association.
Catholic fraternal societies
Freemasonry was an important catalyst in the founding of the Knights of Columbus. One of the attractions of Freemasonry is that it provided a number of social services unavailable to non-members (and therefore, devout Catholics). Father Michael J. McGivney, a Catholic priest in New Haven, Connecticut wished to provide Catholic men with a Catholic fraternal organization, an alternative to Freemasonry, with the attractiveness of selected membership and secret initiation, but neither oath-bound nor secret. McGivney believed that Catholicism and fraternalism were not incompatible and wished to found a society that would encourage men to be proud of their American-Catholic heritage.
- Anticlericalism and Freemasonry
- Christianity and Freemasonry
- Papal documents relating to Freemasonry
- The CDF 1983 declaration is a simple declaration which must be interpreted in the context of other existing legislation. It reiterated CDF (1981a) which clarified the Church's doctrine that the historic prohibition against Catholics joining Masonic orders remained.
- According to Whalen (1985), from 1974 to after 1981, "an undetermined number of Catholic men joined the Lodge, and many presently maintain membership. Articles in the Catholic press ' told readers that under certain circumstances a Masonic membership was allowed. The general public, Catholic and non-Catholic, assumed the Church had softened its stand against membership in Freemasonry."
- "The nature of the Masonic God is best seen in their favorite title for him: the Supreme Architect. The Masonic God is first of all a deistic God, who is found at the top of the ladder of Masonic wisdom", 
- According to Law (1985), DBK (1980) and Whalen (1985) "confirm that the principles and basic rituals of Masonry embody a naturalistic religion active participation in which is incompatible with Christian faith and practice."
- "During the Pontificate of Paul VI (1963-1978) local and church authorities were allowed to decide if Freemasonry in their areas violated Canon 2335. Freemasonry never formally prohibited Catholics from joining, but centuries of name calling left bitter feelings on both sides. Nonetheless, with case-by-case approval by local Church authorities, many Catholics became Freemasons."
- Translation by unknown: "it should be remembered that secularism guarantees civil peace and morality and to want to appropriate these religious values – and especially the Catholic religion under its current leadership – runs a strong long term risk of reigniting conflicts and provoking exclusions that we believed had been consigned to history."
- Clement XII had "condemned and prohibited" a category of groups, whether or not they are called Freemasons. He instructed local ordinaries and inquisitors to investigate and punish transgressors "with suitable penalties as being gravely suspect of heresy." In context, the condemnation and prohibition by Clement XII (1738) and Cardinal Giuseppe Firrao, secretary of state, in 1739 are, according to Benimeli (2014, pp. 139–140), "nothing more than further links in the long chain of measures adopted by European authorities throughout the eighteenth century." According to Benimeli, Clement XII and Benedict XIV only added a religious reason – of suspicion of heresy – to the civil reason – of subversive activity – enacted by 18th century Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic governments against masonic associations. Firrao decreed that masonic meetings were "a danger to public peace and order" within the Papal States and were also suspected of heresy.
- The Index of prohibited books was abolished in 1965 and that function of CDF was replaced with other norms. The "right and the duty to examine and also to prevent the publication of" works as well as the rebuke and admonition of authors was devolved to episcopal conferences and individual ordinaries. In 1966, the CDF notified that although the Index "no longer has the force of ecclesiastical law with the attached censure," it "remains morally binding, in light of the demands of natural law, in so far as it admonishes the conscience of Christians to be on guard for those writings that can endanger faith and morals." The Holy See reserved use of "its right and duty to issue reprimands about these writings, even publicly."
- CDF (1974) concluded that "Canon 2335 regards only those Catholics who join associations which plot against the Church."
- See commentaries on 1917 CIC canon 2335, which was in effect May 1918 to November 1983, in Bachofen (1922, pp. 339–346) and Woywod (1948, pp. 530–532).
- According to canon lawyer Edward N. Peters, the term just penalty "means that a penalty (e.g., [...] interdict, excommunication) can be tailored to fit the crime." Canon lawyer Cathy Caridi wrote that CDF (1983) "provides a theological interpretation of canon 1374." Caridi commented that, according to CDF (1983), "a diocesan bishop or chancery official cannot grant permission in a particular case for a member of the diocese to become a Mason."
- "Some [Freemasons] and some Catholics believe," according to Reid McInvale, that since Vatican II "the attitude of the church has been to regard Freemasonry as an acceptable sphere for fraternal interaction."
- Bernard Law wrote that "many bishops" replied "to an earlier survey that confusion had been generated by a perceived change of approach by the" CDF.
- "In good faith many of these men had asked their pastors and/or bishops for permission to join the Lodge. Some converts were received into the Church during these years and were not asked to relinquish their Masonic affiliation."
- All censures in 1990 CCEO are imposed judicially or administratively; it does not include any automatic latae sententia censures.
- CBCP 2010, p. 9.
- Saunders, William (2005). "What are the Masons?". catholiceducation.org. Catholic Education Resource Center. Archived from the original on 2014-10-28. Reprint of "Catholics and Freemasonry". Arlington Catholic Herald. Arlington, VA: Diocese of Arlington. 2005-09-22. ISSN 0361-3712.
- Gruber 1910.
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- Benimeli 2014, p. 150.
- CDF 1983; see CDF 1985: "membership objectively constitutes a grave sin;" see Law 1985: "Those who knowingly embrace such principles are committing serious sin." Which "implies in all cases an act of free will and being conscious of committing an intrinsically evil action."
- CDF 1985, cited in Levada (2011).
- CDF 1983.
- Morrissey 2003.
- CIC 1983, c. 1374.
- Jolicoeur & Knowles 1978, pp. 14–15, quoted in Whalen (1985), in Law (1985).
- Law 1985.
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- Benimeli 2014, pp. 139–140.
- Leo XIII 1864.
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- Jenkins 1996, quoted in Gantley (2006a).
- CDF 1974; CDF 1981a.
- CDF 1981a.
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- Green 2000, p. 1583.
- CCEO 1990, c. 1402, cited in Faris (2000, p. 41).
- Faris 2000, p. 41.
- Tablet 1985.
- Whalen 1985, quoted in Law (1985).
- CIC 1983, c. 1364.
- Caparros et al. 1993, c. 1374 at pp. 1070–1071.
- Green 2000, p. 1529.
- Whalen 1985, quoted in Law (1985); see Green 2000, p. 1529.
- Bruskewitz 1996; Besse 2007.
- McFeely 2006; Besse 2007.
- Anslow 2000.
- Anslow 2002.
- CDF 1985, quoted in Anslow (2002).
- CIC 1983, c. 1347.
- CIC 1983, c. 1332.
- CBCP 2002, n. 1.
- CIC 1983, c. 1184.
- CBCP 2002, n. 2.
- CIC 1983, c. 1331.
- CBCP 2002, n. 3.
- Masonic Information Center 2006.
- Suchecki 2007; Zenit 2007, quoted in Besse (2007).
- Zenit 2007, cited in Besse (2007).
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- Guilday 1932, pp. 37–49.
- Guilday 1932, pp. 53–59.
- Guilday 1932, pp. 58–59.
- Guilday 1932, pp. 60–71.
- Guilday 1922, p. 781.
- Macdonald 1946, p. 4.
- Carroll, John (1794-01-07), letter, quoted in Guilday (1922, pp. 781–782), extract quoted in Macdonald (1946, p. 4) and in Hackett (2014, p. 210).
- Hackett 2014, p. 210.
- Guilday 1922, p. 781; Hackett 2014, p. 209.
- Guilday 1932, pp. 72–73.
- Guilday 1922, p. 593; Guilday 1932, p. 74; Macdonald 1946, p. 4.
- Carnes 1989, p. 4.
- Guilday 1932, pp. 123–124, 126; Macdonald 1946, p. 12–14.
- Provincial Council of Baltimore (1843-05-21), Pastoral letter, quoted in Macdonald (1946, p. 22).
- Macdonald 1946, p. 23.
- The organization was also intended to provide an alternative for Catholics to membership in a Masonic lodge History of the Knights, Somerville Council # 1432
- American Catholics found themselves unable to participate in the many fraternal organizations that offered insurance benefits because the Church had condemned so-called "secret societies." A New Haven, Conn., parish priest, Michael J. McGivney, organized the Knights of Columbus as an alternative to proscribed organizations., Many Fraternal Groups Grew From Masonic Seed (Part 2 -- 1860-1920), by Barbara Franco, The Northern Lights, November 1985
- Egan & Kennedy 1920, p. 52 quoted in Mackey, Albert G.; Hughan, William J.; Hawkins, Edward L., eds. (n.d.). "Knights of Columbus". An encyclopedia of freemasonry and its kindred sciences (Online phoenixmasonry.org ed. based on 1921 new and rev. print ed.). Phoenixmasonry.
- Kaufman 1992, p. 17.
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- Caparros, Ernest; Thériault, Michel; Thorn, Jean, eds. (1993). Code of Canon Law annotated: Latin-English edition of the Code of Canon Law and English-language translation of the 5th Spanish-language edition of the commentary prepared under the responsibility of the Instituto Martín de Azpilcueta. Montréal: Wilson & Lafleur. pp. 1070–1071. ISBN 2891272323.
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