About Canon Law Professionals
Most canon lawyers are employed directly by the institutional church. There are few that work independently or in private practice.
For many years canonists have had difficulty addressing all of the diverse canon law needs presented to them. There were not enough canonists and too many dioceses were understaffed. Many people coming before tribunals for marriage cases were desperately in need of assistance especially when they had difficult cases. Many tribunals had backlogs of cases due to limited personnel. Bishops were confronted with many different types of problems in the day to day running of dioceses, but too many canonists were not conversant in all of the areas they were being asked to assist with and did not have time to pursue the necessary research. Pastors were confronted with problems in their parishes and with parishioners who did not always understand why the church ruled in the manner it did. Lay persons felt that they had no recourse to decisions made by seemingly autocratic Church authorities. The number of canonists available to assist people beyond their own full time jobs in the institution of the Church was limited.
This need left a gap in the life of the Church and in the appropriate utilization of canon law. Too many people perceived canon law as irrelevant to them. Both the clergy and laity looked at American civil law as the only way in which matters in the Church should be handled and by which the Church should be run.
As some canonists began to see these problems, they tried to address them. Some canonists began spending extra time helping out tribunals in a part-time manner while still working their full time jobs. Some tribunals and dioceses began searching for additional canonical assistance.
In the mid 1990’s a small gathering of canonists began discussing the needs of the Church and ways to meet those needs more effectively. The idea of a group of canon lawyers coming together to work in private practice emerged. The laity and religious saw how they could work full time in such a ministry. The diocesan clergy found they had more constraints, but could still support the idea and provide some help.
The opportunity to implement the idea of a full service canon law firm came in July 2000. Our chief partner, J. Michael Ritty, was given the moral and financial support by a community of religious sisters, a diocesan priest, and a religious priest to begin Canon Law Professionals.
Initially Canon Law Professionals began assisting diocesan tribunals with marriage annulment cases. We provided service to assist with drafting sentences for judges and briefs for defenders of the bond. Very soon we were contacted by persons involved in disputes with their pastors who wanted to vindicate rights they felt were violated. And by 2002 we were becoming inundated with requests for assistance from priests placed on administrative leave due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
What initially began with a group of canonists supporting the work of one full time person soon grew. There was the need for office staff and eventually for other full time canonists working with marriage cases, parish closings, disputes involving members of religious institutes, penal cases, and various cases involving canonical rights of persons in the Church. The office grew from a small 10’x12’ room to a large office with space for 3 full time people and a number of part time consultors. We also developed satellite offices which are able to remain in constant contact with the main office. All to serve the needs of the People of God more productively.
Since July 2000 Canon law professionals has assisted various marriage tribunals in almost 1000 cases by providing drafts of sentences for judges and animadversions for defenders of the bond, as well as advocacy assistance for those involved in annulment proceedings. We have also assisted almost 500 laity, religious, and clergy, as well as more than 100 different religious institutes and dioceses and organizations in the United States and Canada with canonical opinions and consultations, review and development of statutes and bylaws, advocacy of rights, defense of those accused of wrongdoing, and action on behalf of those harmed by agents of the Church.
Canon Law Professionals LLC exists today as a group of experienced lay, religious, and clergy canon lawyers of varied educational and practical backgrounds collaborating to satisfy the many canonical needs of today’s Church and providing a full range of professional canonical services to dioceses, religious communities, individuals, and institutions in the Catholic Church, always keeping in mind that “the salvation of souls is the supreme law of the church.”