CANON LAW IN ACTION by Brendan Daly (St Paul’s Publications, 2015); $36 (incl. postage). Reviewed by PATRICIA HANNAN.
Msgr Brendan Daly is the principal of Good Shepherd College and a former rector of Holy Cross Seminary. He is an experienced canon lawyer, lecturer and teacher, holding a doctorate in canon law and a PhD.
This book is much more than an important pastoral handbook for canonical matters. It is a useful historical study of where, when and why certain norms and processes arose in the Church and how these practices have developed over centuries as the Church has expanded
globally into diff erent cultures. It is also a spiritual guide for those in ministry.
The book comes with a preface from an internationally renowned canon law professor, Fr Frank Morrisey, OMI, from St Paul University, Ottawa. Fr Morrisey praises Msgr Daly’s clear, legal explanations and gives special mention to the contexts in which these are presented.
He writes: “. . . in the life of the Church, the juridical has no place if it is not related to the spiritual and pastoral dimensions of ministry, all of which have Christ as their
primary focus”. This aspect of Msgr Daly’s book is particularly helpful.
Msgr David Price, Judicial Vicar for New Zealand, Msgr Peter Jeffrey, former rector of Holy Cross Seminary, and Bishop Barry Jones, Bishop of Christchurch, have all written highly commendatory blurbs.
The opening anecdote for Chapter 1 illustrates simply the difference between canonical theory
and practical reality. It is a lively story that gets our interest immediately and sets the style and tone for the rest of the book. Each chapter, based on wide-ranging research, gives the history of how a current canonical prescription developed originally and then has been shaped by time: the 1917 code, Vatican II documents, the 1983 code, and recent, authoritative interpretations.
This is followed by commentary by well regarded canonists, and then a return to the underlying scriptural and theological principles, and a pastoral reflection.
There are frequent quotes from recent popes, including many comments of Pope Francis. The emphasis is not so much on legalities, although these are presented clearly, but on the spirituality of a living faith.
The book gives examples and questions arising from the lives of ordinary Catholics faced with situations that don’t fit the rules. For example, Chapter 6 is entitled, “Refusing Sacraments: Another Name for Driving People Away from the Church.” Msgr Daly gives examples from various countries of different ways of addressing matters.
He does not make simplistic claims. He admits that in a difficult pastoral situation, canonical norms cannot solve all problems.
This book will be valuable to anyone with an interest in Church history and life, and particularly to bishops, priests and all those in pastoral ministry.
Patricia Hannan is a Dominican sister with a doctorate in canon law and a PhD, who has worked for many years in the New Zealand Tribunal of the Catholic Church and the Appeal Tribunal for Australia and New Zealand.