Beginning in the academic year 2003-2004, the licentiate curriculum will be extended "to three years or six semesters in the second of the three cycles," says the decree published by the Vatican Press Office.
The previous two-year (four-semester) curriculum was established by the 1979 apostolic constitution "Sapientia Christiana," promulgated by John Paul II.
This decree, signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, prefect and secretary of the dicastery, respectively, and ratified and confirmed by the Pope, also establishes that "the first cycle should be absolutely obligatory and better structured."
Specifically, "all students who wish to obtain an academic degree in canon law must know Latin," the language in which the code is written, Archbishop Pittau explained on Vatican Radio.
The decree explains that the curriculum promulgated in 1979 "is no longer valid for the study and understanding of the disciplines." The present Code of Canon Law was published in 1983, and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches was published in 1990.
The document further reads, "upon completing the two-year licentiate, the juridical formation of the students did not reach the level of knowledge of Church law that is presently required in order to carry out ecclesiastical functions that demand a specific preparation in canon law."
In addition, the decree sates that, while "the theological and pastoral disciplines in theological faculties has been improved, less time and attention was paid to canon law and the Latin language in the larger seminaries."
The changes are being made by the Congregation for Catholic Education, after consulting canon law faculties and institutes, the decree reveals.
Canon law covers the juridical norms, or canons, emanating either directly or indirectly from the competent ecclesiastical authority to regulate the life of the Church. The expression "canon law" also refers to the science that studies this legislation.
Priests entering the Vatican diplomatic service must have a licentiate in canon law. Many bishops and diocesan vicars also have licentiates or doctorates in the discipline.
"This reform is very important for the Church, as canon law is part of our religious practice; hence, it cannot be separated from our faith," Archbishop Pittau explained. "Only someone with a profound knowledge of our faith can also understand the legislation of the Church."