Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Regulations for Doctrinal Examination Agendi ratio in doctrinarum examine, and Explanatory note, 30 May 1997.

Article 1. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the function of promoting and safeguarding doctrine on faith and morals

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throughout the Catholic world.1 In accomplishing this purpose, it renders a service to the truth by protecting the right of the people of God to receive the Gospel message in its purity and entirety. Therefore, in order that faith and morals not be harmed by errors however disseminated, it also has the duty of examining writings and opinions which appear contrary to correct faith or dangerous.2

Article 2. This fundamental pastoral responsibility concerns all the pastors of the church, who have the duty and the right to exercise vigilance, whether individually or gathered in particular councils or episcopal conferences, in order that the faith and morals of the members of the faithful entrusted to their care not suffer harm.3 To this end, they can also be served by doctrinal commissions, institutionalized consultative bodies which assist episcopal conferences and individual bishops in their solicitude for the doctrine of the faith.4 The principle remains, however, that the Holy See can always intervene and, as a rule, does so when the influence of a publication exceeds the boundaries of an individual episcopal conference or when the danger to the faith is particularly grave.5 In such cases the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith uses the following procedures:

I. Preliminary Examination

Article 3. The indicated writings or teachings, in whatever way they are disseminated, are given attention by the competent office, which submits them to the examination of the congresso [the weekly meeting of the superiors and officials of the congregation]. After a preliminary evaluation of the gravity of the question, the congresso decides whether or not to undertake a study by the office.

1. Cf. apostolic constitution Pastor Bonus, Art. 48 AAS 80 (1988) 873.

2. Cf. ibid., Art. 51.2 and Regolamento Proprio Della Congregazione per la Dottrina Della Fede, Art. 4b.

3. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 823.1.2; Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, Canon 652.2.

4. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, letter on doctrinal commissions, Nov. 23, 1990, No. 3.

5. Cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 48.

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II. Office Study

Article 4. Once the authenticity of the writing has been verified, it is carefully examined with the collaboration of one or more consultors or other experts in the particular area.6

Article 5. The outcome of this examination is then presented to the congresso, which decides whether this is sufficient for an intervention with the local authorities or whether the examination needs to proceed further by one of two established procedures: ordinary examination or examination in cases of urgency.7

Article 6. The criteria for this decision are the potential errors which have been noted, taking into consideration their prominence, seriousness, dissemination, influence and the danger of harm to the faithful.

Article 7. Should the congresso judge that the study undertaken was sufficient, it can entrust the case directly to the author’s ordinary8 and, through him, bring the doctrinal problems presented in the text to the author’s attention. In such a case, the ordinary is invited to deepen the study of the question and ask the author to provide the needed clarifications for submission to the judgment of the congregation.

III. Ordinary Procedure of Examination

Article 8. An ordinary examination is used when a writing appears to contain grave doctrinal error, the identification of which requires attentive discernment, and the possible negative influence on the faithful does not seem to involve particular urgency. The examination is structured in two phases: an internal phase of preliminary investigation undertaken within the congregation9 and an external phase involving the presentation of objections to the author and subsequent dialogue.10

6. Cf. Regolamento Proprio Della Congregazione per la Dottrina Della Fede, Art. 74.

7. Cf. ibid., Art. 66.2.

8. Cf. Canon 134.1.2; 295.1; Eastern Canon 984.13.

9. Cf. Nos. 8-15.

10. Cf. Nos. 16-22.

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Article 9. The congresso designates two or more experts who examine the text in question, give their opinions and evaluate whether it is in conformity with the doctrine of the church.

Article 10. The same congresso appoints a relator pro auctore, who has the task of illustrating in a spirit of truth the positive aspects of the teaching and the merits of the author, of cooperating in the authentic interpretation of his thought within the overall theological context and of expressing a judgment regarding the influence of the author’s opinions. For this purpose, the relator pro auctore has the right to examine all the acts relative to the case.

Article 11. The office report, which contains all the information relevant to the examination of the case (including the antecedent elements), the opinions of the experts and the presentation of the relator pro auctore, is distributed to those who will take part in the consultation.

Article 12. The experts who had submitted opinions on the text can also be invited to participate in the consultation in addition to the consultors themselves, the relator pro auctore and the author’s ordinary (who cannot be substituted by another and is bound to secrecy).11 The discussion begins with an exposition by the relator pro auctore, who makes a comprehensive presentation of the case. After him, the author’s ordinary, the experts and the consultors each express their own opinion, orally and in writing, on the content of the text under examination. The relator pro auctore and the experts may respond to the observations and offer clarifications.

Article 13. When the discussion has finished, the consultors alone remain in the room for the general vote on the outcome of the examination, aimed at determining whether doctrinal errors or dangerous opinions have been found in the text, and specifically identifying these in light of the different categories of truth propositions found in the professio fidei.12

Article 14. The entire file, including the minutes of the discussion, the general vote and the opinions of the consultors, is submitted to the examination of the ordinary session of the congregation, which decides whether to present objections to the author and if so, on which points.

11. Cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 12.

12. Cf. AAS 81 (1989) 104ff.

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Article 15. The decisions of the ordinary session are submitted to the consideration of the supreme pontiff.13

Article 16. If in the prior phase it was decided to proceed to a presentation of objections, the author’s ordinary or other concerned ordinaries as well as the competent dicasteries of the Holy See are informed.

Article 17. The list of erroneous or dangerous propositions at issue, together with an explanatory argumentation and the documentation (reticito nomine) necessary for the defense, are communicated through the ordinary to the author and his adviser, whom the author has the right to nominate, with the approval of his ordinary, to assist him. The author must present a written response within three canonical months. It is appropriate that, together with the author’s written response, the ordinary also forward his own opinion to the congregation.

Article 18. The possibility is also foreseen of a personal meeting between the author, assisted by his adviser (who takes an active part in the discussion) and delegates of the congregation. In this eventuality, the congregation’s delegates, who are appointed by the congresso, are to keep minutes of the meeting, the text of which is to be signed by them, by the author and by his adviser.

Article 19. Should the author not send the written response, as is always requested, the ordinary session of the congregation takes the appropriate decisions.

Article 20. The congresso examines the written response of the author as well as the minutes of any meeting that has taken place. If this examination reveals truly new doctrinal elements requiring further evaluation, it is then decided whether the question should again be presented to the consultation, which may be expanded to include additional experts, among these the author’s adviser, appointed in accordance with Article 17. Otherwise, the written response of the author and the minutes of any meeting are submitted directly to the judgment of the ordinary session.

13. Cf. Regolamento Proprio Della Congregazione per la Dottrina Della Fede, Arts. 16.2 and 77.

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Article 21. If the ordinary session decides that the question has been resolved positively and that the response is sufficient, the process does not go further. Should this not be the case, adequate measures are then taken, also for the good of the faithful. Moreover, the ordinary session decides whether and in what way the results of the examination are to be made public.

Article 22. The decisions of the ordinary session are submitted for the approval of the supreme pontiff and then communicated to the author’s ordinary, to the episcopal conference and to concerned dicasteries.

IV. Examination in Cases of Urgency

Article 23. An urgent examination is employed when the writing is clearly and certainly erroneous and, at the same time, its dissemination could cause or already has caused grave harm to the faithful. In this case the ordinary or the concerned ordinaries are immediately informed together with the competent dicasteries of the Holy See.

Article 24. The congresso appoints a commission which is especially entrusted with promptly determining the erroneous or dangerous propositions.

Article 25. The propositions identified by the commission, together with the relative documentation, are submitted to the ordinary session, which will give priority to the examination of the question.

Article 26. If the ordinary session judges that the above-mentioned propositions are in fact erroneous and dangerous, after the approval of the Holy Father they are transmitted to the author, through his ordinary, with the request that they be corrected within two canonical months.

Article 27. If the ordinary, having heard the author, believes it is necessary to ask him also for a written explanation, this text must be forwarded to the congregation together with the opinion of the ordinary. Such an explanation is then presented to the ordinary session for the appropriate decisions.

V. Disciplinary Measures

Article 28. If the author has not corrected the indicated errors in a satisfactory way and with adequate publicity, and the ordinary session

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has concluded that he has committed the offense of heresy, apostasy or schism,14 the congregation proceeds to declare the latae sententiae penalties incurred;15 against such a declaration no recourse is admitted.

Article 29. If the ordinary session ascertains the existence of doctrinal errors which do not involve latae sententiae penalties,16 the congregation proceeds according to the norm of law, whether universal17 or proper to the congregation.18

The sovereign pontiff John Paul II, at the audience granted to the undersigned cardinal prefect on May 30, 1997, confirmed these regulations, adopted in the ordinary session of this congregation, approving at the same time in forma specifica Articles 28-29, contrariis quibuslibet non ostantibus, and ordered their publication.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 1997, the solemnity of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone



The formulation of “Regulations for Doctrinal Examination” is an indispensable requirement for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has the official function of examining “writings and opinions which appear contrary to correct faith and dangerous’’ (Pastor Bonus, Art. 51). Such an examination in fact, so as not to suffer from arbitrariness or endless discussions, must follow a precise procedure, known to all and approved by the authority of the church, which safeguards on the one hand the rights of the author and on the other, those of the entire people of God to “receive the Gospel message in its purity and entirety’’ (Art. 1).

14. Cf. Canon 751.

15. Cf. Canon 1364.1; Eastern Canons 1436.1 and 1437.

16. Cf. Canon 752; Eastern Canon 599.

17. Cf. 1371.1; Eastern Canon 1436.2.

18. Cf. Pastor Bonus, Art. 52.

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For this reason, already in 1971 the renewed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had prepared “Regulations for Doctrinal Examination.” After 25 years of experience, however, and taking into account a multitude of observations which have been provided to the dicastery, it was decided to prepare new regulations that might respond even better to the demands of the present day.

The principal characteristics of this revision are as follows:

1. Involvement of the bishops and the author’s ordinary

The regulations provide for the timely and continual informing of the author’s ordinary as well as other concerned ordinaries and episcopal conferences, in addition to other dicasteries of the Holy See. For instance when the congregation judges that the study undertaken by this office is sufficient (cf. Art. 7), the question is remanded to the author’s ordinary for any necessary further study and possible clarifications. Throughout the regulations, the ordinary acts as the intermediary between the congregation and the author. In the ordinary procedure, in addition to being kept informed, the ordinary is invited to take part personally in the consultation, at which he “cannot be substituted by another’’ (Art. 12). At the consultation, he is called upon to express his own opinion, both orally and in writing; he is also invited to provide his opinion to the congregation when he forwards the author’s written response (Art. 17). In the process that is followed in urgent examinations, the involvement of the ordinary is also important. In particular, in addition to being kept informed, he acts as the intermediary between the Holy See and the author (Art. 26-27).

2. Guarantees for author’s defense

The safeguards provided in the previous regulations were unquestionably sufficient; however, in consideration of the heightened sensitivity in this area characteristic of contemporary thinking, they have been significantly expanded. On the congregation’s part, the process which is put in motion includes junctures which are so numerous and complex, requiring extended periods of time as well as the involvement of so many persons, that it is impossible to accuse the procedure of haste or superficiality.

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Interventions are foreseen, and these recur in the process, involving scholars, experts, the consultation, the ordinaries, the ordinary session of the congregation and the Holy Father himself. In addition, the author’s defense is guaranteed by the appointment of a relator pro auctore, as well as by the presence of an adviser in whom he has confidence.

It is true that the relator pro auctore is named by the congregation, but this takes place when the process is still in an exploratory phase: The congregation at this point is simply seeking to arrive at a more precise idea of the author’s thought, without for the moment having decided to proceed in his regard. It should be pointed out again that the author benefits from the presence and assistance of his ordinary at every stage of the process as set forth. Finally, should it be judged opportune, the author, together with his adviser, can also meet with delegates of the congregation to discuss the case.

“In addition, the author’s defense is guaranteed by the appointment of a relator pro auctore, as well as by the presence of an adviser in whom he has confidence.”

Safeguards for the reliability of the evaluation also exist in the process used for urgent examinations. Not only are the different elements in the examination of the documentation always distinct, consecutive and independent, but the author’s ordinary is also involved, and the author himself can always offer explanations or possibly correct his statements. It is true that a relator pro auctore is not provided, but this procedure is only used when it is a question of a writing that is “clearly and certainly erroneous’’; in which there are no problems of interpretation and, at the same time, the dissemination of the text “could cause or already has caused grave harm to the faithful’’ (Art. 23).

3. Respect for universal and particular law in the procedures

The regulations are not to be seen as a quick and easy way for ecclesiastical authority to take disciplinary or penal measures to the detriment of the norms, substantive or procedural, of canon law. Rather, they are norms proper to the congregation which govern the conditions prior to proceeding to any possible use of disciplinary or

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penal measures: These norms in fact concern the examination of teaching, not the disciplinary or penal measures to be taken or the process by which these are arrived at. In general, it can be said that it is a question of procedures which are not contrary to the canons, but in addition to them, provided precisely because of the delicate nature of questions of faith and for the protection of the author whose writings are under examination.

“It can be said that the regulations constitute a noteworthy and valid effort to harmonize the indispensable demands of safeguarding and promoting the faith with respect for the rights of the faithful: The first cannot be given value to the detriment of the second.”

An explanation, however, is necessary with regard to Article 28 of the regulations. Concerning disciplinary measures, it is stated that if it is a question of the offenses of heresy, apostasy or schism, the congregation can proceed to declare the latae sententiae penalty incurred, and no recourse against such a declaration is possible. Certainly, the declaration of a penalty is an act of jurisdiction and not, properly speaking, an act of teaching by the magisterium. But it cannot be denied that in this case it is a question of the declaration of a penalty already incurred, given the intrinsic link with the doctrinal judgment, and what is more, following upon an attentive doctrinal examination of the teaching in question, according to the procedures provided in the same regulations. Furthermore, the procedure provides for the direct intervention of the Holy Father, with his approval, in the different stages of the process. The regulations stipulate that the conclusions of the doctrinal examination be submitted to the Holy Father himself.

In such a context, then, it would be pure and unjustified juridical formalism to separate the congregation’s conclusions regarding the author’s teaching, which establish with certainty that he is a heretic, an apostate or a schismatic and moreover refuses to submit himself to the judgment of the church from the declaration of excommunication, by initiating a penal trial according to canon law or similarly by allowing the possibility of recourse. Moreover, this would carry with it the risk of postponing indefinitely the resolution of an urgent and serious problem.

In light of such considerations, Article 28 is easily understood the single exception to universal law in the regulations. In other cases, if the congregation intends to proceed to disciplinary and penal measures,

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it follows either universal law or its own particular legislation. In this context one finds the explanation for the specific approval given by the Holy Father to Articles 28-29 of the regulations, be it for the derogation contained therein, for the procedure to be followed in the declaration of latae sententiae penalties or for the exclusion of recourse against such a declaration.

In conclusion, it can be said that the regulations constitute a noteworthy and valid effort to harmonize the indispensable demands of safeguarding and promoting the faith with respect for the rights of the faithful: The first cannot be given value to the detriment of the second. Both respond to the truth; objectively, they are not in conflict, and therefore as far as possible they must be safeguarded.


AAS 89 (1997): 830-835; OssRomEng, 30 (September 3, 1997): 2; Origins_ 27 (1997-1998): 221-224.