Canon Law in the Internet Age

There are many interesting aspects to taking on the full-time study of canon law, at this or any time. In my brief experience, the problems of the day are ever-present in our classroom discussions, along with what we as canonists will be facing in our professional work in just a year or so. Canon Law is a vital and vibrantly relevant element in the life of the Catholic Church, and I and my classmates are going to be the experts who will, we all hope, carry forward the saving and redemptive mission of the Church through our careful and correct application of the law in a thousand different scenarios. 

Another aspect that has made studying at this particular juncture interesting is the feeling of being at the verge of a technological revolution. Now, we are only talking revolutionary in our specific context: the technology is question is often years or even decades old. But my class seems to be at the bleeding edge, at least at this school, of wedding the ancient tradition of ecclesiastical law with the tools of the digital age.

My first year of canon law studies, two of my classmates had iPads with them in class. That number is doubled this year. That first year we were given (and were billed for) printed notes for each course, most around two hundred pages each, one more than four hundred pages. This year we received all course notes in .pdf format via email. Our youngest professor used the long-available Blackboard intranet site for our course this semester. Our discussions of praxis frequently turn to the future rôle of video-conferencing services such as Skype in the tribunal of the twenty-first century. 

And yet the resources available to us electronically are still quite sparse. The Code of Canon Law itself is not officially available in a digital format, but many of us make use of a series of .pdf text files that are floating around of the various core Codes in both Latin and English. (More detail in a future post on how I have labored long to make this text useful to me in my studies in my own peculiar way.) Of the small number of academic journals devoted to canon law in English, only one is readily available in full page scan .pdf through the library. (Our faculty’s own journal is also available electronically through the library resources, but in unformatted plain text.) I have not made any serious survey of what other books might be for sale as legitimate e-books, not yet finding myself in that market, but I believe the list of titles would be fairly short. 

And the conversation in the ether is quite limited right now, as well. Friends in other disciplines have any number of favorite websites and blogs that they can frequent for news and opinions in their respective disciplines. But canonists have not yet flocked to the Internet to build their own small soapboxes. Perhaps this is a good thing in many ways, but for a person who has always endeavored to do his thinking in full view (however embarrassing the result), the lack of dozens of blogs to link to was deeply discouraging to me.

I keep reminding myself that I am not called — let alone able — to correct this deficiency on my own, but the trend toward hubris is persistent. And I also need to remember that I am not actually alone out there: just among my class of sixteen, at least three others have started blogs of their own, all focused more-or-less on canonical themes. And there are a small number of very reputable and well-established canonists with a long-standing web presence. These solid entries are not to be discounted, and if pressed I would ultimately side with quality over quantity. But I would still like to see more in my saved #canonlaw Twitter search than Dr. Edward Peters’s infrequent posts and retweets of the same.

So what? What is the point of all this blather? I guess just to position myself, for myself, regarding what I am about as a new canonist in this digital era. I don’t need to change the world with my words (fortunately). But I want to be a consistent presence on the Web, both in long form, in the sharing of conversation-sparking quotes and news items, and in whatever it is I use Twitter for. I hope that some will find my efforts not just worth reading, but worth responding to, commenting upon, or even countering. At the end of the day, I am an excited young practitioner of an ancient discipline, and I want to start to be part of the conversation. 

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