Governance and Canon

After more than fifty years of preparation - interrupted by Vatican II - the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1990. The new Code only contains canons applicable to all the Eastern Catholic Churches. Each individual church is also required to develop a particular law regulating aspects of its life that differ from the other churches. Once completed, this ius particularis must be approved by Rome.

As regards governance, the 1990 Code places Eastern Catholic Churches into one of five different categories, depending on the status of their primate (or the lack thereof): (1) patriarchal, to which belong the Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite and Syrian; (2) major arch episcopal, a category created for the Ukrainian Catholic Church during Vatican II, to which the Syro-Malabar Church was added in 1992, and the Syro-Malankara and Romanian Churches in 2005; (3) metropolitan sui iuris ('of their own law') to which belong the American Ruthenian and Ethiopian; (4) other churches, sui iuris: Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Slovak, and a diocese for all of the former Yugoslavia; (5) churches with no hierarchy of their own Rite. The term sui iuris is added to the categories below the major archepiscopal, because metro-politanates and dioceses as such are not usually 'churches with their own law'.

Patriarchal churches elect their own primate (in synod), who only requests communion with the pope. For their home territories, these synods also elect their own bishops, from a list of candidates previously approved by Rome. In the case of major archepiscopal churches, the election of the primate must be approved by the pope; and for metropolitan churches the pope names the primate from a list of at least three candidates provided by the church's council of bishops. Outside the home territories, Vatican involvement is much more direct, imitating procedures used in the Roman Rite.

Note that patriarchal and major archepiscopal churches have permanent synods of five bishops, who usually meet more frequently than the full synod. Churches of these two categories gather occasionally in ecclesial council, with presbyteral, monastic, lay and institutional delegates from all of the dioceses. However, such councils enjoy only advisory roles.

There is no correlation between size and status among Eastern Catholic Churches. The Ukrainian Catholic and Syro-Malabar Churches, for example, are far larger than most of the patriarchal churches. However, these latter usually owe their status to the fact that at the time of their reunion with Rome, they had a patriarch (or catholicos).

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