Online PhD in Canon Law

Canon law is the study of the laws and regulations set forth to govern the Catholic Church and its officials. Online PhD programs for canon law teach students about how canon law has developed over time. Students are also expected to explore interpretations of canon law and to learn about how canon law applies to the Church today. Students will learn about the factors that played a role in the law and will think critically about the law's strengths and shortcomings. Finally, students must have a strong theological background, and must also understand the structure of ministry and Church hierarchy.

After graduating from online PhD programs for canon law, students usually go on to become legal professionals who serve the Church. They are often tasked with handling conflicts and representing individuals who are accused of canonical offenses. Students who are not interested in pursuing a career as a canon lawyer can instead establish themselves as scholars who work within academia. Post secondary instructors of canon law are responsible for preparing future canon lawyers for their careers.

About Online PhD Programs in Canon Law

Students who are enrolled in canon law graduate programs are expected to have a strong foundation in Latin and theology. They will take classes in various aspects of canon law, such as sacramental law and procedural law. They will also learn about general American law and Eastern law. The best PhD canon law programs will include courses in ministry and history as well. Some may include elective classes in Roman law and the philosophy of law as well. Specific examples of classes that a canon law student may take include those listed below. They are derived from The Catholic University of America‘s canon law graduate program.

Year One:

  • Sacramental Law. This class provides a study of the laws that govern church ceremonies.
  • Juridical Structure of Matrimony. This is a course dedicated to the definition of marriage and the canonical position on topics like separation and divorce.
  • History of Canon Law. Historical context is an important part of understanding canon law. This class therefore surveys the history and development of the law over time.

Year Two:

  • Supra-Diocesan Structures. This class is a study of the various aspects of Church governance and the way that governance handles the theological issues that arise within the Church.
  • Ordained Ministry. This course provides insight into the training of the ordained and also requires students to study religious ceremonies.
  • American Law. In addition to canon law, students will learn about American laws and the way the Church operates within those laws.

It is typical for online canon law doctoral degrees to require students to complete a dissertation prior to graduating. Students will take classes in dissertation research and design leading up to their project, after which they will write a lengthy report over their research findings. Then, students will present their research to a faculty body, which is a procedure known as the dissertation defense. Only after completing the entire dissertation process will a student be granted his or her doctoral degree.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Canon Law

Ph.D. programs in canon law are a good choice for individuals who want to work as the representation for ministers and other church officials. Those who are interested in learning about Church governance and theological principles can also benefit from a Ph.D. program in canon law. However, students who want to learn more about laws outside of the Catholic Church may want to consider a different law program. Students who wish to work for the church but who do not want to act as representatives for church officials may want to consider a different degree path as well, such as a doctoral degree in divinity or ministry.

Online degree programs offer flexible scheduling, which make them a viable option for busy students who work, have family obligations, or other responsibilities. However, online canon law degree programs require students to be self-motivated and well-organized. Students who struggle with completing assignments on time may want to consider the structure of traditional degree programs in lieu of online programs. Meanwhile, those who have trouble with motivation but who require flexibility may want to consider hybrid degree programs instead.

Application & Admission Requirements

At a minimum, applicants to canon law graduate programs must have a bachelor's degree. However, some canon law programs also require potential applicants to complete additional course work prior to applying. Some programs may also require students to achieve fluency in Latin and other foreign languages. Other doctoral program application requirements include formal letters of intent, transcripts, and proof of previous thesis work. Most programs also require recommendation letters from religious superiors and the submission of GRE scores. Finally, students can expect to provide writing samples as well.

Career Options & Job Market

Graduates from canon law doctoral degree programs typically go on to become canon lawyers. They will represent church officials in the event that they face charges or accusations. This is not the only career path for canon law graduates, however. Those who wish to establish careers within academia can go on to become post secondary instructors after graduation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), post secondary teachers earn around $62,050 annually and the field is projected to grow by 17% by 2020. Keep in mind that salary figures are not set in stone and will vary based on experience, the employer, and location.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Professional associations and societies often provide fellowship and grant opportunities for canon law students, which can help with the financial burden of tuition and related costs. In addition, many private organizations and local governments provide some funding opportunities for graduate students. Students also have the option of pursuing loan and grant opportunities through the federal government. Listed below are some resources for students who are interested in acquiring financial aid.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This is a federal aid program that provides a loan of up to $12,000 at a low and fixed interest rate of 6.8%.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. Based on financial need, this loan program offers an average of $3,500 annually at a fixed interest rate of 5%.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Students also have the option of seeking financial aid opportunities from their universities. Most schools have financial aid offices dedicated to helping students find the tuition assistance programs that best fit their situations.

Essential Advice

  • Start taking Latin and other foreign languages during your undergraduate studies. You'll most likely need to prove proficiency prior to being admitted into a canon law doctoral degree program.
  • Getting a solid background in theology will help set the foundation for the study of canon law. Consider taking theology classes while you are an enrolled as an undergraduate student.
  • Even if you think you will not qualify for financial aid, you should still apply. It is possible that you will receive some assistance, and every little bit helps.
  • If you need help with the application process, don't be afraid to call your university's admissions office. Admission officials are there to help you with any questions that arise as you are putting together your application packet.