The Catholic University of America

Degree Programs

The School of Canon Law is an ecclesiastical faculty preparing students for licentiate and doctorate degrees authorized by the Apostolic See. The school is a community of students, faculty and staff working together for the purpose of the study of canon law in service to the Catholic Church, with particular attention to the needs and opportunities of the church in the United States.

The study of canon law requires an adequate understanding of the church, its life and ministry. A preliminary background, evidenced by a master's degree in theology or its equivalent, such as the completion of the philosophical and theological program required for priestly ordination, is required before being admitted to the regular licentiate program.

For persons who do not yet have this background, the School of Canon Law, in conjunction with the School of Theology and Religious Studies, offers the First Cycle.


“First Cycle” refers to the preparatory theological and philosophical course work necessary to begin the study of canon law proper.

“Second Cycle” refers to the six semesters in which students study the Code and upon the successful completion of which leads to the conferral of the Licentiate in Canon Law.

“Third Cycle” refers to the further juridical formation, the writing of the doctoral dissertation and upon successful completion of which leads to the conferral of the doctor of canon law degree

First [Preparatory] Cycle:
The study of canon law presupposes a theological foundation. For those who do not possess an advanced degree in theology or who have had no previous training in philosophy, 24 graduate credits in theology (8 courses) are required, covering (in general) dogmatic theology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and moral theology.   More specifically, these courses should include the following topics:
Elements of philosophy: philosophical anthropology, metaphysics, ethics.
Elements of theology: an introduction to Sacred Scripture; fundamental theology; the
transmission and credibility of divine revelation; Trinitarian theology; Christology; divine grace;  
in a special way, Ecclesiology; general and special sacramental theology; fundamental and
special moral theology.
Fundamental institutes of canon law.
The FIRST CYCLE does not itself result in a degree, but qualifies a student to enter the Second Cycle or regular J.C.L. degree seeking program.
Graduate credits from other universities or theologates in the above areas of study and related areas may be transferred with the approval of the Dean.
If the requirements of the First Cycle have been satisfied, an applicant may be admitted directly to the Second Cycle. In individual cases, minor deficiencies may be supplied during the regular course of studies in the Second Cycle.


The purpose of the six-semester or three-year licentiate program is to help the student become acquainted with the whole corpus of church law, understand it in terms of its theological, philosophical, and historical background, and learn the method and practice of scientific research. The level of research for the licentiate is that expected of professional canonists, specifically the exacting investigation of canonical questions encountered in curial, tribunal, and similar practice, and the articulation of one's findings in written opinions and briefs.

THIRD CYCLE [Doctorate in Canon Law (JCD)]

For admission to candidacy for the doctorate, the student must have successfully received the licentiate degree and demonstrated superior academic ability as demonstrated by achievement of an overall A- average in the various components of the licentiate program (i.e., coursework, thesis, comprehensive examination) taken in the aggregate. However, within this overall average, the grade for the thesis must be at least A-.

Before a formal submission of the proposal for the doctoral dissertation, a candidate must demonstrate a fluency in canonical Latin and pass proficiency examinations in two modern languages (Italian, Spanish, German, French) administered by the School of Canon Law.