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Ever since the Second Vatican Council, the faithful—lay and religious—have demonstrated their ever increasing interest in the study of theology and other sacred sciences, and the enrichment of their Christian lives, so as to be capable of giving reason to their faith (cf. 1 P 3, 15), to exercise their apostolate fruitfully and to be able to cooperate with the sacred ministries according to their specific capacity and condition (cf. can. 229, §§ 1-2). With the post-conciliar period, when the ecclesiastic Faculties—honoring long-standing tradition—conformed to the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana (1979), the Church understands the increasing necessity of a full formation specific to the needs of the lay faithful.

1. Higher Institutes for Religious Sciences (HIRS) respond to this desire.1 Two documents issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries, Nota illustrativa (April 10, 1986) and Normativa per l'Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose (May 12, 1987), defined their juridical and academic standing.2

From a distance of more than twenty years one sees renewed requests in the pastoral order as well as the evolution of civil legislation regarding higher education in many countries with whom these ecclesiastic academic institutions interact. A recognition of these changes leads to this Instruction and the redefinition of those preceding norms.

2. The study of theology and the study of Religious Sciences follow two distinct courses. What differentiates them from each other is the nature of their teaching and the course of formation proposed.

The former course, offered by the Faculties of Theology and the institutes with which they are incorporated, aggregated and affiliated, assure the student of the full and complete formation in theology that prepares them for priesthood. This course of study offers in a particular way a deepening of the discipline of theology. This study offers the diverse possibilities of a more profound specialization of theology, of acquiring the scientific method proper to the discipline, and of offering original scholarly contribution.

3. The latter course, that of the HIRS, offers the experience of some principal elements of theology and both their necessary philosophical presuppositions and their complementary social scientific ones. This course of studies has three primary goals. Its first aim is the promotion of the religious formation of the laity and of those in consecrated life in order that they might better participate in the task of evangelization of the secular world in which they live. This role emphasizes also the assumption of professional duties in ecclesial life and in the installation of a Christian sensibility in society. Its second goal is to prepare candidates for the many diverse lay ministries and services to the Church. And its third goal is to prepare teachers of religion for all school levels below the university level.

4. The HIRS offer a new opportunity to participate, in concert with theology, in a deepening of the truth with an eye to accompany an increase in faith of the people and the entire community.

The study and teaching of Religious Studies offer the necessary elements to create a synthesis between faith and culture in the particular locales in which the Church exists. The HIRS addresses the requirements of service to the Church specific to the particular demands of a given time and place. The manner of study, the pedagogical methods and the investment of energy needed at the core of these institutes differs from that required in the faculties of theology.

5. The HIRS vary widely. They might be autonomous ecclesiastical Faculties that have been canonically erected in response to the needs of the Church.3 They might be among those initiatives taken for theological formation that are promoted with great demand in particular Churches but that are not of an academic level. Diocesan schools of theological formation or non-academic Institutes bearing other names present examples of these initiatives.

6. The provisions of the present Instruction, coming from the perspective of a revision of the Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, has the objective of regularizing the varied HIRS that exist in the universal Church in order to ensure appropriate academic and scientific levels, in fidelity to the Magisterium, and of responding to the requests of local Churches that desire to erect new Institutes.

The Instruction has three parts: I. Structure of HIRS. II. Process of Erecting an HIRS. III. Final Norms.



Purpose and promotion of HIRS

Art. 1. An HIRS is an ecclesiastic academic institution, whose aim is defined in the introduction above (cf. nn. 3-5). The Code of Canon law (cf. 821) and the Code of Canon law for the Eastern Church (cf. can. 404 § 2) allows for the establishment of HIRS. These norms regulate the HIRS.

Art. 2. The purpose of the HIRS lies in the formation of the faithful, both lay and religious, that they might enrich their Christian lives, that they might give reason to their faith (cf. 1 P 3, 15), that they might strengthen their apostolic work and, in particular, that they might participate in evangelization. At the same time, it prepares professionals active in the heart of the culture and society to actively cooperate, within their own specific competencies, with the ordained.

Art. 3. The HIRS offers a systematic treatment of Catholic doctrine, with a proper scientific method, as it draws from the Church's authentic interpretation of Revelation offered in its living Magisterium.4 It promotes, furthermore, research on the responses to man's questions, from a theological perspective—aided by the philosophical and human sciences as well as by other disciplines concerned with religious studies.

Art. 4. An HIRS, whether having both first and second cycles or having only the first cycle, is attached to a ecclesiastic faculty of theology that assumes the academic responsibility of the institute.

Art. 5. The responsibility for the promotion and the progress of the HIRS falls to:

a) the interested bishops and eparchies, particularly in regards to the safeguarding and the promotion of the Catholic faith, to the research and the qualification of the teaching body, and to the financial security of the Institute;

b) the national Episcopal Conference or to other Catholic hierarchies for what concerns the eastern Churches,5 particularly for those areas corresponding to the pastoral objectives of the Conference. This supervision is in close collaboration with the Congregation for Catholic Education in that which concerns the verification and the supervision of the implementation of pastoral goals;

c) the faculty of theology to which the institute is attached to warrant, for the Congregation for Catholic Education, the academic quality and the adherence to the institution's approved goals.

2. Academic Authorities

Art. 6. The authorities that govern the HIRS include the authorities common to the Faculty of Theology to which it is attached as well as its own proper governance. The common authorities consist of the Chancellor, the President (or Dean), and the Council of the Faculty of Theology. The authorities specific to the HIRS are the Moderator, the Director, and the Council of the Institute. A Vice-Director may be named if the circumstances suggest it.

Art. 7. It pertains to the Chancellor of the Faculty of Theology:

a) to ask of the Congregation for Catholic Education to canonically erect each HIRS, after having obtained the affirmation of the Episcopal Conference or of another competent authority within the Catholic hierarchy (cf. art. 5 b);

b) to present to the Congregation for Catholic Education the plan of studies and the Statutes of the HIRS for approval;

c) to inform the Congregation for Catholic Education on key issues and to send a report on the status and the activity of the HIRS to the Congregation every five years;

d) to name the Director, chosen from a terna named by the Council of the Institute. This terna is taken from the permanent faculty after having acquired the approbation of the Council of the Faculty of Theology and, where the task falls to the Moderator according to the norms of Art. 10, with the nihil obstat of the Moderator.

Art. 8. It falls to the President (or Dean) of the Faculty of Theology:

a) to convoke and preside over the Council of the Faculty of Theology in response to questions concerning the HIRS;

b) to resolve, jointly with the Directors of the HIRS, questions in common;

c) to preside at, either directly or through delegation, qualifying exams for diplomas;

d) to furnish annually to the Council of the Faculty of Theology information on the HIRS;

e) to present, every five years, a report on the status and the activity of the HIRS to the Council of the Faculty of Theology. Such report is to be prepared by the Director for the approval and response of the Chancellor, who will transmit it to the Congregation for Catholic Education;

f) to sign HIRS academic diplomas.

Art. 9. It falls to the Council of the same Faculty

a) to examine and to approve, in advance, the plans of study, the Statutes, and the regulation of the HIRS;

b) to give its opinion on the suitability of instructors of the HIRS in view of their entry into and their development as permanent faculty;

c) to examine and to approve the information that the President (or Dean) should furnish each year on the progress of the HIRS;

d) to verify the consistency and the functional character of the structures and the subsidies of the HIRS, especially regarding the library collection;

e) to approve the quinquennial report on the state and the activities of the HIRS as prepared by the Director;

f) to give its consent to the nomination of the Director of the HIRS;

g) to propose to the Chancellor, were the HIRS to fail, that the Congregation for Catholic Education suspend it.

Art. 10. The Moderator of the HIRS is normally the bishop or the eparch of the place in which the HIRS is situated. If the Institute is within an ecclesiastical university, the Rector holds the role of the Moderator. It falls to the Moderator:

a) to guard that Catholic doctrine be integrated and faithfully transmitted;

b) to name permanent faculty members, after having received the positive opinion of said faculty from the Faculty of theology, and to name other faculty of the HIRS. In this role the Moderator gives the missio canonique to those who teach those disciplines concerning faith and morals, once they have made their profession of faith, and give to those who teach other disciplines the venia docendi. In the case in which the function of the Moderator is held by the Rector of the University, it is the Chancellor or his delegate who grants the missio canonique or the venia docendi;

c) to revoke the missio canonique or the venia docendi, according to Art. 16 c. In the case in which the function of the Moderator be held by the Rector of the University, this duty falls to the Chancellor or his delegate;

d) to give the nihil obstat for the nomination of the Director;

e) to guard the doctrinal and disciplinary progress of the HIRS, referring such matters to the Chancellor;

f) to note which issues seem to him to pose the greatest difficulties to the Faculty of Theology and to invite said Faculty to take appropriate measures;

g) to name the Vice Director, the Treasurer and the Secretary of the HIRS, if the circumstances suggest, after having heard the opinion of the Director;

h) to approve the annual financial projected budget, the actual budget, and extraordinary administrative actions of the HIRS;

i) to sign, along with the President (or Dean) of the Faculty of Theology, and the Director of the Institute, HIRS academic diplomas.

Art. 11. The term of the Director is for five years and can be renewed for a second consecutive term. It falls to the Director:

a) to represent the HIRS to the Moderator, to academic authorities from the Faculty of Theology, and to civil authorities;

b) to direct and to coordinate the activities of the Institute, especially in regards to disciplinary, doctrinal and economic aspects;

c) to convoke and to preside at any meetings of the Council of the Institute;

d) to attend student assemblies in person or through delegation;

e) to write the quinquennial report on the state of the HIRS and its activities;

f) to sign, along with the President (or Dean) of the Faculty of Theology and the Moderator, HIRS academic diplomas;

g) to examine the requests and the representations of faculty and students. In serious cases that cannot be resolved by the Council of the Institute, the Director seeks to resolve issues in conjunction with the Faculty of theology.

Art. 12. § 1. The Council of the Institute is composed of the Director, the Vice Director (if there is one), of all permanent faculty, and of two representatives of the non-permanent faculty elected by their peers, of the President (or Dean) of the Faculty of Theology or his delegate, of a delegate of the Moderator, of two regular students elected by their fellow students, and of the Secretary, who has the mission of clerk.

§ 2. Decisions of the Council of the Institute require a majority rule of those present and, for issues of personnel, with a two-thirds majority. When addressing questions regarding the teaching faculty, the student representatives participate neither in the discussion nor in the voting.

§ 3. The Director convokes the Council of the Institute at least twice a year. In addition, in response to the request of a majority of the same Council, the Director will convoke the Council in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

§ 4. It falls to this Council:

a) to establish the plan of studies, the Statutes, and the Administration of HIRS that is to be submitted for approval by the Council of the Faculty of Theology;

b) to choose from the permanent faculty a terna for nomination to the post of Director and to propose the terna to the Moderator;

c) to propose names of teachers to the Moderator;

d) to approve the quinquennial report prepared by the Director on the state of the HIRS and its activities.

3. Teachers

Art. 13. § 1. All the teachers, whatever their position, should always be distinguished by their suitability of their knowledge of their fields, by an upright life, the integration of doctrine, the commitment to their work, such that they might more effectively contribute to the mission of the Institute. The teaching should be animated by a commitment to Divine Revelation, by fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and by respect for scientific truth.

§ 2. Those who teach in the HIRS should receive the missio canonique or the venia docendi, in accord with Art. 10 b.

Art. 14. § 1. Faculty are divided into two groups. The first, permanent faculty, devote themselves full time to the students. The second, non-permanent faculty, who support the work in a more temporary and part-time way.

§ 2. In order that a teacher be incorporated among the permanent faculty, what is required is:

a) that he be distinguished by his doctrinal commitment, by the witness of his life and his sense of ecclesiastic and academic responsibility;

b) that, for ecclesiastical disciplines, he be in possession of a suitable doctorate, obtained in an Ecclesiastical institution, and that, for non-ecclesiastical disciplines, the required degree be that of the second cycle of higher studies;

c) that he show the capacity to do research, demonstrated by publication of work within the areas and goals of the HIRS.;

d) that he will have demonstrated capability in teaching;

e) that the procedures in the Statutes of the HIRS be followed.

§ 3. Leaving the exception of Article 15 § 2, the permanent faculty of the HIRS may not be permanent faculty in other ecclesiastical or civil Institutions. The commitment of full-time employment in teaching is incompatible with engaging in other activities as they hinder one's ability to conduct teaching and research.

§ 4. The non-permanent faculty, for ecclesiastical material, should be in possession of at least a canonical license from an ecclesiastical institution, or an equivalent degree, and should have good aptitude for teaching. The specific norms for non-permanent faculty should be stated in the Statutes of the HIRS.

Art. 15. § 1. In each HIRS, there should be at least five permanent faculty, one for each of the following disciplines: Sacred Scripture, dogmatic theology, moral and pastoral theology, philosophy, human sciences. When the HIRS has only the first cycle of studies, the permanent faculty should consist of at least four teachers, one for each of the following disciplines: Sacred Scripture, dogmatic theology, moral and pastoral theology, and philosophy.

§ 2. If the HIRS is within a Faculty of Theology, it is not necessary to distinguish between the permanent teachers of the Faculty of Theology and those of the HIRS, on condition that the total number of permanent faculty more than equal the combined sum of the required number for a Faculty of Theology and for an HIRS.

Art. 16. The statutes of the HIRS should set:

a) the manner in which teachers are named and incorporated into the Institute;

b) when and under what conditions a teacher's employment ceases;

c) for what reasons teachers may be suspended from their duties or their positions be terminated, and which procedures are to be followed in such instances, so that the rights of the teachers and the HIRS might both be safeguarded.

4. Students

Art. 17. The HIRS should be open to all faithful Catholics—lay and religious—marked by their moral conduct and the prior studies they may have done in this area, who desire to receive a strong preparation in Religious Sciences. Each HIRS should normally have a minimum of 75 regular students.

Art. 18. § 1. The HIRS designates students as ordinary, extraordinary, non-degree seeking students and auditors. All students should faithfully observe the norms of the HIRS regarding its general structure and order, primarily in regards to programs of study, to attendance and to exams, and so to other aspects of the life of the Institute. They also participate in the life of the Institute and its ways following the statutes of each HIRS.

§ 2. The students designated ‘ordinary' are those who, choosing to follow an academic course, according to Articles 28-29 of this Instruction, follow all the courses and exercises prescribed by the Institute and successfully complete the required exams.

§ 3. An ordinary student aspiring to follow the baccalaureate course in Religious Sciences will be in possession of the diploma demonstrating successful completion of the secondary studies required for entrance into a state university.

§ 4. An ordinary student aspiring to the license in Religious Sciences will have successfully completed the baccalaureate in Religious Sciences.

§ 5. The students designated ‘extraordinary' are those who either do not possess the required diploma for entrance into a civil university or who do not desire academic certification. They take courses of the HIRS seeking certification of enrollment.

§ 6. Non-degree seeking students are those who do not seek the academic degree of the HIRS but seek to take courses, to pass the course exams, and eventually to matriculate in another Institute.

§ 7. Auditors are those who attend courses at the HIRS without seeking academic credit but simply with a view of obtaining certification of attendance.

Art. 19. In order to be admitted to sit for examinations, the student must have attended in excess of two-thirds of the class hours within each individual Institute course.

Art. 20. The Statutes of the HIRS should establish, and in any case only for grave matters, the manner by which a student may be suspended of certain rights, whether simply deprived of them or whether to the point of being expelled from the Institute. This manner shall also maintain the rights of the student as much as those of the Institute.

Art. 21. Recognizing the diversity of structures in the study of theology and of Religious Sciences (cf. Introduction, nn. 2-5), a student in possession either of the baccalaureate or of the license in Religious Sciences, who would like to obtain recognition of these accomplishments and to receive the baccalaureate in theology, may be admitted by the Dean of a Faculty of Theology if the Council of said Faculty determines that the specific studies in Religious Sciences appropriate to that purpose. That same Council of the Faculty of Theology should establish and approve for each candidate an integrated program of at least two years and should include appropriate examinations.

5. Organization of Studies

Art. 22. The plan of studies, prepared in conjunction with the specific ends of the HIRS, should be characterized by scientific rigor and integrity in its theological contents.

Art. 23. The structure of the HIRS requires a curriculum of studies five years in length and organized in two cycles. The first cycle takes three years and leads to the baccalaureate in Religious Sciences. The second cycle takes a further two years and leads to the license in Religious Sciences.

Art. 24. § 1. The first cycle should present all the fundamental disciplines of the area, whether philosophic or theological, in such a manner that, at the end of the course, the diploma should correspond properly to the course of studies completed. Concretely, the first cycle of studies should include the following disciplines:

a) History of philosophy;

b) Systematic philosophy;

c) Holy Scripture;

d) Fundamental Theology;

e) Dogmatic Theology;

f) Moral Theology;

g) Spiritual Theology;

h) Liturgical Theology;

i) Patrology and history of the Church;

j) Canon Law.

§ 2. In the second cycle, other than the courses that refer to the disciplines just mentioned (in particular those properly theological), the exercises, the optional courses, and the seminars, courses specifically in the specialization should also be offered. A teacher competent for each specialization should be further provided.

Art. 25. The plan of studies for each HIRS should specify those disciplines which compose the curriculum, the number of hours per week, the credits (European Credit Transfer System) assigned to each discipline, the basic contents, the bibliography, and the name of the teacher. In the quinquennial report for each HIRS, the number of credits should be normally 300, comprised of courses, seminars, laboratories, and apprenticeships.

6. Academic Degrees

Art. 26. The Faculty of Theology to which the HIRS is attached confers the academic degrees on the students. These degrees are the baccalaureate in Religious Sciences for the first cycle and the license in Religious Sciences with a specific specialization; the latter focusing on a particular specialization.

Art. 27. The academic degrees, given the diversity of HIRS, may be given other names than the ones listed above, especially given the norms of a particular country. However, the equivalence of these degrees with those mentioned in this document should be made clear in order to safeguard the uniformity across a particular country.

Art 28. In order to receive the baccalaureate of Religious Sciences one must have:

a) attended the first cycle of studies and have passed the examinations for each discipline;

b) acquired the knowledge of a modern language, in addition to one's own language, so as to be able to read and to understand texts in that foreign language;

c) composed and presented in public a written work, conforming to the norms indicated in the Statutes of the HIRS. In this regard one must demonstrate the capacity to formulate and present a logical argument, chosen from a list of prepared theses, before a committee of at least three faculty examiners.

Art. 29. In order to receive the license in Religious Sciences, one must have:

a) attended the second cycle of studies and have passed the examinations for each discipline;

b) acquired the knowledge of two modern languages, in addition to one's own language;

c) composed a written work, conforming to the norms indicated in the Statutes of the HIRS, that demonstrates an intellectual maturity in the chosen field of specialization. This work will have been submitted for a previously announced public defense.

7. Teaching and Financial Subsidies

Art. 30. In order to guarantee a proper functioning of the HIRS, each Institute should be able to count on the presence of logistics appropriate to the support of instruction. This support would also include a sufficiency of functional and suitable classrooms as well as spaces for seminars and exercises, space for offices and archives, and any other appropriate technical supports that might aid teaching.

Art. 31. In order to attain these specific goals, each HIRS should have a proper library, furnished and updated regularly with books and journals appropriate to the working needs of the faculty and the students. This library is to be in good working order. In cases in which the HIRS makes use of a theological library outside of the Institute, it should be the case that one finds in the ISSR at least a meeting room and a reading room that include basic reference works (such as dictionaries, journals, primary sources, etc.).

Art. 32. Each HIRS should annually allocate an appropriate amount of funds in order to constantly develop its collection of books, both classic and contemporary sources, and its collection of academic journals. These collections should be developed in such a manner that the library may serve the deepening of knowledge and instruction in these disciplines with its support of teaching, of academic exercises, and of seminars.

Art. 33. The Statues of the HIRS should establish adequate norms for the library in such a manner that its access and use be facilitated for the teachers and students.

Art. 34. Each HIRS should use its economic means for the pursuit of its specific end, for its adequate functioning, for the appropriate remuneration of its teachers and staff, and for the maintenance of its facilities.

Art. 35. The Statutes of the HIRS shall determine how the institution is to function financially. They also determine the appropriate competencies of each relevant administrative body in such a manner as to insure an appropriate and healthy administration of the Institute.

Art. 36. The Statutes of the HIRS shall also determine the manner according to which students contribute to the cost of the HIRS, whether through admission fees, annual tuition, examination and graduation fees, or similar.

Art. 37. The HIRS administration is autonomous and does not depend on the faculty to which it is attached, unless established otherwise in its Statutes.



Art. 38. Institutes that possess the requisites presented in the preceding Instruction and that are able to offer appropriate measures to guarantee continued future compliance may request canonical establishment.

Art. 39. It pertains to the national Episcopal conference or to another assembly of the Catholic hierarchy (cf. art. 5 b), whose competence includes the planning for the respective locale, to give its assent for the erecting of any HIRS.

Art. 40. The proposed erecting of an HIRS should be formalized by the bishop or eparch of the location in which the HIRS would be situated. The HIRS should be linked to a Faculty of Theology (preferably one geographically close by the Institute), which has academic responsibility for the Institute. The linkage between the Institute and the Faculty is fixed in an agreement (convention), keeping in mind the norms set forth above.

Art. 41. The suitability of the teachers and the requirements of this present Instruction having been verified and validated, the Faculty of Theology transmits to the Chancellor the request to erect the Institute along with the following documentation:

a) the positive opinion of the national Episcopal conference or of another competent assembly of the Catholic hierarchy (cf. art. 5 b);

b) the reasoned opinion of the Faculty of Theology regarding the affiliation of the HIRS;

c) the proposed agreement (convention);

d) the Statutes of the Institute to be erected that conform with the norms presented in the present Instruction;

e) the plan of studies within each area and an indication of the credits to be assigned to each discipline;

f) a list of the teachers with, for each one, their biographical data, their academic qualifications and degrees, their publications, their academic discipline, and their history of employment;

g) a precise description of the ISSR location, of the library, of matters related to teaching, and of the financial administration;

h) the number of students, whence they originate, and their state of life (religious or lay).

Art. 42. The Chancellor, after having examined the reasons for the request, the completeness of the iter (procedure) and having verified that the accompanying documentation conforms to that which is prescribed by the present Instruction, will send these materials on to the Congregation for Catholic Education along with his own opinion of the matter. He will request examination and approval of the materials and, if the conditions are met, the approval for the canonical erecting of the HIRS and its attachment to a Faculty of Theology.

Art. 43. The Congregation for Catholic Education issues the Decrees concerning the erecting of an HIRS and its attachment to a Faculty of Theology and the approval of its Statutes ad tempus et ad experimentum.



Art. 44. If a previously erected HIRS seriously fails in its attention to these observances, its recognition may be suspended temporarily (ad tempus), and if this is the case, revoked by the Congregation for Catholic Education.

Art. 45. Any subsequent modifications to the Statutes of the HIRS must be submitted by the Chancellor of the Faculty of Theology to the Congregation for Catholic Education for the required approval.

Art. 46. The implementation of the present Instruction abrogates both the Nota illustrativa of April 10, 1986 and the Normativa per l'Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose of May 12, 1987.

Art. 47. The transitional norms of HIRS Statutes should indicate the methods and possibilities of passage of students from the old to the new regulations. These norms should also designate how students currently in the process of obtaining the academic degree under the current four year system may receive the license in Religious Science.

Art. 48. The HIRS should be in conformity with the norms contained in this present Instruction for the academic year 2009-2010.

The Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI, in the course of an audience, gives approval to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the present Instruction and authorizes its publication.

Rome, 28 June 2008, memorial of St. Irenaeus.

Zenon Card. Grocholewski

+ Jean-Louis Bruguès, o.p.
Archbishop-Bishop emeritus
of Angers

1Higher Institutes of Religious Sciences may take on a different name, depending on the academic practices of the country in which they are located, as long as it is clearly indicated that they follow the typology of this instruction.

2Cf. Seminarium 1 (1999), pp. 181-201.

3Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana, art. 84-85.

4Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, n.10.

5The Episcopal Conferences have been constituted in the Latin Rite. Other rites have their particular Episcopal assemblees.