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34 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 81 (2000-2001)


Some years ago, an international symposium of jurists described administrative law as encompassing "the entire range of action by government with respect to the citizen or by the citizen with respect to the government, except for those matters dealt with by the criminal law, and those left to private civil litigation where the government's only participation is in furnishing an impartial tribunal with the power of enforcement."

The broad parameters of the concept of administrative law attest to its importance in any legal system. Indeed, for at least the past fifty years, comparative legal scholars have focused on diverse national systems of administrative law. Canonists have also contributed to this area of comparative law. The author believes that this Article represents the first attempt to compare the procedural requirements of administrative justice in canon law with those of the law of the United States.

Specifically, this Article compares the procedure for administrative law at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura and at the United States Supreme Court. The canonist refers to the "contentious-administrative" process to describe recourse against an administrative act which is brought to the Apostolic Signatura. The American jurist speaks of the "judicial review" of administrative actions, which is entrusted to the federal courts and may culminate at the Supreme Court. Despite the difference in terminology, both canon law and federal law furnish procedures by which an individual may bring recourse from an act of administrative power to the respective supreme tribunal. As supreme tribunals, both the Apostolic Signatura and the Supreme Court constitute the final guardians against the unlawful exercise of administrative power.

This comparative study of canon law and federal law has suggested that the individual human person constitutes the proper focus of administrative law. The two systems of law seem to be grounded in different assumptions about the nature of the human being in relation to society and government power. Ecclesiastical law manifests the theological concepts of communion and the mystical Body of Christ. The modem liberal democracy focuses on individual autonomy and suspicion of government power. Despite these different theoretical starting points, each system of law is designed to establish the correct balance between the rights of the individual person and the common good of society.


Reprinted with permission of Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.


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