Canon Law Society members discuss key current topics at Christchurch conference

Eighty canon lawyers and lay delegates met in Christchurch this month for the 56th annual Canon Law Society of Australia and NZ conference where they took part in professional development and fellowship in their service of the Catholic Church.

Conference speakers addressed and presented papers on such current topics as “Church Records and Privacy”, “Vulnerable persons, the Code and Vos Estis”, “Canon 1392: Clerics Abandoning the Sacred Ministry”, and practical issues in Church Tribunal-related ministry.

Society members congratulated Msgr Brendan Daly, Judicial Vicar for the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, on the recent publication of his second book, Penal Law in Action, which has been received positively both locally and internationally as a most useful practical guide and text on a complex topic.

Delegates from New Zealand, Australia, Oceania, Great Britain and Ireland, Canada and the US attended the conference, held from 4 to 7 September.

Bishop of Christchurch Michael Gielen was the main celebrant for the Conference Mass, with his presence cordially welcomed at dinner. The society also welcomed Damian Dempsey, Executive Director of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), and the staff of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in New Zealand.

Also present were international delegates from sister societies, including the President of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Rev Francis Bradley, and the President Elect of the Canon Law Society of America, Very Rev Kenneth Riley. Others present included Professor Chad Glendinning, Executive Member of the Canadian Canon Law Society and Dean of the Canon Law Faculty of St Paul University, Ottawa; and his faculty colleague and key presenter for the conference, Professor Michael Andreas Nobel.

New Zealand currently has two Doctoral students with St Paul University, Elizabeth Ong (Tribunal Judge, National Privacy Officer for the NZCBC and an Executive Committee member of the Society), and Rev Francis Poon (Promoter of Justice for the Tribunal). Fr Poon is currently in Ottawa completing his doctoral studies, and Ms Ong is the first married lay woman canonist in New Zealand to study towards a Doctorate in Canon Law.

The Conference was a memorable and joyous occasion for the society as it is about a decade since it was last held in the garden city of Ōtautahi- Christchurch. Because of the Covid-19 disruptions, it was also the first in-person conference since 2019.

The society was founded in 1967 as the Canon Law Society of Australia. In 1974, the name was changed to the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand. Society objectives include the promotion of the role of canon law as an essential instrument of the pastoral mission of the Church, and encouraging canonical education. Society membership embraces lay people, clerics and religious working in the canonical field, from diverse nations and cultures especially across Oceania and South East Asia. The 57th Conference will be held in Brisbane, Australia.

  • Article written by Elizabeth Ong, Judge of the Catholic Tribunal of NZ


Top: Bishop Michael Gielen with staff of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church of New Zealand and the CLSANZ Executive Committee.

Below: Conference attendees including Back row – Mrs Maria Sequeira, Msgr Dr Brendan Daly (Judicial Vicar for New Zealand), Rev Richard Laurenson (Defender of the Bond), Mrs Andrea Schmitz, Mrs Teena George, Mr Damian Dempsey (NZCBC Executive Director). Front row – Mrs Louise Kelleher, Mrs. Pam Wood, Rev Anthony Malone (Associate Judicial Vicar), Mrs Suzie McCarthy, Ms Elizabeth Ong (Tribunal Judge). 

Bottom: Bishop Michael processing out of the conference church service.