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Sui iuris (/ˈs ˈʊərɪs/ or /ˈsi ˈjurɪs/), also spelled sui juris, is a Latin phrase that literally means "of one's own right".[1] It is used in both the Catholic Church's canon law[2] and secular law.[3] The term church sui iuris is used in the Catholic Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) to denote the autonomous churches in Catholic communion. The Catholic Church consists of 24 churches, including the Latin Church and 23 Eastern Catholic churches.

Etymology and spelling

The Latin sui iuris (the individual words meaning 'self' and 'law') corresponds to the Greek 'αὐτόνομος', from which the English word autonomy is derived.[4]

The spelling in Classical Latin is sui iuris, and in Medieval Latin sui juris. English Law gets the term from Medieval Latin, and so spells it sui juris.

Catholic canon law

Church documents such as the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches apply the Latin term sui iuris to the particular Churches that are together the Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church and those in communion with it.

A church sui iuris is "a community of the Christian faithful, which is joined together by a hierarchy according to the norm of law and which is expressly or tacitly recognized as sui iuris by the supreme authority of the Church" (CCEO.27). The term sui iuris is an innovation of the CCEO, and it denotes the relative autonomy of the oriental Catholic Churches. This canonical term, pregnant with many juridical nuances, indicates the God-given mission of the Oriental Catholic Churches to keep up their patrimonial autonomous nature. And the autonomy of these churches is relative in the sense that it is under the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff.[a]

— Thomas Kuzhinapurath, Salvific Law, 1998[5][6]

By far the largest of the sui iuris churches is the Latin Church.[7] Over that particular church, the Pope exercises his papal authority, and the authority that in other particular churches belongs to a Patriarch. He has, therefore, been referred to also as Patriarch of the West.[8] The other particular Churches are called Eastern Catholic Churches, each of which, if large enough, has its own patriarch or other chief hierarch, with authority over all the bishops of that particular Church or rite.

The same term is applied also to missions that lack enough clergy to be set up as apostolic prefectures but are for various reasons given autonomy and so are not part of any diocese, apostolic vicariate or apostolic prefecture. In 2004, there were eleven such missions: three in the Atlantic, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; two in the Pacific, Funafuti (Tuvalu), and Tokelau; and six in central Asia, Afghanistan, Baku (Azerbaijan), Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Categories of sui iuris churches

According to CCEO, the Oriental Catholic churches sui iuris are of four categories.

Patriarchal churches

A patriarchal church is a full-grown form of an Eastern Catholic church. It is 'a community of the Christian faithful joined together by' a Patriarchal hierarchy. The Patriarch together with the synod of bishops has the legislative, judicial and administrative powers within jurisdictional territory of the patriarchal church, without prejudice to those powers reserved, in the common law, to the Roman pontiff (CCEO 55-150). Among the Eastern Catholic Churches the following churches are of patriarchal status:

  1. Coptic Catholic Church (1741): Cairo, Egypt
  2. Maronite Church (union re-affirmed 1182): Bkerke, Lebanon, Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Argentina, Brazil, United States, Australia, Canada, Mexico
  3. Syriac Catholic Church (1781): Beirut, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United States and Canada, Venezuela
  4. Armenian Catholic Church (1742): Beirut, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Palestine, Ukraine, France, Greece, Latin America, Argentina, Romania, United States, Canada, Eastern Europe
  5. Chaldean Catholic Church (1552): Baghdad, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, United States
  6. Melkite Greek Catholic Church (definitively 1726): Damascus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Brazil, United States, Canada, Mexico, Iraq, Egypt and Sudan, Kuwait, Australia, Venezuela, Argentina

Major archiepiscopal churches

Major archiepiscopal churches are the oriental churches, governed by the major archbishops being assisted by the respective synod of bishops. These churches also have almost the same rights and obligations of Patriarchal Churches. A major archbishop is the metropolitan of a see determined or recognized by the Supreme authority of the Church, who presides over an entire Eastern Church sui iuris that is not distinguished with the patriarchal title. What is stated in common law concerning patriarchal Churches or patriarchs is understood to be applicable to major archiepiscopal churches or major archbishops, unless the common law expressly provides otherwise or it is evident from the nature of the matter" (CCEO.151, 152). Following are the Major Archiepiscopal Churches:

  1. Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (1930): Thiruvananthapuram, India, United Arab Emirates, United States of America
  2. Syro-Malabar Church (1923): Ernakulam, India, Middle East, Europe and America
  3. Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic[9] (1697): Blaj, Romania, United States of America
  4. Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (1595): Kyiv, Ukraine, Poland, United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Scandinavia, France, Brazil, Argentina

Metropolitan churches

A sui iuris church which is governed by a Metropolitan (Bishop) is called a metropolitan church sui iuris. "A Metropolitan Church sui iuris is presided over by the Metropolitan of a determined see who has been appointed by the Roman Pontiff and is assisted by a council of hierarchs according to the norm of law" (CCEO. 155§1). The Catholic metropolitan churches are the following:

  1. Ethiopian Catholic Church (1846): Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  2. Ruthenian Catholic Church (1646) – a sui juris metropolia, an eparchy, and an apostolic exarchate: United States (594,465), Canada, Ukraine, Czech Republic.
  3. Slovak Greek Catholic Church (1646): Prešov, Slovakia.
  4. Eritrean Catholic Church (2015): Asmara, Eritrea[10]
  5. Hungarian Greek Catholic Church (2015) – Hajdúdorog, Hungary

Other sui iuris churches

Other than the above-mentioned three forms of sui iuris churches there are some other sui iuris ecclesiastical communities. It is "a Church sui iuris which is neither patriarchal nor major archiepiscopal nor Metropolitan, and is entrusted to a hierarch who presides over it in accordance with the norm of common law and the particular law established by the Roman Pontiff" (CCEO. 174). The following churches are of this juridical status:

  1. Albanian Greek Catholic Church (1628) – apostolic administration: Albania
  2. Belarusian Greek Catholic Church (1596) – apostolic administration: Belarus
  3. Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church (1861) – apostolic exarchate: Sofia, Bulgaria
  4. Byzantine Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia (1611) – an eparchy and an apostolic exarchate: Eparchy of Križevci for Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Byzantine Catholic Apostolic Exarchate of Serbia
  5. Greek Byzantine Catholic Church (1829) – two apostolic exarchates: Athens, Greece, Turkey
  6. Italo-Albanian Catholic Church (never separated) – two eparchies and a territorial abbacy: Italy
  7. Macedonian Greek Catholic Church (1918) – an eparchy: Skopje, Republic of Macedonia
  8. Russian Greek Catholic Church (1905) – two apostolic exarchates, at present with no published hierarchs: Russia, China; currently about 34 parishes and communities scattered around the world, including 20 parishes and 5 missions in Russia itself, answering to bishops of other jurisdictions

Former Byzantine Rite Church

The Catholic Church in Georgia used to be able to do the Byzantine Rite. However, after grueling Soviet oppression, their church was effectively forced underground and Georgian Greek Catholics are now a minority.

  1. Georgian Byzantine-Rite Catholics (1900s, with first Uniate movement which joined the Roman Catholic Church appearing in the 1600s) – the Church of Colchin and Iberia

Secular law

In civil law, the phrase sui juris indicates legal competence, and refers to an adult who has the capacity to manage his or her own affairs. It is opposed to alieni juris, meaning one such as a minor or mentally disabled person who is legally incompetent and under the control of another. It also indicates a person capable of suing and/or being sued in a legal proceeding in his own name ([[suo nomine Lat. In his own name<Black's Law Dictionary 1st edition (1891)pg 1137,(pg 1147 pdf)ref></ref>]]) without the need of an ad litem, that is, a court appointed representative, acting on behalf of a defendant, who is deemed to be incapable of representing himself.

See also


  1. ^ Original italian: "Una Chiesa Orientale cattolica è una parte della Chiesa Universale che vive la fede in modo corrispondente ad una delle cinque grandi tradizioni orientali- Alessandrina, Antiochena, Costantinopolitina, Caldea, Armena- e che contiene o è almeno capace di contenere, come sue componenti minori, più comunità diocesane gerarchicamente riunite sotto la guida di un capo comune legittimamente eletto e in comunione con Roma, il quale con il proprio Sinodo costituisce la superiore istanza per tutti gli affari di carattere amministrativo, legislativo e giudiziario delle stesse Communità, nell'ambito del diritto comune a tutte le Chiese, determinato nei Canoni sanciti dai Concili Ecumenici o del Romano Pontefice, sempre preservando il diritto di quest'ultimo di intervenire nei singoli casi". pp. 103–104.


  1. ^ "Collins English Dictionary". HarperCollins Publishers. 2003. Retrieved 5 November 2012. sui juris [ˈsuːaɪ ˈdʒʊərɪs] adj (Law) (usually postpositive) Law of full age and not under disability; legally competent to manage one's own affairs; independent [from Latin, literally: of one's own right]
  2. ^ Faris, J.D. (2002). "The Latin Church Sui Iuris". Jurist. 62: 280.
  3. ^ Garner, Bryan A. (1995). A dictionary of modern legal usage (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 851–852. ISBN 0-19-507769-5.
  4. ^ Sweet, Charles (1882). A Dictionary of English Law: Containing Definitions of the Technical Terms in Modern Use, and a Concise Statement of the Rules of Law Affecting the Principal Subjects, with Historical and Etymological Notes. H. Sweet.
  5. ^ Österreichisches Archiv für Kirchenrecht, Volume 43, pg.156
  6. ^ Žužek, Understanding The Eastern Code, pp. 103–104.
  7. ^ Vere & Trueman, Surprised by Canon Law, Vol. 2, pg. 121.
  8. ^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Eastern Churches" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. ^ "Bisericii Române Unite cu Roma, Greco-Catolice" (in Romanian). Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  10. ^ "Erezione della Chiesa Metropolitana sui iuris eritrea e nomina del primo Metropolita". Holy See Press Office. January 19, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.


Further reading