Age (Canon Law)

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Age is one of the elements, along with mental condition, residence, legal relationship, and rite, which qualify the status of a "person." It is the intent of the Roman Catholic Church in its 1983 Code of Canon Law to harmonize the provisions of ecclesiastical law with those of civil law regarding age.

The 1983 code considers an "adult" to be anyone who has completed 18 years of age (c. 97.§1). Those who have completed seven years of age until their eighteenth year of age are considered to be "minors." An "infant" is one who has not yet completed seven years of age (c. 97.§2). This same canon of the code decrees that a "minor" is presumed to have the use of reason, while an "infant" is not responsible for his or her actions.

Provisions concerning age appear frequently in the code. These provisions are governed by the principle that the more difficult the office or state of a person, the greater the maturity that is required. For example, a bishop must be 35 years of age (c. 378.§1,3) as must the diocesan administrator (c. 425.§1). However, the vicar general of a diocese (c. 478.§1) and the judicial vicar (c. 1420.§4) need be only 30 years of age. A priest may be ordained at age 25 (c. 1031.§1), and a religious may make final profession of vows at 21 (c. 658.§1).

The new code states the minimum age for reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation, but grants to the conference of bishops the jurisdiction to determine the actual age for reception of this sacrament (c. 891.§1). The 1983 code also gives the minimum age for valid marriage as 14 years for a woman and 16 years for a man (c. 1083.§1), but, again, permits the conference of bishops to establish a higher age for the licit celebration of marriage (c. 1083.§2).

The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year until completion of their fifty-ninth year, while the law of fasting now binds those who are "adults" through their fifty-ninth year of age (c. 1252).

[g. carie]