The Doctor of Canon Law is the terminal degree in the studies of canon law. A canon lawyer is a person trained in the universal law of the Church which is founded in the Code of Canon Law.
The doctoral program consists of two distinct stages. First, for admission to the doctoral program, the student must have successfully received the licentiate degree (J.C.L.) and demonstrated superior academic ability as demonstrated by achievement of an overall A- average in the various components of the licentiate program (i.e., coursework, thesis, comprehensive examination) taken in the aggregate. However, within this overall average, the grade for the thesis must be at least A-.
For students who did not earn the licentiate degree from Catholic University, the student must submit a thesis or major writing project for faculty review and two letters of recommendation, from professors on the faculty where they earned their licentiate degree. A decision is made by the faculty conjointly.
All students considering the doctoral program must write a formal application letter to the Dean, explaining their reasons for advanced canonical study.
Admission to the second stage, doctoral candidacy, follows upon the successful development and submission of the dissertation proposal and requires a separate faculty vote of approval. Prior to such submission, a candidate must demonstrate a fluency in canonical Latin and pass proficiency examinations in two modern languages (Italian, Spanish, German, French) administered by the School of Canon Law.
The residency requirement for the Third Cycle is one year, or two semesters. The actual time necessary to complete the requirements of the degree program usually extends to three or four semesters, chiefly dependent on the time needed to complete the dissertation (below). Continuous enrollment is required unless an authorized leave of absence is granted for very serious reasons; such a leave cannot be longer than a maximum of four semesters.
During this cycle, the candidate is to be registered for dissertation guidance every semester and is to complete four courses or seminars.
The candidate must submit a written dissertation to the faculty, reflecting a level of research expected of Ph.D. candidates. The candidate must defend the dissertation in a public examination on the dissertation and on 10 theses closely related to it or subjects of special study. If the dissertation is approved, the specified number of printed copies must be deposited in the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies or, if the candidate elects another method of publication approved by the Academic Senate, the requirements prescribed by the Academic Senate for publication must be fulfilled.