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Canons on Hunting

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From early times, hunting, in one form or another has been forbidden to clerics. Thus, in the "Corpus Juris Canonici" (C. ii, X, De cleric. venat.) we read: "We forbid to all servants of God hunting and expeditions through the woods with hounds; and we also forbid them to keep hawks or falcons." The Fourth Council of the Lateran, held under Pope Innocent III , decrees (can. xv): "We interdict hunting or hawking to all clerics." The decree of the Council of Trent is worded more mildly: "Let clerics abstain from illicit hunting and hawking" (Sess. XXIV, De reform., c. xii). The council seems to imply that not all hunting is illicit, and canonists generally make a distinction between noisy ( clamorosa ) and quiet ( quieta ) hunting, declaring the former to be unlawful but not the latter.

Ferraris (s.v. "Clericus", art. 6) gives it as the general sense of canonists that hunting is allowed to clerics if it be indulged in rarely and for sufficient cause, as necessity, utility, or honest recreation, and with that moderation which is becoming to the ecclesiastical state. Ziegler, however (De episc., l. IV, c. xix), thinks that the interpretation of the canonists is not in accordance with the letter or spirit of the laws of the Church.

Nevertheless, although the distinction between lawful and unlawful hunting is undoubtedly permissible, it is certain that a bishop can absolutely prohibit all hunting to the clerics of his diocese. This has been done by synods at Milan, Avignon, Liège, Cologne, and elsewhere. Benedict XIV (De synodo diœces., l. II, c. x) declares that such synodal decrees are not too severe, as an absolute prohibition of hunting is more conformable to the ecclesiastical law. In practice, therefore, the synodal statutes of various localities must be consulted to discover whether they allow quiet hunting or prohibit it altogether.

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