A reader writes:
I am currently reading your book The Salvation Controversy, which I received as a Christmas gift. I am enjoying it very much by the way. It is very clearly written and easy to understand.
Thanks! Glad you're enjoying it!
My question is why it does not appear to have an imprimatur. I trust your scholarship and your work generally in this area; I’m just wondering whether there is something I don’t understand about principles regarding whether or not an imprimatur should be applied for, and how readers should regard its presence or absence. I always check for the imprimatur in books I am considering reading as a “safety check” on whether the material is reliable from a Catholic perspective.
An imprimatur is not required for a book like The Salvation Controversy. The relevant passage in the Code of Canon Law is as follows:
Can. 827 §1. To be published, catechisms and other writings pertaining to catechetical instruction or their translations require the approval of the local ordinary, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 775, §2.
§2. Books which regard questions pertaining to sacred scripture, theology, canon law, ecclesiastical history, and religious or moral disciplines cannot be used as texts on which instruction is based in elementary, middle, or higher schools unless they have been published with the approval of competent ecclesiastical authority or have been approved by it subsequently.
§3. It is recommended that books dealing with the matters mentioned in §2, although not used as texts in instruction, as well as writings which especially concern religion or good morals are submitted to the judgment of the local ordinary.
Since The Salvation Controversy is not meant as a textbook for instruction in Catholic schools, it does not require an imprimatur under §2, which puts it under §3.
Works falling under §3 are not required to have an imprimatur, though the Code does recommend that they be submitted for one.
This recommendation is not generally exercised by Catholic publishers because there are far too many books on these subjects written today and dioceses are simply not set up to handle the in a timely manner--which is the reason that the law was changed in the first place. Previously many more books were required to have an imprimatur, but the publishing explosion of the 20th century made this impracticable. The situation has only accelerated in the twenty years since the revised Code was issued in 1983, and dioceses simply couldn't handle the load if all books by Catholic that touched on religious matters were submitted for imprimaturs.
As a result, publishers often only submit books for imprimaturs if the nature of the work requires one or if there is a special marketing reason to do so.
Conversely, dioceses are at times resistant to accepting works into the imprimatur process if the nature of the work doesn't require one, since dioceses don't generally have full-time censors and so each imprimatur-bound project means that a censor must work on the project in and around whatever other work the censor has to do.
Because of the crunch of work that already exists, some dioceses have waiting lists because they only do imprimaturs during certain times of the year (e.g., during a window in the summer when things are slower), which can play havoc with a publisher's ability to get the book to market in a timely manner and hit needed sales windows (e.g., the Christmas window).
As a result, publishers and dioceses try to work together to pursue imprimaturs for the projects that require them, but they both try not to overtax the system, which produces problems for both.
The current situation is the reasult of a historical process that is still in motion. The amount of Catholic publishing is growing and is only going to grow further (e.g., on the Internet and via blogs like this one) and there is simply going to be no way to run it all through the imprimatur process. As a result, the future will generate even greater pressures to submit ONLY those works that require an imprimatur, as well as pressure to decrease the number of KINDS of works that require one and to DECENTRALIZE the granting of them even further than it already has been.