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How Pope Paul VI abolished the Index of Prohibited Books, 50 years ago today

In establishing the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Integrae Servandae, Pope Paul VI gave the congregation the duty of “carefully examin[ing] books that have been reported”, etc., but he made no mention of the status of the Index of Prohibited Books.[1] The following clarification by the CDF of Paul VI’s intention, issued in response to queries received, stated that the Index with its associated penalties would no longer be in force; however, the point of the Index, the safeguarding of faith and morals from harmful publications, would remain a duty of the pastors of the Church as a part of the natural law.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith[2]


After the Apostolic Letter, beginning with the words “Integrae servandae”, given at the pope’s own initiative[4] December 7, 1965, not a few inquiries reached the Holy See concerning the status of the Index of Prohibited Books, which the Church has used until now for upholding the integrity of faith and morals, according to divine command.

So that a response may be made to the above mentioned petitions, this Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having conversed with the Most Blessed Father, announces that the Index preserves its moral force, in so far as it instructs the conscience of the Christian faithful, so that, since natural law itself demands it, they may guard against those writings which can lead faith and morals into danger; nevertheless the Congregation announces that the same does not have any more the force of ecclesiastical law with the added censures.

Wherefore, the Church trusts the developed conscience of the faithful, especially of Catholic authors and publishers, and also of those who assist in instructing young people. Moreover, it places the firmest faith in the watchful care both of individual Ordinaries and of Episcopal Conferences; theirs is the right and duty not only of examining, but also of anticipating, and also, if the case shall warrant it, of censuring and rejecting harmful books.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to the intention of the Apostolic Letter, Integrae Servandae, and also of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, will endeavor to communicate, if there is need, with the Ordinaries of the Catholic world, so that it may assist their watchfulness in judging published works, in promoting sound culture against deceitful culture, after we have also combined our forces[5] with Institutes and Universities.

Moreover, if doctrines and opinions come out, published in whatever manner you will, which are of the sort to oppose the principles of faith and morals, and if their authors, although invited humanely to correct the errors, do not wish to correct them, the Holy See will use its own authority and office to reprove such writings even publicly, so that it may take care for the good of souls with that constancy with which it is suitable.

Finally, provision will rightly be made that the judgment of the Church about published works reach the knowledge of the Christian faithful.

Given at Rome, from the chambers of the Holy Office, June 14, 1966.

+ A. Cardinal Ottaviani, Pro-Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith

+ P. Parente, Secretary

After the publication of the foregoing “Clarification”, the CDF received further queries about the status of the categories of books prohibited in canon law and of the penalties for such books called for in canon law. The following “Ordinance” answers these inquiries.

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith[6]


After the publication of the “Clarification” of June 14th of the current year concerning the “Index” of prohibited books, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was asked whether Canon 1399,[8] by which certain books are prohibited by the law itself,[9] and Canon 2318, by which certain penalties are stated against violators of the laws concerning the censure and prohibition of books, continue in their own force.

When these doubts were proposed in a plenary meeting Wednesday, October 12, 1966, the Most Eminent Fathers entrusted with safeguarding matters of the Faith determined that they must answer:

1) Negatively to both doubts, respecting the force of ecclesiastical law; again, however, pastors having inculcated the value of the moral law, which altogether prohibits faith and good morals from being led into danger;

2) that those, however, who were by chance bound by the censures about which one reads in Canon 2318 must be reckoned as set free from the same censures by the very fact of the abrogation of the same canon.

And in an Audience granted to the Most Eminent Cardinal Pro-Prefect of the Holy Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on the 14th day of the same month and year, the Most Holy Pope Paul VI kindly condescended to approve the aforesaid ordinance, and commanded it to be made part of the public law.

Given at Rome, from the chambers of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 15, 1966.

+ A. Cardinal Ottaviani, Pro-Prefect

+ P. Parente, Secretary

―Translated and annotated by Richard Upsher Smith, Jr., Professor of Classics cum Honors, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, Ohio, U.S.A.

[1] See § 5 of the Apostolic Letter, the Vatican translation of which I use here.

[2] Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), 445.

[3] “Notificatio”.

[4] “Motu Proprio”.

[5] “Viribus”.

[6] Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), 1186.

[7] “Decretum”.

[8] These canons are contained in Codex Iuris Canonici Pii X. Pontificis Maximi, Iussu Digestus Benedicti Papae XV. My copy was published in New York in 1918 by P.J. Kennedy & Sons.

[9] The first prohibition, for example, reads: “Editions of the original text of Holy Scripture and of ancient, catholic versions of Holy Scripture, even of the Eastern Church, published by any non-catholics; and likewise versions of the same in any tongue made or published by the same” (my translation).


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