Original Research - Special Collection: Law and Justice Conference

On doing what is just, right and fair

Hildegard Warnink
In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi | Vol 54, No 1 | a2608 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v54i1.2608 | © 2020 Hildegard Warnink | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 February 2020 | Published: 21 December 2020

About the author(s)

Hildegard Warnink, Faculty of Canon Law, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium


‘Just’, ‘right’ and ‘fair’ are complex concepts without singular definitions. This article investigated these concepts from the perspective of Roman Catholic canon law. The historical and theological contexts of the Roman Catholic Church (the Church) are set within these concepts, which should be understood. Within this context, the notion of ‘justice’ in the Church is described in four different steps. The first step is a description of the difficult concept of truth and the role of divine law within it. Then, the norm of law is discussed, including the space left for notions such as equity and the salvation of souls. Furthermore, exceptions to the law will be examined, with special attention to both privilege and dispensation. Finally, the custom contra legem will be described as a last possibility for doing justice in the event of unjust laws.

Notions like ‘just’, ‘right’ and ‘fair’ are of utmost importance. Yet at the same time, absolute certainty on the content of the three important notions quoted in the title cannot be achieved – historical context, personal life and unexpected circumstances. They all play a role in offering the right definition. There is no clear definition of what is ‘just’, ‘right’ or ‘fair’, neither from a ‘moral theological’ or ‘ethical’ point of view, nor from ‘the perspective of the Law’. That is perhaps the correct starting point. People should not be alarmed when good intentions regarding justice lead to different outcomes.


Law; Canon law; Ecclesiastical law; Customary law; Divine law


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