Q. 1. What does Nihil Obstat mean?
A. 1. When an author wants to publish a religious book, he/she presents it to the local Bishop to be reviewed. The Bishop then gives it to a knowledgeable priest to have it read and corrected if necessary. If corrections are required, it is returned to the author to be corrected. When the priest who reviewed the manuscript (book) is satisfied with the corrections, he writes "Nihil Obstat" on the manuscript. "Nihil Obstat" means "no problem."
Q. 2. What does Imprimatur mean?
A. 2. When the Bishop is satisfied with the content of the manuscript, he writes "Imprimatur." This word means "Let it be printed.".
Q. 3. Why does one require an Imprimatur?
A. 3. An Imprimatur is an official declaration that the material to be printed is free of doctrinal or moral error. The Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat does not mean that those who reviewed it, agrees with the content, opinions or statements expressed by the author.
Q. 4. Is there anything in Church Canon Law regarding the necessity for an Imprimatur?
A. 4. Yes, there is an entire section on it. It is as follows:
INSTRUMENTS OF SOCIAL COMMUNICATION AND BOOKS IN PARTICULAR (Cann. 822 - 832)
Can. 822 §1. The pastors of the Church, using a right proper to the Church in fulfilling their function, are to endeavor to make use of the instruments of social communication.
§2. These same pastors are to take care to teach the faithful that they are bound by the duty of cooperating so that a human and Christian spirit enlivens the use of instruments of social communication.
§3. All the Christian faithful, especially those who in any way have a role in the regulation or use of the same instruments, are to be concerned to offer assistance in pastoral action so that the Church exercises its function effectively through these instruments.
Can. 823 §1. In order to preserve the integrity of the truths of faith and morals, the pastors of the Church have the duty and right to be watchful so that no harm is done to the faith or morals of the Christian faithful through writings or the use of instruments of social communication. They also have the duty and right to demand that writings to be published by the Christian faithful which touch upon faith or morals be submitted to their judgment and have the duty and right to condemn writings which harm correct faith or good morals.
§2. Bishops, individually or gathered in particular councils or conferences of bishops, have the duty and right mentioned in §1 with regard to the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the supreme authority of the Church, however, has this duty and right with regard to the entire people of God.
Can. 824 §1. Unless it is established otherwise, the local ordinary whose permission or approval to publish books must be sought according to the canons of this title is the proper local ordinary of the author or the ordinary of the place where the books are published.
§2. Those things established regarding books in the canons of this title must be applied to any writings whatsoever which are destined for public distribution, unless it is otherwise evident.
Can. 825 §1. Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See or the conference of bishops has approved them. For the publication of their translations into the vernacular, it is also required that they be approved by the same authority and provided with necessary and sufficient annotations.
§2. With the permission of the conference of bishops, Catholic members of the Christian faithful in collaboration with separated brothers and sisters can prepare and publish translations of the sacred scriptures provided with appropriate annotations.
Can. 826 §1. The prescripts of ? can. 838 are to be observed concerning liturgical books.
§2. To reprint liturgical books, their translations into the vernacular, or their parts, an attestation of the ordinary of the place where they are published must establish their agreement with the approved edition.
§3. Books of prayers for the public or private use of the faithful are not to be published without the permission of the local ordinary.
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.
§4. Books or other writings dealing with questions of religion or morals cannot be exhibited, sold, or distributed in churches or oratories unless they have been published with the permission of competent ecclesiastical authority or approved by it subsequently.
Can. 828 It is not permitted to reprint collections of decrees or acts published by some ecclesiastical authority unless the prior permission of the same authority has been obtained and the conditions prescribed by it have been observed.
Can. 829 The approval or permission to publish some work is valid for the original text but not for new editions or translations of the same.
Can. 830 §1. The conference of bishops can compile a list of censors outstanding in knowledge, correct doctrine, and prudence to be available to diocesan curias or can also establish a commission of censors which local ordinaries can consult; the right of each local ordinary to entrust judgment regarding books to persons he approves, however, remains intact.
§2. In fulfilling this office, laying aside any favoritism, the censor is to consider only the doctrine of the Church concerning faith and morals as it is proposed by the ecclesiastical magisterium.
§3. A censor must give his or her opinion in writing; if it is favorable, the ordinary, according to his own prudent judgment, is to grant permission for publication to take place, with his name and the time and place of the permission granted expressed. If he does not grant permission, the ordinary is to communicate the reasons for the denial to the author of the work.
Can. 831 §1. Except for a just and reasonable cause, the Christian faithful are not to write anything for newspapers, magazines, or periodicals which are accustomed to attack openly the Catholic religion or good morals; clerics and members of religious institutes, however, are to do so only with the permission of the local ordinary.
§2. It is for the conference of bishops to establish norms concerning the requirements for clerics and members of religious institutes to take part on radio or television in dealing with questions of Catholic doctrine or morals.
Can. 832 Members of religious institutes also need permission of their major superior according to the norm of the constitutions in order to publish writings dealing with questions of religion or morals.
Q. 5. Do I understand this clearly, that religious brothers and sisters who belong to a religious Order, they also need the permission of their Superior before they can publish anything related to questions of religion or morals?
A. 5. That is correct according to Canon Law # 832 quoted above.
Q. 6. I have one final question. Some time ago, I was reading a book that was written by a priest who resided in Italy. The book was published in the United States. It had the Imprimatur of a Bishop from Brazil. Does this meet the Church requirements regarding Imprimaturs?
A. 6. No, it does not! According to Church Cannon Law 824 §1, the author needs the permission or approval of the local ordinary (ordinary means "Bishop) or the permission or approval of the ordinary (Bishop) of the place where the books is published. In the case you refer to, the priest would have required the permission of the Bishop from his Diocese in Italy or from the Bishop of the Diocese where the book was published. The Bishop from Brazil has no authority over this matter.
It should be said that the practice of getting a supporting Bishop from anywhere in the world to provide a "false" Imprimatur is not uncommon in this modern age when some priests know that their local Bishop do not support their liberal views. As a precaution, the faithful should, before buying a book, ensure that the Imprimatur is from the local Bishop where the priest resides. This ensures that the priest is in good standing with his bishop.