At the turn of the millennium, I would not have been able to tell you more than a sentence or two about what canon law is all about. I am a cradle Catholic, but I don't recall ever hearing the term. I learned a lot of the teachings of the Church and some basic theology through my own studies over the years. I taught religion to junior high students and worked with RCIA programs for a few years, which helped me to learn more. But my knowledge of canon law was limited to thinking that it primarily governs marriage annulment cases.
Now, a dozen years later, having attained a pontifical degree (meaning it comes from the Pope -- woohoo) in canon law, I can attest to the fact that more and more people--Catholics and non-Catholics alike--are aware of what canon law is. Even more importantly, lay Catholics are learning that they have rights as members of the Faithful and, more importantly, how they can protect those rights.
A couple of months ago, this article appeared in a southern Illinois newspaper. The fact that it was a secular newspaper is pretty impressive. The folks that are quoted or referenced in the article are pretty well-known and reputable within the U.S. canon law "inner circle."
As the article points out, awareness of canon law--and often times its limitations--came to light within the last ten years, when the sexual abuse crisis exploded in the United States. I have had the opportunity to assist several lay persons who have sought to redress grievances that they suffered. It is important or lay Catholics to know that they have rights recognized in the Church and can defend them. If anyone wants more info, you know how to reach me!