Deacons and sex: the debate continues — UPDATED

After all the sound and fury here and here, I got an email from a deacon who is a canon lawyer, William Finnegan, who noted:

While I was studying for my Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL) at Catholic University in the late 80s, I brought up this very question, since I was already ordained as a Permanent Deacon.  Rev. James Provost (RIP), a revered canonist, said that the change in status of the husband did not take away the “acquired right” of the wife to conjugal relations within the marriage, and thus canon 277, in essence, did not apply to the married permanent deacon.

Further, it would seem that the “married” cleric can in no way satisfy a strict reading of canon 277, which obliges “perfect and perpetual continence” and binds him to “celibacy”, since he is already married and therefore, by definition, no longer celibate.

The situation can be resolved, and should have been when the Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983, by including “cann. 277” among those canons listed in canon 288 that apply to “clerics” in general, but “do not bind permanent deacons”.

Meantime, several deacons have commented: “What does Bill Ditewig say about all this?”

We now have our answer.

Pay a visit to his fine blog for a detailed analysis.  He offers insight as a theologian, not as a canon lawyer.  But his is a valuable voice to have added to this discussion.

Meantime, I’ll be off line for a bit.  My printer breathed its last a few minutes ago and I just got back from Radio Shack with a new one.  Pray that I figure it out.  I have a hard enough time just programming my TiVo…

UPDATE: Dr. Peters has responded to Bill Ditewig’s post.  You can read it here.

"I think I would have been happier had the CDF handled the nuns the way ..."

Vatican challenges “interpretation” of cardinal’s remarks ..."
"Blaming "Islamics" for this is like blaming the Pope for the Holocaust Denial of Hutton ..."

One killed, 44 injured in Catholic ..."
"It smacks to me of hyper-sensitivity, a veiled spiritual and intellectual pride, with regards to ..."

Pope Francis: “A Christian who complains, ..."
"Oh, no, we never change our mind, and we always agree, even on points of ..."

Vatican challenges “interpretation” of cardinal’s remarks ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

15 responses to “Deacons and sex: the debate continues — UPDATED”

  1. Dcn Bill Ditewig has correctly interpreted the canon.

    Clearly, the first part about perpetual continence cannot apply to married permanent deacons. If it did, then the second part would make them celibate ie unmarried !

    It is interesting that we are reading thru Mark’s gospel these days about Pharisees and their harsh and inhuman reading of the law. One of the temptations of those who focus too narrowly on the law is to loose sight of the bigger picture.

    The mind of the Church is clearly not to require continence of her married permanent deacons, as she does not require them to take any vow of continence at their ordination.

    Canon law follows but does not lead the mind of the Church and theology.

    God Bless

  2. Very good point Chris. An additional point would be the three former Anglican Bishops ordained this weekend by +Nichols on behalf of the Holy Father for the Ordinarite. This reading of the law suggested by Prof. Peters doesn’t apply to them or the 50 priests that will be ordained later this year. Given that the Holy Father is the supreme law giver, I think we can assume the law has been modified.

  3. I just think that many people are nervous about the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Roman rite…maybe it is just ‘easier’ for celibate priests to be monks, taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience

  4. I second Dr. Peters’ recommendation in #4 about reading his article.

    As for Mr. Sullivan’s comment, I’m not sure how he is to ascertain the “mind of the Church.” However, Dr. Peters’ article makes a strong argument for ascertaining the mind of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II on the subject, and it certainly isn’t what the AmChurch status quo is.

  5. Canon Law is not something discovered on a copper scroll in a cave in the desert. It is not some revelation whose meaning is to be teased out by scholars. Nor is canon law intended to dictate every single detail of Church life. Our current version of Canon Law was only revised in the ’80s; if you want to know what some part of it means, why not email one of those who revised it?

    This entire episode reminds me of the Lichtenstein parody of a distraught woman exclaiming “Oh my God, I left the baby on the bus!” As if there were some hidden meaning in Canon Law that the entire world was waiting for Dr. Peters to uncover because he was the only one who had the magic stones to decipher the golden plates.

    This is of course a new approach by many who, for example, take the documents of the Second Vatican Council in isolation and look to interpret the words in such a way so as to conclude that the Council meant to change absolutely nothing. Such a hermeneutic, of course, requires absolute ignorance of how these documents were developed, of the debates and preparation and organic movements that infused them. The documents are only words to these folks. With such an attitude, they can look at the reforms of the Council, implemented by the very bishops who wrote the documents, and say “Oh my God, all these bishops TOTALLY misunderstood the words in the documents! That’s not what the documents mean!” But of course the bishops wrote those documents, and they implemented what they intended when they wrote them.

    The advocates of establishing a code of ritual purity in Christianity always claim that married clergy in the early Church abstained from sexual relations after ordination. If this was true, what are we to say of St. Patrick, who was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest? Was he the product of successive virgin births?

    This Gnostic approach to written texts as holding secret teachings and the discomfort with sexuality is redolent of Manichaeism. Are we really going to fight that whole battle again?

  6. Deacon Stoltz’s jeremiad has nothing to do with Dr. Peters’ article, which looks very closely at the formation of the canon in question and the intent of the legislator, Pope John Paul II, as well as other sources. Dr. Peters isn’t the first to bring up the question, but for reasons unknown is the first to gain traction in the Catholic blogging world.

  7. It strikes me, Honorable Mr Deacon, that I have basically to agree on Your reasoning while I cannot, with all due respect, follow Your disrespect of letters, not restraining Yourself to use such words as Gnosticism and Manichaeism. I should believe that what St. Augustine taught, who was a convert from the same religion (are we used to accuse Protestant converts of hidden Protestantism?), and what St. Thomas taught, who did indeed judge a kind of discomfort with sexuality as a “most wicked heresy” but did teach some things that folks happen to call discomfort with sexuality – I should believe that all this was not Manichaean. And sticking to the documents is in general what is to be advised, because it is what the documents are there for; we may well take not to much care of the letter but we have to take all care not to contradict it; and we all now Pope Benedict’s word of a “spirit of Vatican II” to be contrary to Vatican II itself. It is clear that the Council changed something, but understanding the word “change” in the way folks happen to understand “change”, it is safer to say that it changed indeed nothing.

    I personally opine that the very sense of clerical celibacy (not arguing that it has not *some* worth in itself, but real celibacy as a concept separated of continence is *religious* celibacy) can only be continence, in the sense of a ritual continence in respect to the Eucharistic offer. Prof Möhler said about Jewish priests: “Was it possible to think of wives at such a time?”, namely, the time of office. Now this may allow of a dispensation for the sake of the practical reinstitution of the deaconate, to signify the fact that, so to say, marriage (the married man) serves (the deacon) the Church (symbolized by the celibate bishop), or for appreciating those who have given an even higher personal sacrifice (as it in practice is) by converting, and have had there what though it is not priesthood, nevertheless is the remainder of priesthood in so far as possible in communities which are not Churches but which the Councils calls ecclesiastical (which is something pretty more than just “clubs of believers”).

    And now I do believe that such a dispensation has been given to married permanent deacons, and here’s two facts why.

    First, we should remember that Dr. Peters in his article lays down that celibacy, as such, has not been really imposed on the clergy before 1917(!), until then there was the obligation of continence (plus a vow of the wife if there was one). It was, I don’t doubt, wise to order celibacy and reserve the dispense to the Holy See, since these instances are rare, can easily be dealt with by the Holy See, and are in danger of being disguised incontinence. But still, married status is but a single impediment, and something easily to put away by a dispensation however reserved.
    And thus when the Council said that the Deaconate is to be opened for married men, the Council implied the words “with a dispensation from strict continence”, since otherwise it would not really be worth talking of, and would in practical matters not be apt to reinstitute the Deaconate as a practical reality which the Council intended. Moreover, this is the only thinkable reason why Paul VI said “etiam” (even) married men. A dispensation from a rule of 1917 that was not in vigour before 1917 is not such a sepaciality as to insinuate an “etiam”.

    Second, an explicit proposition concerning this was included in the draft of the 1983 code as to Dr Peters. Now we know this proposition has been put out by Pope Ven. John Paul II. Now we have to possibilities.
    A) The pope put it out unconscious, or because he wanted to indicate that some continence in the strict sense, and generally at least the semivirtue of continence which is something else and consists in resisting all kinds of evil desires; or to indicate that he didn’t particularly like the dispensation for married clergy although he was not abolish it, or a bundle of other reasons we do not know.
    B) That he wanted to abolish the dispensation or not give it supposing I’m wrong about Paul VI. And now let’s take a look at what he did, or rather what he not did. As a Pope, it would have been his obligation to do at least so much as to give, with clear explicity, the interpretation in person that this excludes furtherly ordained married deacons from the marriage act. This was easy, it was certainly no minor issue, and it would have been the only way to impede a wrong understanding of the law that was impendent.

    And the word “celibacy” can in can 277, though not in strict codicary language, however in popular language can stand for continence such as chastity even sometimes did in the 1917 code, given that the 1917 code sometimes did as well. (I know this was because a celibate has to be continent anyway; I’m only arguing about the effect language.)

  8. when I said ritual continence I meant of course a ritual continence open to further and higher motives, such as Sacerdotialis caelibatus speaks of, than *only* following a ritual necessity given by positive law.

  9. This Pope is the Supreme Law Giver. The current Pope in Benedict XVI, not any of his worthy predecessors, and he has not applied the law to the former (and soon to be former) Anglican clergy as Prof. Peters suggests it should be read. The Supreme Law Giver has changed the law as far as Canon 277. This was a decision exercised by the Supreme Pontiff through the CDF. It isn’t really that hard, yet I suppose if if enough ink is spilled eventually the text will be amended. Meanwhile the work of the Church goes forward.

  10. This is just another fine mess Vatican II and the Modernists have created along with all the other abuses by abandoning TRADITI0NAL Catholicism.

  11. Dear Dr Peters,

    Of course my saying “celibacy was not imposed until 1917” is is probably terminologically incorrect. There probably had been imposed celibacy (i. e. the unmarried state), not only continence. But one of your sources said it did not then require a dispensation from the Holy See, only one of the local ordinary, who could grant it if husband and wife vowed continence. Since it is the local ordinary who is most personally involved in the whole ordination process anyway, that seems to me not really to be a “real” impediment (the married state as such; continence, after all, was most real requirement), as compared to what is now the law, i. e. requirement of a dispensation by the Holy See. That is all I meant.

  12. And I have to call myself back on Paul VI’s “etiam”… “etiam” also means “also”, and as such said only that either the impediment of married state (which was an impediment in its on right as opposed to continence then) fell away, or at least the reservation for the dispensation. But it remains that Paul VI intended to do what the Council wanted and that I can’t imagine the Council only wanting to reopen the Diaconate for married men without dispensing them from continence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.