More on married deacons abstaining from sex

Following up on this post, here’s a post post-script, from canon lawyer Edward Peters, at his blog:

Dcn. Greg Kandra, webmaster of the respected “Deacon’s Bench” blog, asks: “Does anyone seriously think that tens of thousands of married deacons — not to mention the hundreds of married priests — are now suddenly going to commit to stop having sex? If that’s the case: gentlemen, ask your wives to add more saltpeter to your diet.”

I assume Dcn. K’s read my article, so he knows that “suddenly stop[ping] having sex” is not my suggestion to Western married clerics. His tendentious phrasing, therefore, can only be rhetorical, in which case, though, he is implying that I do, in fact, hold that married clerics must “suddenly stop having sex”. That’s disappointing, coming from one of obvious good sense on so many other topics; worse, it’s distracting from the real discussion that needs to take place.

Canon 277 (and the immemorial tradition behind it) either means what I say it means, or it doesn’t. My arguments are open to rebuttal, but I don’t think they should be subjected to ridicule. If a sexually active (married) diaconate, and a fortiori, a sexually active (married) priesthood is, in the end, a contradiction of canon law and Western tradition—and neither I nor Dcn. K get to decide that—then only two choices will ultimately be available: (a) change the law and abandon the tradition, or (b) accept the law and observe the tradition, in which case, obviously, reasonable accommodation must be made for the thousands of men who were ordained without being advised of the requirements of their state. Those are important questions, not trivial ones.

In short, I welcome informed discussion of my thesis and its implications, but I hope we won’t have to spend too much time telling people to ignore quips about “saltpeter” and such along the way.

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47 responses to “More on married deacons abstaining from sex”

  1. Hope this gets clarified soon. I get ordained to the permanent diaconate in two weeks.

    What seems to be missing in this discussion is that Canon Law, like any law, ultimately comes down to what is in the mind of the legislator — in this case, the Supreme Pontiff.

    Why would Pope Paul VI have restored an order that admits married men while forbidding them to continue an obligation of being married — that of continuing in the conjugal life?

  2. Hello Dcn. Kandra.

    Thank for posting my reaction to your original post. I tried to post my reply on your site first, unsuccessfully. I appreciate, too, your eliminating some of that earlier distracting language. We can talk more fruitfully about this matter now.

    You state “The restoration of the diaconate is one of the great success stories of the Church in the last half century. Do they really want to screw that up?” Hmmm.

    I am not qualified to judge whether the restored diaconate “is one of the great success stories of the Church”, (I’m not sure what criteria would be used to substantiate such a claim) but I am qualified to explicate the law on the diaconate, and have done that, and only that, in my Studia article. People should read it for themselves.

    That said, my intention is not to “screw up” the diaconate; my intention is to explain what canon law and long-standing tradition expect of clerics in the Roman Church. If, as I argue, we have inexplicably (and for all I know, inculpably) lost sight of what law and tradition expect of Western clergy, the first order of business, it seems to me, is rediscovering those values, and then taking the steps reasonably required to honor them as they are, and not as some would wish them to be.

    Cordially, edp.

  3. Thank you for getting in touch, doctor! I want to give you a fair shake and am happy to have you weigh in here at The Bench.

    It’s more-than-a-little alarming to those of us ordained to come across this sort of scholarship and feel that we’ve somehow been breaking the law (as unwittingly and innocently as that may have occurred.) And I can’t help but think that enforcing this particular code of law would have a chilling effect on any future vocations (not to mention having an impact on married Anglican clergy who are dipping their toes in the Tiber and thinking of taking a swim…)

    I’m hopeful your scholarship will bear fruit — perhaps leading to some adjustment or clarification in the law that is both theologically sound and pastorally sensible.

    But of course: with that, as with all things, the Holy Spirit — not canon lawyers or bloggers — will have the last word. 🙂

    Dcn. G.

  4. Interesting discussion…but I still don’t understand why a married Catholic couple would be expected to abstain from a conjugal relationship…make no sense to me at all!
    Could it be (like one commenter said in the earlier discussion) that deacons are called to chastity in marriage…but not celibacy, which is not necessarily the same thing?

  5. While I am certainly not an expert in canon law, I do know that the promise of celibacy is not included in the rite for married deacons where it is in the one for transitional deacons. I cannot without some research tell you where this practice was initiated, but I would be very surprised if it were not found somewhere in liturgical instructions (which by the way fall typically under their own authority, Canon 2)

    In the case of the ordinariate, I wonder if it will be considered part of the Latin Rite or considered as its own rite. If it does not fall under the Latin Rite, but rather is simply in union with it then the 1983 Code doesn’t apply to it all. If it does fall under the 1983 Code there is always the ability of the Church to grant a dispensation from the law for particular cases which does not change the law.

    At any rate, it seems that Dr. Peters’ argument is for consistency and not for married deacons to suddenly begin abstaining from sexual relations with their spouses. Just my own take.

  6. I am by far an expert in Canon LAw, but is there a difference between celibacy and chastity?

    Isn’t ceibacy simply not being married, and chastity is the proper use of our sexuality (i.e., abstaining when not married, and sexual temperence whilst married)?

  7. “only two choices will ultimately be available: (a) change the law and abandon the tradition”

    Well, 1º of all, we wouldn’t technically be abandoning the “tradition”. Why? because the Church’s tradition has ALWAYS been of ordaining married men to the priesthood. We’ve had married priests, deacons, bishops, popes and even MONKS (see St Agatho). Whether they did have sex or not, that’s another issue – which, btw,it’s non of our business anyways and doesn’t stop you from becoming a saint-. But we’ve always had married clergy up until the 12 th century.

    “or (b) accept the law and observe the tradition, in which case, obviously, reasonable accommodation must be made for the thousands of men who were ordained without being advised of the requirements of their state”
    lol, isn’t that a bit “legalistic” of him??? I mean, after all, the pharisees WERE extremely cautious of “observing the law and tradition” without caring for others or putting God in the center. Anyway, the fact that the Church allows some men (former protestants) to be ordained to the priesthood and not her own (male) children that are married but would still be AWESOME priests, is unjust to say the least. The Church KNOWS some married men are called to the priesthood. The Church knows God can call you to both vocations. Why, then, does she keep hindering God’s work?? I’d LOVE to know if the church did in fact ask for God’s ruling on this issue of mandatory celibacy back in the 12 th century. Sorry, but i can’t stop seeing it as a way of restraining God’s work on His male catholic children.

  8. The irony in all of this is that I am in the process of preparing a Parish Lenten program entitled “Miracle at the Jerusalem Comedy Club.” My text is the story of the man-born-blind and the artificial dilemma that historic Rabbi Yeshua helped to create and then laughed himself silly about.

    Such is the case here. It is a strictly artificial “damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t” situation created by human terminology and human laws.

    And — after going to sleep considering the implications of the initial posts on this topic late yesterday — I had a vision of the Risen Lord Jesus laughing himself silly about this situation as well.

  9. Seems to me the only thing that should matter, for both priests and deacons, is when the wedding (the earthly one), took place.

    Based on Catholic Theology, it makes sense that no one can be married AFTER ordination, however, no problem with sex and marriage if done before ordination.

    As for chasity, we all called to that, married and unmarried.

  10. Hi folks. You’ll understand, I’m not going to reproduce the whole article/argument bit by bit in blog post responses to people who haven’t read it. Please, read the article, virtually all of your points are addressed therein. Then we can talk.

  11. As a non-deacon and non-canon-lawyer, but a Catholic who loves the Church and her ordained ministers, I think Deacon Norb’s response here comes closest to the WWJD standard. Still, I think this is one that Deacon Bill Ditewig should address. I’d love to read his take on it.

  12. Um, I am certainly not a canon lawyer, but it seems to me what Dr. Peters is saying has nothing to do with whether deacons should be able to have sex in marriage, and nothing to do with priests being ordained after marriage and whether they should be celibate or continent or chaste or any of that…. What he is addressing is what the law as it stands now requires, and whether we should change the law if we want things as they stand to continue, or change ourselves if we do not. If I’m wrong, correct me, but it seems fairly simple.
    People appear to be getting worked up more over precisely what the law covers then getting the law (or ourselves) in alignment. It serves no purpose to argue married clergy – a separate topic, or fuss that we should just ignore any church laws we personally feel Jesus would laugh over – “I don’t like canon law” is not an argument, just an opinion. Can we stick to “does the law as it stands require continence from married deacons or priests” and discuss the argument that it does, and if it should change…

  13. I posted this on the older blog post about this before I realized there was a newer post, so I figured I should instead post it here:

    If Dr. Peter’s is right that the letter of the law does state that married clergy are obligated to permanent continence then I believe *it is an error in the law not an error in practice*.

    Until recently the west had no married clergy and so we have no constant tradition of married clergy to inform our reading of the law or to give us an idea of how to manage this new group of clerics. So we must look to the part of the church that has a constant tradition of married clergy, the Eastern Catholic Churches. The wisdom they have gained from their 2000 year tradition of married clerics can help guide us in our new foray into the world of married clergy. In the east married priests have to abstain from sex for a certain amount of time before divine liturgy, but otherwise they are free to have marital relations like any other couple. We should interpret this law in light of that borrowed tradition. The law was made for men, not men made for the law.

  14. Jewish priests of the Old Testament were required to abstain from sex during the times in which they were serving in the Temple. I don’t know the answer to the present question, but it is clear that these ideas about clerics and sex run deep throughout our tradition. I’m not so sure our Lord would laugh at us for having a serious discussion about them.

  15. Thanks for finally bringing this up. I am no canon lawyer and no church historian, but the simplest reading of the canon seems to indicate exactly what Dr. Peters is saying. I have tried bringing this up in the past, but the reaction has always been one of ignoring the text of the canon and dismissing my concern as unwarranted. Ignoring it will not make it go away. It is high time this particular issue got cleared up.

  16. Dr. Peter’s argument is a distintion without a difference. The Catholic Church has no jurisdiction whatsoever over natural law, as marriage is antecedent to both Scripture and the Paschal Mystery. The underlying anxiety he displays betrays an innocence of ontology common today as anthropological competence recedes farther and farther from view.

  17. From a theological perspective, I think this change would be incredibly helpful: as it would more adequately distinguish between holy orders and ministries (even those of acolyte and lector). As an ontological change, it is not unreasonable that the sacramental character of holy orders for permanent deacons should impact the most important human relationship of their lives. (Mr. Peters argument about the nature of the uxorial consent seems quite good).

    Moreover, by highlighting the challenge of living as a married deacon, I think such a move would rid us of the stigma of seeing the permanent diaconate as ‘priesthood light’ or not really the same kind of holy orders….If Holy orders is really one sacrament, then it is not too far to suggest some related obligations due to the effects of the sacrament.

    Pastorally, I don’t think we all need to be chicken littles. Probably fewer men would pursue the permanent diaconate, but so long as an adequate accommodation is made for those who are already ordained…why the outcry?

  18. I assume everyone is wondering about the apparent disconnect between what Canon Law says and what is clearly the operative case in most or all of the US dioceses.

    I notice that Dr. Peters did not discuss paragraph 3 of #277 in Canon Law, which says “The diocesan bishop has authority to establish more detailed rules concerning this matter, and to pass judgment on the observance of the obligation in particular cases”.

    So in attempting to reconcile this matter, is it truthful to state that the law is what it is but our Diocesan bishops have chosen not to require celibacy in the permanent diaconate?

  19. Look, everybody. The sacrament of marriage comes before Holy Orders. No one may change, modify, or dispense the ontological holiness of what God has called together. The fact that clerics have brought this about is irrelevant. It says more about their lack of understanding than it does about the meaning of service to Christ in the Church. As the Great Oz said, ” Pay no attention to that man in the corner.”

  20. If those who are commenting would take a brief amount of time to read even just the first of the following books, they would be able to make better informed comments and resolve a great deal of confusion and uncertainty for themselves:

    The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini SJ
    Celibacy in the Early Church by Stefan Heid
    Clerical Celibacy in East and West by Roman Cholij
    Priestly Celibacy Today by Thomas McGovern
    The Case for Clerical Celibacy by Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler
    The Theology of Priestly Celibacy by Stanley L. Jaki

    As far as I know, all of these books are still in print. Start with Father Cochini’s book and read the others as time allows.

    Magdalen Ross, J.C.L.

  21. I was researching comments on this matter and found a thread on the Catholic Answers forum in which it was discussed. A Deacon presented this information, which I thought indicative of Rome’s current thinking on the matter.

    In the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States we read:

    Quote:Celibacy Affects Every Deacon
    72. In one way or another, celibacy affects every deacon, married or unmarried. Understanding the nature of celibacy—its value and its practice—are essential to the married deacon. Not only does this understanding strengthen and nurture his own commitment to marital chastity, but it also helps to prepare him for the possibility of living celibate chastity should his wife predecease him. This concern is particularly unique within the diaconate. Tragically, some deacons who were married at the time of ordination only begin to face the issues involved with celibacy upon the death of their wives. As difficult as this process is, all deacons need to appreciate the impact celibacy can have on their lives and ministry.

    This directory, approved by Rome, clarifies this when it speaks of “marital chastity” as opposed to “celibate chastity.”

    This directory us based upon the Directory for the Life and Ministry of the Permanent Deacons issued by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome (2/22/1998) which is even more specific:
    Quote:Married Deacons

    61. The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies conjugal love and constitutes it a sign of the love with which Christ gives himself to the Church (cf. Eph. 5:25). It is a gift from God and should be a source of nourishment for the spiritual life of those deacons who are married. Since family life and professional responsibilities must necessarily reduce the amount of time which married deacons can dedicate to the ministry, it will be necessary to integrate these various elements in a unitary fashion, especially by means of shared prayer. In marriage, love becomes an interpersonal giving of self, a mutual fidelity, a source of new life, a support in times of joy and sorrow: in short, love becomes service. When lived in faith, this family service is for the rest of the faithful an example of the love of Christ. The married deacon must use it as a stimulus of his diaconia in the Church.

    Married deacons should feel especially obliged to give clear witness to the sanctity of marriage and the family. The more they grow in mutual love, the greater their dedication to their children and the more significant their example for the Christian community. “The nurturing and deepening of mutual, sacrificial love between husband and wife constitutes perhaps the most significant involvement of a deacon’s wife in her husband’s public ministry in the Church”. This love grows thanks to chastity which flourishes, even in the exercise of paternal responsibilities, by respect for spouses and the practice of a certain continence. This virtue fosters a mutual self-giving which soon becomes evident in ministry. It eschews possessive behaviour, undue pursuit of professional success and the incapacity to programme time. Instead, it promotes authentic interpersonal relationships, tact, and the capacity to see everything in its proper perspective.

    Special care should be taken to ensure that the families of deacons be made aware of the demands of the diaconal ministry. The spouses of married deacons, who must give their consent to their husband’s decision to seek ordination to the diaconate, should be assisted to play their role with joy and discretion. They should esteem all that concerns the Church, especially the duties assigned to their husbands. For this reason it is opportune that they should be kept duly informed of their husbands’ activities in order to arrive at an harmonious balance between family, professional and ecclesial responsibilities. In the children of married deacons, where such is possible, an appreciation of their father’s ministry can also be fostered. They in turn should be involved in the apostolate and give coherent witness in their lives.

    In conclusion, the families of married deacons, as with all Christian families, are called to participate actively and responsibly in the Church’s mission in the contemporary world. “In particular the deacon and his wife must be a living example of fidelity and indissolubility in Christian marriage before a world which is in dire need of such signs. By facing in a spirit of faith the challenges of married life and the demands of daily living, they strengthen the family life not only of the Church community but of the whole of society. They also show how the obligations of family life, work and ministry can be harmonized in the service of the Church’s mission. Deacons and their wives and children can be a great encouragement to others who are working to promote family life.”

    This does, however, reinforce Ed Peters’ call that Canon 277 should be changed to reflect the actual practice of the Church.

  22. Quoting Candidate in the US

    “I notice that Dr. Peters did not discuss paragraph 3 of #277 in Canon Law, which says “The diocesan bishop has authority to establish more detailed rules concerning this matter, and to pass judgment on the observance of the obligation in particular cases”.”

    Yes, if only Dr. Peters had considered paragraph 3…

    Seriously, I hope Dr. Peters isn’t still wasting his time reading these comments.

  23. Just a few comments, in between other tasks.

    Magdalen, good list. I have most of those titles here, plus a few others:

    Candidate, I did discuss 277.3, but if you’d like more discussion as to why it is irrelevant, go here:

    Steve’s armchair psychoanalysis has no place here. I appreciate that so few have taken that tact.

    Tom G is on the right track. Keep exploring that issue.

    Mitch, the West has had, admittedly few, married clerics continually, and the law reflects that. I don’t address the Eastern tradition, but I would caution Westerners against assuming that where differences exist, the East must be right, or at least normative.

    Ellen, nicely put.

  24. Jeff: The implications (or non-implications, as the case may be) of the 1998 joint dicasterial instruction on the diaconate, which document indeed contains the phrase “a certain continence” as an expectation for married deacons, is discussed in my Studia article at pp. 172-174. Best, edp.

  25. Steve:

    I suppose you’re correct to say that the Sacrament of Marriage comes before Holy Orders, though I’m not sure I understand your usage of the word “before.”

    But in what sense is continence antithetical to the Sacrament of Marriage?

    Were they antithetical, then would that not suggest that Mary and Joseph were unmarried in your view? (Or conversely, that they were married and sexually active in your view, which would suggest that Mary could not possibly be the antitype of the Ark of the Covenant after all, for if she was, surely Joseph would have suffered a fate worse than Uzzah?)

    Is it not more in accord with the mind of the Church that the Holy Family, with its perpetual continence, constitutes a functioning marriage of an unusual and exceptional kind to which other Christians might be called?

    Beyond that, perhaps you’d care to clarify your ontological argument? I’m sure I’m not the only one reading this who is innocent of ontology or incompetent in realms of anthropology. If there is truth to be had, I’d love to learn it, absorb it, and incorporate it. Now that you have diagnosed my innocence or my incompetence, don’t leave me hanging: Administer the cure! Let me know what you think the truth about these matters really is.

  26. I find Dcn Norb’s comment inappropriate.
    He seems to appoint himself oracle of Christ’s mind, and after his “vision”, laughs at those with serious questions and the laws of the Church that Christ Himself founded. Sadly, his comment conveys nothing but disrespect for the persons involved in this debate and canon law which is the Body of Christ’s effort to put the teachings of the second Vatican Council into legal language for the ordering of ecclesial life and the salvation of souls.
    It may be necessary to criticize the inadequacy of that effort. But, sacrasm and laughter at serious arguments- especially from a member of the clergy – should be avoided.

  27. I was told by a deacon that, if his wife were to die, he would not be allowed as a permanent deacon to marry again.

    Is that true?

  28. “I am by far an expert in Canon LAw, but is there a difference between celibacy and chastity?

    “Isn’t ceibacy simply not being married, and chastity is the proper use of our sexuality (i.e., abstaining when not married, and sexual temperence whilst married)?”

    Yes, celibacy is the state of not being married, which is why transitional but not permanent deacons make a promise of celibacy. Chastity *is* the proper use of our sexuality, so a married couple having relations is chaste. However, what Dr. Peters is discussing is *continence* which is abstaining from relations even within marriage.

  29. One very clear thing appears to be missing from the above discussions pertaining to the actual wording of the Can. 277 par. 1, namely, that it states:

    “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven AND THEREFOR ARE BOUND TO CELIBACY which is a special gift …”

    The structure of the paragraph is such that it is establishing the norm of clerical celibacy, and “perfect and perpetual continence” within the context of said norm of celibacy. This particular paragraph on its own has absolutely nothing to do with obliging continence for married clerics; in fact, the logical inference from this Canon is that there is no allowance for married clerics. However, we know that that is simply not the case for every cleric (e.g. the norm of married men being ordained to the diaconate), and thus this particular Canon, anyway, has nothing whatsoever to say about the sexual obligations of married clergy, as logically its reference to continence pertains only to those who are celibate.

    Were it to truly apply to all clerics, then necessarily it would also be stating very explicitly that all clerics must be celibate, which as I said, we know is not the case.

    Perhaps this is something that Dr. Peters has dealt with in another place (other than his cited blog post), which I should hope is the case, for he would certainly know that the particular structure of the wording in law is key to its correct and logical interpretation.

  30. #28 – HMS –

    Dispensations may be and have been given for permanent deacons to remarry after the death of a spouse in the US.

  31. Maybe when those who are truly interested in this get the matter resolved, they can return to the much more important argument that has been debated for centuries: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

  32. CThompson, the point may be missing from the above posts, but it is addressed in various ways in my article. You should read the whole thing. A number of replies are in order, but I’ll just make this one now: all unmarried people are bound to continence, no? but most of them are not bound to celibacy, right? so the obligations are distinct. Mary and Joseph were NOT celibate, they were continent. Celibacy is, to be sure, the context in which most Western clerics live out their holy continence, but even for those who are not celibate, law and tradition expect of them continence. That is my claim, at least. Anyway, perhaps that will help your reading here.

    as for dcnbillj, he is just using Voltaire’s famous insult to the Faith to denigrate issues he personally finds tiresome. how boring for the rest of us.

  33. The Vatican Directory on the Ministry and LKife of the Permanent Deacon mentions continence TWICE (that I could recall and reread) in Section 3 The Spirituality of the Deacon, #61-62. The first deals with the married deacon and the second with the widowed deacon.

    The married deacon is clearly dealt with as living the fullness of matrimony with mention made of a “certain continence” which has the same Vaticanese ring to it as perhaps meaning the occassional abstinence required by NFP or some other transitory occassion. The widowed deacon is to be “living in perfect and perpetual continence”. Thus it is obvious that the officials of the Holy See were aware of the celibacy/continence/chastity/sexual activity dynamics of this issue. Yet not one word, not even a suggestion or counsel if offered to married deacons living in continence. No mention even when it deals with the consent of wives.

    I find it very hard to accept or believe that Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI et al are or have been unaware of this Canon Law for the past 40-something years. If this was a blatant abuse of Canon Law and a vital issue to the Church would these pontiffs (one even a Blessed) have ignored it all these years? They certainly have been made aware of what some few feel to be an abuse if we can believe those who say that theologians and canon lawyers have borught up this issue in Rome. And yet…still things are as they have been since the restoration of the permanent diaconate. ANd if memory serves B16 did make a tweek in Canon Law about deacons last year, so he could have added this topic as well.

    Also, I found the comment that the East is not necessarily normative or right in its Tradition to be rude and Latin-based arrogant. Yes the Roman Church makes up about 75% of the Catholic Church, but it is only 1 of the 20-something churches that compose the universal Church. Might does not make right. This recalls a conversation I had with an elderly priest once who commented that the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox ordinations are of an inferior form of priesthood since they permit active marriage.

    Poor Jesus. Poor Church. How patient he is with all of us as we continuallywound the Body while trying to maintain our positions and prestige.

  34. Dr. Peters…thank you for deeming my remark worthy of comment. (Perhaps Voltaire was refused admission to his local diocesan diaconate formation program!)

    I meant no disrespect to you, or to anyone who may be concerned that permanent deacons who are not living in a state of continence with their wives are in violation of Canon 277.

    Neverthless, I believe that bringing this up for serious debate is like suggesting that all Catholics be obliged to abstain from meat EVERY Friday, or that Catholic women be required to wear a head covering when they enter a church. I have seen very intelligent and convincing arguments that these are still laws of the Church, but does anyone seriously believe they will be followed by the faithful?

  35. dcnbillj. Ok. I will say, I am more optimistic about the ability of people to follow law when they udnerstand it and know it will be enforced. But that’s a different question. Let’s not lose sight of ours: either the law (and tradition) mean what I say it means, or it doesn’t. Until we get that cleared up, the rest is at best premature, at worst, unnecessarily tendentious.

  36. dcnbillj, I sure hope your nickname doesn’t indicate that you are a deacon… or that blogging comments brings out the worst. Your ignorance of Catholic pastoral practice outside the US is astounding, as is your seeming unwillingness (as a cleric?) to encourage the faithful to follow appropriate Catholic practices. As it is, millions of non-American Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays as a sign of penance.

    The provocative question Dr. Peters asks hasn’t exactly had vigorous answers to the negative other than adult versions of the four year old lament, “But everybody else is doing it!!!”

  37. CThompson:

    Thank you for an attempt at reasoning in good faith. I believe you have mixed up the end and means of continence and celibacy, so let me offer an allegory.

    A highway has a speed limit of 65 MPH. All non-emergency cars driving on it are required to obey the limit. A sign is posted along with the speed limit: “Speed subject to monitoring by radar.”

    Sometime later a passenger car equipped with a radar detector is pulled over by a state trooper for speeding. The driver expresses amazement that his detector didn’t detect the radar gun. The trooper replies, “I didn’t use the radar gun, I paced you with my vehicle.” The driver attempts to fight the ticket in court on these grounds.

    To convert my allegory into the question under discussion, the speed limit is clerical continence, the radar gun is clerical celibacy, and the state trooper is the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

    With this in mind, Dr. Peters argues convincingly that Canon 277 is primarily about clerical continence. Clerical celibacy is the primary tool to the end of achieving clerical continence: it is the radar gun, not the speed limit. Celibacy is what is dispensed in the case of married men who are to enter the diaconate, not continence.

    One cannot argue that the trooper was wrong in pulling over this driver for speeding by means other than the radar gun. Likewise, one cannot say that since celibacy doesn’t apply to married deacons, that the overarching goal of Canon 277 doesn’t apply to them in the absence of evidence. I don’t consider “15,000 American deacons living to the contrary” evidence given the widespread ignorance and dissent that marks AmChurch, even among priests and deacons. I personally know about two dozen permanent deacons: I doubt two of them were even familiar with Canon 277 until today. But that speaks to shoddy formation, not their basic good will in pursuing their vocation. In any case, the opponents to Dr. Peters are arguing that 65 MPH doesn’t apply to some cars. Some documentary evidence, perferably from papal, conciliar, or canonical sources, to back this assertion would be welcomed.

    Celibacy is a means to an end; the end being clerical continence for clerics in the Latin Rite Church. Or so goes Dr. Peters’ informed reading of Canon 277. Other means to this end are potentially available: Josephite marriages, permanent separation of husband and wife, even murder. Obviously the last means is intrinsically immoral and probably permanent separation is not recommended, especially with children in the mix. So what we’re really talking about is whether marriages along the lines of the Holy Family are the norm for deacons or not.

    I look forward to further developments in this debate.

  38. One correction to my last post: “I doubt AS MANY AS TWO of them were even familiar with Canon 277 until today.”

  39. RC, the question is not about what is antithetical to marriage, but the appropriateness of applying cannon to married deacons. Certainly there are married persons who do not use their conjugal rights who are not in the diaconate community. There is nothing antithetical about their decision at all. Their actions are not a detriment to their marriage and do not contradict the internal logic of their love. It ought to be obvious to all that married deacons are exceptional, which proves the rule. In their case the tradition and the law have already been abandoned. Dr. Peters is correct to suggest that one answer is to change the law in regard to permanent deacons.

  40. 277 states that clerics are obliged by perfect continence and therefore are bound to celibacy. Bishops who ordain married men to the diaconate, the married men themselves and their wives seem to be understanding this law as meaning that if the men are not bound to celibacy this implies that they are not bound to perfect continence. Some canonist argue that this is the sense of 277.

    Peters argues that if the canon means “the non-obligation of celibacy implies the non-obligation of continence.” then his “teenage sons, who most certainly are not obligated to celibacy, would not be obligated to continence either”. However if we change Pilger’s reading to “the non-obligation of celibacy implies the non-obligation of perfect and permanent continence.” Then Peter’s counter-argument is decidedly weaker, because his “teenage sons, who most certainly are not obligated to celibacy, would not be obligated to perfect and permanent continence” precisely because they are not obliged to celibacy. That makes sense doesn’t it???

    Peters gets into worse trouble however when he continues: “Pilger’s attempt at a logician’s argument distracts him from seeing that the obligation of continence, like the obligation of praying the Office, can arise from more than one source. Certainly celibate men are obliged to observe continence (the source of that obligation being natural and divine law, not celibacy per se), but men can also be obligated to continence for reasons besides their not being married.”

    With this argument, Peters is attacking the logic of canon 277 itself. He is pointing out that just because someone is obliged to perfect and permanent continence does not mean that a person is obliged to celibacy. This is true. A sufferer of a deadly sexual disease could marry, even though his disease might oblige him to perfect and permanent continence if his spouse did not want to risk infection, etc. Therefore Peters is pointing out that the drafters of 277 are WRONG in stating that an obligation to perfect and permanent continence means being bound to celibacy.
    Peters is saying, “hang on, drafters of canon 277, just because someone is obliged to live perfect and permanent continence doesn’t mean they are bound to be celibate.”

    Do I need to continue? Enough with the pedantry.

    Lumen Gentium makes the basis for 277 clear “Since, however, the laws and customs of the Latin Church in force today in many areas render it difficult to fulfil these functions, which are so extremely necessary for the life of the Church, it will be possible in the future to restore the diaconate as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. But it pertains to the competent local episcopal conferences, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune that such deacons be appointed. Should the Roman Pontiff think fit, it will be possible to confer this diaconal order even upon married men, provided they be of more mature age, and also on suitable young men, for whom, however, the law of celibacy must remain in force.” In other words, the Council Fathers saw fit to propose confering the permanent diaconate on married men of mature age even though this meant going against the customs of the Latin Church. The Council Fathers did not see fit to insist on perfect and permanent continence for these married men. I think this is significant in the context of the Council Fathers stating that customs of the Latin Church where rendering deaconal functions “which are so extremely necessary for the life of the Church” to be difficult to fulfil.

  41. Dr. Peters I’m not suggesting that the East should be normative, just that we can look to them for ideas and examples on issues that we are struggling with (as they can to us). And we especially should look to the East on the issue of married clergy as they have a constant tradition and we are just bringing it back. They have a lot of experience with both positive and negative aspects of married clergy, and we can glean insight from that or try to reinvent the wheel ignoring their centuries of experience.

  42. Daniel writes: “Peters is pointing out that the drafters of 277 are WRONG in stating that an obligation to perfect and permanent continence means being bound to celibacy.” Good grief. Where did I ever, ever say that the drafters of Canon 277 got it WRONG? Where? I am saying that people are misreading Canon 277 (or, if you prefer, that they are failing to read it fully) but at no point have I EVER claimed that Canon 277 is wrong! I’m trying to defend the canon, for Pete’s sake, not get around it. Criticize what I said, but not what you think I said.

    Daniel then writes: “Peters is saying, ‘hang on, drafters of canon 277, just because someone is obliged to live perfect and permanent continence doesn’t mean they are bound to be celibate.’” What? Look, once again, my point is not remotely whether the drafters of Canon 277 got it right (of course they did), my point is that people are missing what the canon actually says, and that the canon beyond question is consistent with the possibility that, while all clerics must be continent, some need not be celibate.

  43. Referring to the public acceptance of an obligation to celibacy in c. 1037, Peters points out in his Studia Canonica article that “No one seriously
    suggests that celibate clerics are not bound by the obligation of continence and the canon does not restate the obvious.”

    Why can’t he see the same logic that is so obvious to almost everyone else: “No one seriously
    suggests that married clerics are not bound by the obligation of rendering marital rights (c. 1135) and the canon does not restate the obvious.”

    In Western Tradition, a married man could only be ordained to the diaconate if his wife had taken a “vow of chastity” sanctioned by the ordaining bishop. Peters ignores this aspect of the Western tradition. The fact that this requirement has been discontinued in current canon law gives a strong indication that the wife is not required to live “clerical continence”. Her consent to the ordination is required because there is more to married life than sex, and more to Holy Orders than its absence.

    Peters shows the depth of his understanding of marital cooperation by suggesting that the wife should have no more say in the ordination of her husband than their children, except because of her marital rights. For Peters, that seems to be the only difference between the status of a wife and children in a family. Everyone obeys Dad.

    My question is, why has the old law requirement of a “vow of chastity” from the wife been dropped. This is a part of the Western tradition. If her choice of perfect and permanent continence naturally follows from 277 and 1037 (her consent), then why does 1037 need to require a public commitment to celibacy for ordinands, when this also follows from 277. Why restate the obvious?

    It is clear to most that the promotion of married men to the diaconate without requiring wives to take a “vow of chastity” indicates that this is a development in the modern Church… better still, a return to the tradition as it was 1000 years ago. It also seems clear that there is no need to change canon 277, its meaning is obvious to anyone with a proper estimation for the sanctity of marital relations and the importance of the obligations of a husband towards his wife. These obligations commute (and I am using the word technically) the clerical obligation of perfect and permanent continence to “a certain continence” for married deacons.

  44. Re-reading Peters abstract I realise that perhaps he is not saying the drafters were wrong, merely that they were INARTICULATE and canonically UNCOMPELLING:

    “Peters invites the competent ecclesiastical authority to articulate in canonically compelling terms why the obligation of continence should not be applied to married permanent deacons, or to take the steps necessary to assure that formation programs for married permanent deacons conform to the requirement of clerical continence so that candidates for ordination and their spouses can make an informed decision.”

    For most, c.1135 is articulate and canonically compelling, especially in view of the fact that the age-old requirement that the wife formally acknowledge her husband’s obligation to clerical continence has been dropped.

  45. The old law required that an ordinand’s “wife consented and the bishop sanctioned the vow of chastity to be pronounced by the wife”. In his article, Peters writes that “the wife’s consent had to be formally pronounced because, unlike her husband’s obligations in this regard, hers are not already set forth in the text of the law.” Peters is confused here. It is clear that it is not her consent to ordination, but the vow that sets forth her obligations. Peters confuses the effect of the consent with the effect of the vow of chastity. Understanding the role of this vow undermines Peters’ argument that the consent of the wife to the ordination includes consent to live a life of perfect continence.

    It is clear that the fact that the requirement of a vow of chastity has been dropped means that the wife is not consenting to a life of perfect continence. However, a married man awaiting ordination who was aware of the law could ask: am I foregoing my right to request marital relations (c.277), while still being obliged to render them for my wife(c.1135) – is that what the law presently indicates, and is what is meant by “a certain continence”?
    The best thing that can come out of this discussion is a clarification of what the “certain continence” of married deacons and priests entails.

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