Can you countenance continence? — UPDATED

Can you countenance continence? — UPDATED January 15, 2011

For those who are curious about this topic — and any married deacon should be — check out this article on the subject by canon lawyer Edward Peters.

The issue in question is here:

1983 CIC 277. § 1. Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity. § 2. Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful. § 3. The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation.

UPDATE: Edward Peters’ son Thomas has blogged about the issue over at CatholicVote:

To the best of my knowledge, none of these candidates were made aware that ordination to orders in the Catholic Church carries with it the obligation to be continent. This presents an urgent pastoral situation that I trust the American bishops to address.

I know that returning to this teaching will be met with resistance by some (“Wait, this isn’t what I signed up for!”) but my hope is that permanent deacons (and the rest of us) can acknowledge the wisdom of the Church’s teaching and discipline. How we deal with the situation of permanent deacons who were ordained without full knowledge of the requirements bound up with their office remains to be seen, but my father includes some suggestions.

After all, the obligation to abstain from sexual activity elevates the dignity of orders, and increases the sign value represented by observing continence for the sake of God’s Kingdom. This is something that all unmarried priests (and transitional deacons) are already bound to observe. Including permanent deacons and married priests among those who are bound to observe continence matches the reality that all these men described above share fundamentally in the same sacred reality: holy orders. There are not “two ways” of being a cleric in the Roman Catholic Church, instead, one sacrament unites them all, and carries the same obligations for all who are ordained as clerics.

Read the rest here.

And another blogger, Fr. John Boyle, takes a close look at the arguments put forth by Peters pere, and agrees: married deacons are not supposed to be having sex.

Well, now.  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 with their wives?  Does anyone think the vocation could even survive such a 180 degree turnaround?  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?

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44 responses to “Can you countenance continence? — UPDATED”

  1. So the wives of deacons and priests ordained to the Roman Rite who are married (not cradle Catholics, but those who switch to Roman Catholicism) should get ourselves to a nunnery?

  2. When Charles was ordained, Bishop Warfel put a post it note next to the vow of celibacy (since the rite is the same for both permanent and transitional deacons) with NO! written on it.

  3. It seems so, Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher. At least it was 150 years ago with the wives of Episcopalian clerics who became Catholic priests. The wives made vows of perpetual chastity.

    The saga of Cornelia and Pierce Connolly is an example. I posted something on this several weeks ago, since I have some familiarity with her life and I must disclose that I am quite biased in her favor. Wikipedia does a good job on her life and also I found this 1957 Time magazine article,,9171,809369,00.html

    What baffles me is when and how the ruling was reversed, not that I am adverse to the change. I suspect it has something to do with the sacredness of the marriage vow, which before was looked upon as not as perfect as celibacy and perpetual chastity.

  4. Correction:
    Wikipedia does not mention the requirement of canon law that Cornelia Connelly take a vow of perpetual chastity. I should know better than to use it as a citation without a careful reading.

  5. Chastity outside of marriage would be equivalent to celibacy.
    Chastity inside of marriage does not preclude sex.

  6. I was at a gathering of deacons who were in formation and a bishop was talking to them. The question of clerical garb came up as it seems to always do. The bishop said something I have never heard before but it does make sense. To summarize what he said, “Clerical garb is not right for a permanent deacon, unlike a transitional deacon, because the permanent deacon is not truly a cleric, he is more of a minister.” WOW.

    Now it makes sense why the church suppresses clerical garb, titles, etc – anything smelling of clericalism. The reason is that some bishops don’t see permanent deacons as part of the clergy or as ordained clerics.

    I once had a good friend who is a priest say to a group of deacons in formation, “I was ordained to Holy Orders, while you will be ordained to the permanent diaconate.”

    I fully understand that these are isolated incidents but I also understand that this is what many think. The problem is that these are the ones that make the rules but don’t want permanent deacon involvement in the sense that most formation programs are preparing men and their wives to answer their call.

  7. Wow, Southern Dcn. That’s pretty awful — but attitudes like that bishop’s are far too common.

    And that priest? That’s just sheer ignorance. Astounding, mind-numbing ignorance. Sheesh.

    Dcn. G.

  8. This issue really makes me question the purpose of Cannon Law or at least the study thereof.

    Here is the timeline as I see it: 1. In 1967 Paul VI “(re)instituted” the permanent diaconate, but apparently did not change the 1917 code of cannon law in any way; 2. Thirteen years later in 1980, when the code of cannon law was being revised an explicit exemption from continence and celibacy was included for permanent deacons (so someone close to drafting this code thought that the explicit exemption in the code or at least the practice of conjugal rights among the permanent diaconate was a good thing); 3. that exemption continued in subsequent drafts until 1983 when it was, presumably inexplicably, removed; 4. For the next 22 years bishops around the world ordain thousands of men to the permanent diaconate with the understanding that they can continue conjugal relations after ordination until in 2005 some big deal cannon lawyer comes up with a theory that conjugal relations after ordination are not allowed after all.

    This is just a ridiculous state of affairs. Nobody knows what is allowed and what is not allowed – neither bishops nor permanent deacons nor their wives. This just does not make any sense. And if it doesn’t make any sense then what is the point of cannon law?

  9. Southern Dcn, that is just selfishness, self-righteousness and religious legalism. It’s as simple as that. The people like that bishop and that priest just want to feed their ego. You can almost hear it from their own words: “Clerical garb is not right for a permanent deacon, unlike a transitional deacon, because the permanent deacon is not truly a cleric, he is more of a minister.”; “I was ordained to Holy Orders, while you will be ordained to the permanent diaconate.”. I can almost hear the phrase “I’m superior and therefore better than you. You’re just a lay nobody and I’m GOD’S chosen cleric” coming from their lips. It’s the kind of people that treat marriage as an inferior calling. They DO NOT understand the work of the Holy Spirit, nor do they KNOW GOD,for marriage was and is God’s 1º calling to mankind, as it is well expressed in the book of Genesis. While many young people hold this same legalistic, retrograde viewpoint, I think it’s mostly the elder clerics the ones that treat celibacy as a doctrine. It’s sad, it’s ugly, but it’s true: our church, like other non-catholic churches, is FILLED with disgusting legalism. BUT it is Holy and it’s God’s Church. That’s the difference. Thank God our Church is changing. Slowly, VERY slowly, but she IS changing 🙂

    Now that I think about it, I just can’t imagine the uproar when the Church approved of married, sexually active men being ordained as permanent deacons. “oh, those lustful sinners won’t be ministering at MY parish”, or something like that, right? I mean, since sex is “bad and ugly” XDDDD

  10. Actually I never heard any uproar (about continence as a requirement for deacons). It’s only lately that I’ve even heard about it being an issue. The pope apparently isn’t too worried about it either. I think Europeans have a little different take on the “letter of the law” than Americans do.

  11. To be brutally honest, I started reading the referenced document and unfortunately, or fortunately, I got lost along the way in the many words I never saw in my life, nor desired to look up… I’m not really sure what I was reading or why I was even reading it…

    All I do know, is that when I was ordained a married deacon the question of celibacy was one I wasn’t expected to respond to, as were two other unmarried deacons in my ordination class… Celibacy was understood as a consideration, if and when I outlived my loving wife… If it were other considerations the were never brought up during the five year formation process…

    The priorities that were stressed throughout the formation process were; marriage, family, and diaconate. Obviously, God is an integral part of all of them…

    In order for God to be an integral part of our marriage, my wife and I must bring to completion what God brought together in our union. That has been three loving children, two children we were guardians for, and the seven grandchildren they all have produced from God’s bountiful love…

    I believe a big part of God’s plan was for his people to be fruitful and multiply. We could not do that if were all were celibate. And, where would our Church be if this had not been the case…

    Regardless, I will continue to honor my marriage vow, my family, and my commitment to diaconal ministry… May God be my witness and my strength…


  12. At the ordination of the first group of permanent deacons in the diocese where I reside, the one unmarried man made a promise of celibacy to the bishop.

  13. Re your update:
    “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?” No, I don’t seriously think that. But what I do think is that if they really push this issue, it is going to cause a lot of problems. There probably are some who will take it to heart, and get separate bedrooms. There will be more who will continue to live as normal married couples, and will feel guilty about it, that they are big sinners. What I don’t understand is, what is driving this whole thing? Are they that paranoid about absolutizing celibacy for the priesthood that they want to eliminate all exceptions to the rule? Even though it is a discipline and not a doctrine. Even though the rule doesn’t apply to the Eastern uniate rites. What will enforcing this previously unrealized requirement gain the Church? (The argument cited in the link that it will raise respect for Holy Orders doesn’t make sense unless you buy into the idea that married sex somehow debases it).
    Canon law isn’t written in stone; somebody please exhibit some common sense and put the wording back the way it was previously.

  14. I was told that Canon Law is based on Roman Law which presents general principles that allow exceptions while our law here in the U.S is based on English Common Law which is based on specific cases and, thus, does not allow exceptions.

  15. Not sure if I agree or don’t agree on the issue. But I’m not sure what has happened to obedience in the context of all of this. I doubt the church will move on it, but if She does decide something, while I might continue to argue my case, I would listen. We have had issues in our diocese where priests did not agree with only washing the feet of men on Holy Thursday. Yet those who disagreed, still, obeyed. Some did not have washings of the feet, as was allowed, but they obeyed. I didn’t think I belonged to a Church where everyone individually interpreted things on their own. Huge sacrifice – surely is for most. I would leave the diaconate or priesthood over it? That to me is like saying I would leave my marriage – how could I? I suppose there could be something akin to an annulment that could take place if an individual would not have taken vows requiring that sacrifice. But look to the saints and what so many of them gave up, in obedience, whether they liked or agreed with the decisions of their superiors. Just my take – I may not have been asked by the Church to give up my sex life, but she has explained carefully that there are rules governing it, rules that may not always make sense to some now or ever. I really WANT to know how I should be living, not have someone just tell me how I’m living is okay. Hope I expressed myself okay, without offending anyone.

  16. It seems to me that the big problem with Dr. Peters’ argument really is section 3 of canon 277. As far as I can find, he doesn’t really address it other than in one short footnote where he says that it isn’t pertinent to the discussion, without really defending the claim.

    Sections 3 says that bishops are competent to pass judgment in particular cases about the observation of the canon. The claim, implied by Dr. Peters and made more explicitly by Fr. Boyle, is that this section does not give bishops the right to dispense from the obligation to follow continence. However, clearly bishops *are* able to dispense clerics from the requirement of celibacy as imposed by canon 277, as is sometimes done when Anglican priests convert and seek ordination. Why would this authority not also cover continence, as is also imposed by the canon?

    Ultimately, can’t somebody just submit a dubium or something similar and get an official answer on this matter?

  17. Deacon Kandra,

    Dr Peters has been quietly pursuing this debate for years, in a well-thought out and serious way.You reduced that detailed and nuanced scholarly debate to one sarcastic and frankly flippant paragraph.

    Moreover, your use of the “Well, now. Does anyone seriously think …” type of argument sounds suspiciously similar to types of rhetoric (for they are not really valid arguments) used to justify use of contraceptives, or abandoning the priesthood for concubinage or any one of a dozen other sins. If you have an argument, theological or canonical, to counter Dr Peters’ claims, please tell us about it. Otherwise, perhaps you might leave the matter to those who are competent to do so?

  18. With all due respect, Deacon Breviario, the question is not whether or not you are to be celibate (clearly a married man, by definition, is not celibate). The question is whether or not married permanent deacons should be continent.

  19. 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.

  20. When I read Thomas’ article that same sinking feeling came upon me as on the day I decided to read Humane Vitae after a few years of contraceptive use. I was told by a priest that contraception was okay if needed. The teachings of the Church told me something else. I decided to follow the teachings of the Church.

    I am Catholic first and foremost, and if Holy Mother Church tells me that continence was part of the vows that my husband was obligated to professed, even though the bishop explained differently, I will lean on the teachings of the Church before following the interpretations of one man, albeit a man who is a leader in the Church.

    As far as the sticky note pasted to the vow of continence for the married man to remain mute or answer “no”; does the 3M company have precedence over the Sacrament as written?

  21. I didn’t read Mr. Peter’s yet, but shouldn’t we assume that there is some sort of dispensation for any married man ordained?

    If not a dispensation, there certainly must be a legitimate custom confirmed by authority that the canon requiring continence does not apply to the married who are ordained.

    On a side note, what is the case with the breviary. Are permanent deacons required to pray all the hours?

    Finally, the poster’s line “Do they really want to screw that up?” comes off as very irate and divisive. It’s understandable that he’d be upset by the statements, but emotional outbursts are not a way to settle this matter.

  22. I’m not a Decacon, but if I were, and had choice of not being alowed to wear clerical vestmants or not having sex with my wife, I’d show up at mass in a leotard and tutu if that’s what they wanted

  23. Mike,
    There is much uncertainty on this topic (“even at the highest levels of the Church” as the late Cardinal Stickler wrote in the preface to his book on celibacy). You have made an excellent point — to resolve any uncertainties in this matter, I recommend the following books (especially Fr. Cochini’s), which if you can spare a few hours to read just the first chapter or two of each, will go a long way toward explaining the ancient discipline, and I promise you that you will never again be at a loss in comparable discussions in the future:

    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

    Magdalen Ross, J.C.L.

    PS Sometimes I do wish it could be “cannon” law, but alas it is only canon law.

    PPS The terms “permanent” and “transitional” applied to the diaconate are recent and did not exist in the early Church — “the permanent diaconate” is therefore something which was not “restored” as one cannot restore something which did not (in the strict sense) exist. There was only “the diaconate” and some men stayed deacons for life while others went on to become priests.

  24. All…

    I wonder how Dr. Peter’s would address the standing of the sacrament of marriage in his analysis. My sacramental marriage was entered into prior to diaconal ordination and I was informed has precedence. I assumed (silly me) that meant the full meaning of christian marriage as the Church undertstands it….including conjugal union, as beatifully articulated in JPII’s theology of the body. A vision that we were expected to live and teach. I am piuzzled. It would seem that adopting a “purely continent” attitude toward conjugal life from the outset would provide grounds for anulling the marriage….and I guess according to Dr. Peters…approaching the sacrament of diaconal ordination with at least a “clear conscience”…if not a bothersome wife.. Amazing. Rome burns, the Tiber drains…and lawyers fiddle. This will do wonders for the New Evangelization…I’m sure. Oremus!!!

  25. In my opinion, the sexual relations between married deacons and their wives is their own business and no one else’s. The idea that married deacons should be totally continent is ridiculous. Does being ordained a deacon mean that their bodies are going to stop producing sperm and semen? Lets face the truth here. How many physically healthy males are totally continent? Telling married deacons that it is a sin to have relations with their wives is ignorant.

  26. Michael,

    Engaging in relations once with your wife is enough for the marriage to be kept from being anulled. Secondly, it is more about the promises you make rather than one sacrament being ‘better’ than another. Thirdly, Dr. Peters addresses the specific challenge to the relationship by pointing to the law. The law requires the permission of the wife for her husband to enter orders. The only good explanation I have ever seen for this canon is that the wife is giving up something that is hers by right, conjugal relations. She gives up this right so that her husband may pursue another vocation. It is giving up one good for another greater good.

  27. If deacons are expected to meet all the legal requirements of priests, and yet remain perpetually unable to carry out the offices that priests can do, then what good are they? Seriously — why have a diaconate at all? It’s analogous to a company offering two products, both selling for the same price, only one of the products is missing half the features of the other.

  28. When the Irish-American bishops forced Eastern-rite Catholic priests to be asexual in the U.S. in the early 20th century, many of those priests left Rome and became Orthodox. Cautionary note…

  29. It is an interesting question, which is getting less than thoughtful response from some. Obviously, no one is requiring or has required this from permanent deacons or married priests. What is needed is a clarification — when did the dispensation occur? Or is it more of an informal dispensation?

    The case of Cornelia Conolley is indeed a good example. When her husband (an Anglican priest) was ordained a Catholic priest in the 19th century, she became a nun. When she became more famous and successful than he did (the abbess of an order, I believe), he changed his mind, and she was the subject of a sordid British court case. Despite his having practically forced her to become a nun, he said the Catholic Church had alienated her affections, or something to that effect, and the anti-Catholic British public had a field day that makes today’s American “vitriolic political climate” look like nothing. It is a sad tale, but one of the reasons that the Church now allows some married clergy to be ordained priests while remaining married. Surely there is a paper trail — this is the CHURCH we’re talking about, there is always a paper trail.

    The case of permanent deacons is more complicated, but as I understand it, the deaconate was revived in part because in some cultures (particularly in Africa) men who do not marry are few and far between. So part of the point of the deaconate was ordination of married men, although not ordination to the priesthood. But it took off in an unexpected direction. In Europe, back centuries ago when men remaining in minor orders for decades was common, the social situation was very different. They were assumed to be on the path to the priesthood, though many were never ordained, and it was a time when large numbers of people of both sexes never married and there were plenty of priests to go around.

    You’ve got to look at these things in context, not just at a decade or two of history. Is the point of the permanent deaconate to adapt the Church’s existing structure to a particular situation in Church history that is expected to end? That’s what it looks like to me. After all, the time when men remained in minor orders all their lives came to an end, and I don’t hear anyone saying it was essential to the Church or a huge loss.

  30. Gail F
    Glad to see that there is someone else who brings up the case of Cornelia Connelly. Since I was educated by the community of religious that she founded, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, I am familiar with her story. Pierce Connelly was an Episcopalian priest from the U.S. At that time in order for Pierce to be ordained in the Catholic Church, Church law required that the wife take a vow of perpetual chastity. Although she was not required to do so, she entered the novitiate of the Religious of the Sacred Heart in Rome (probably due to the fact that in religious life she could be nurtured much more in her vow than as a woman living alone.) Several years later she was invited by a member of the Catholic hierarchy in England to found a religious order specifically to teach poor young girls, in England. (In the new, non-cloistered order, she would be permitted to keep her children under her care.) When Pierce changed his mind about the Catholic priesthood and sued her for resumption of “marital rights” in the English courts, she told him that she had made a vow to God that she could not break (even though she admitted that she was still very much attracted to him – You know what I mean.) He was furious and took her children away from her. (English law considered the children to be his property.)

    I tell her story to women friends who have had painful divorces and feel such betrayal. She, herself, said that she founded the order on a broken heart. I want them to know about a woman of heroic virtue who went on to accomplish “something beautiful for God.”

  31. Canon Law says this (I’ll use the English – Latinists, quibble as you see fit):


    Can. 1134 From a valid marriage there arises between the spouses a bond which by its nature is perpetual and exclusive. Moreover, a special sacrament strengthens and, as it were, consecrates the spouses in a Christian marriage for the duties and dignity of their state.

    Can. 1135 Each spouse has an equal duty and right to those things which belong to the partnership of conjugal life.


    Thus, EACH marriage is its own “consecrated” institution of life in the Church, whose “nature is perpetual and exclusive.” Among those things that “belong to the partnership of conjugal life” in this consecrated institution is the nuptial sharing of the bodies of the spouses — which is both their right AND their duty. Further canon law says:


    Can. 598 �1. Each institute, attentive to its own character and purposes, is to define in its constitutions the manner in which the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience must be observed for its way of living.


    The evangelical counsel of chastity is observed in the nuptial andd conjugal manner in marriage which is proper both to its natural state and its consecration. The Church is not competent, and the spouses themselves are not competent — by Her own teaching — to undo or to relieve the valid marriage of its perpetual character which arises by the nature that God — not the Canon Law — has given it.

    Turning again to Canon 598:

    �2. Moreover, all members must not only observe the evangelical counsels faithfully and fully but also arrange their life according to the proper law of the institute and thereby strive for the perfection of their state. ——————————————-

    The “proper law of the institute” of marriage and the perfection of [its] state” is found in the nuptial meaning of the body and the conjugal embrace, as John Paul the Great has instructed us so powerfully.

    The Canon once more:

    Can. 599 The evangelical counsel of chastity assumed for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, which is a sign of the world to come and a source of more abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart, entails the obligation of perfect continence in celibacy.


    The counsel of chastity assumes the character of continence argued by Canonist Peters, if and only if, the member of the institute is first called to celibacy. As the the counsel of chastity in marriage is first called to nuptial conjugality, the added perfection of the clerical state, as a matter of discpiline under rht law of the Church cannot override the cannot require the “perpetual and exclusive” call of the spouses to one another in recognition and celebration of God’s grace, and the Canon law is not competent to require it, as condition of further perfection in the order of Deacon (or Priest, as with those who have been married before their further vocation ( not a substitute vocation) is confirmed as in the case of the Anglican convert priests.)

    Canonist Peters is in unfortunate error, and passes over the conjugal DUTIES noted in (but not created by) Canon 1135 and its necessary implications far too lightly with the substitution of his “argument” for sound analysis of the Church’s whole law (and its limitations) and the law of God which it implements and directs to the discipline of the People of God.

    His “argument” also moves beyond the motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatis Ordinem (II.11) “Older men, whether single or married, can be called to the diaconate. The latter, however, are not to be admitted unless there is certainty not only about the wife’s consent but also about her blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband’s ministry.”

    The wife is called upon to consent to share her husband with the Church — as minister to both — not to give him up, or to abandon her marriage to him. As the late Holy Father John Paul II has powerfully made clear, the nuptial and conjugal character of marriage is not severable from its nature, even if it is impaired or impeded in faculty, and the Church attests that such impairments to the nuptial faculty (as with contraception, and abortion) are deeply damaging to its nature and its consecration. Respectfully, the Canon law cannot be interpreted to such a result that would have the law of the Church impair a faculty that She Herself recognizes is given by God alone.

    Where a valid marriage is entered into and a vocation is later found to exist, the two properly complement and do not substitute for one another. Similarly, the faculty of celibate continence before ordination complements, and is not a substitute for the consecrated continence of holy orders as an unmarried man. It is merely by a different charism according to its nature that the ordinary nature is consecrated, as the ordinary faculty of human sex is consecrated in marriage.

    Both states are consecrating their then sexual being in entering the clerical state — on the one hand indissolubly unified spouses, two persons wedded into nuptial parts of a hypostatic whole, and on the other, a whole person, singly and indelibly continent and celibate.

  32. Rob…

    Didn’t say that one was better, just that my marriage has its own calling and fulfillment of its own integrity and that integrity should not be violated by another calling…to diaconal service. I fail to see why there needs to be a notion of a “greater” good or calling here. I fail to see any essential aspect of my diaconal service that is compromised by living a full life with my wife in the marriage that the Church blessed saying “it was good”. In fact I can tell you that there are some things that I can discuss with parishoners having to do with family life and the teachings on the Church regarding human sexuality that I can affirm BECAUSE I HAVE LIVED THEM OUT….whereas…well you see the point. I would think that this would be looked upon as a gift. Pope John Paul spent his lifetime affirming “love and responsibility”…and a lowly deacon who has actually LIVED THIS OUT is actually a more powerful witness to his teachings than he, of blessed memory could ever be. I all honesty and charity I find Mr. Peters energy in this endeavor a (nearly) silly and potentially harmful waste of valuable time and mental capacity.

  33. G.R. Mead–

    What are you doing mixing canons on consecrated religious life with this debate? They have nothing to do with the issue.

    Your post #34 is a big “F” in any introductory course to Canon Law.

    Dr. Peters can address you himself if he is still following this thread, but the canonical precedent for the Church having the right to regulate the conjugal life of Her clerics is so ancient that it is not a matter of controversy to canonists. No need to dispute a point accepted by all trained canonists.

  34. The question that comes to mind is the primacy of scripture or canon law. Yes this canon states that all those in the clerical state are obligied to continence. The question that comes to mind is: is this canon still valid in light of the permanent deaconate. This is a man made law which can and should be changed. It is not divine law. The whole idea of clerical celibacy is something that can (and should) be changed. Why are we stuck arguing about those issues which are not central in the Gospels to which canon law is subservient.

  35. So clerical celibacy/continence is not central to the Gospel? What about Matthew 19:11-12 (eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) or St. Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 1? And what about the Lord Himself, the prime example? There are others I could mention, but I think this makes somewhat of a valid point.

    Celibacy IS a central theological point because of what it points to. We NEED those who are “eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom” b/c they point us to heaven in a particular way, just as marriage points to heaven in a particular way. Just because a “rule” CAN be changed, doesn’t mean it SHOULD, especially in this day and age where sex is so denigrated and treated like recreation and as a “right” instead of as a gift to be shared between a married man and woman, and even then it is to be done in a chaste manner.

    Besides, it seems to me there is much more to support clerical celibacy in Scripture (and tradition – Catholics believe BOTH are necessary) than not, particularly Jesus Himself, who was celibate. (Yes, there were married priests back in the beginning of the Church, but interestingly enough – at least in the West, which is what we’re talking about – they were required by Canon Law to be continent in their marriage once ordained.) Clerics are meant to image Christ in a particular way – if not, then why have the Sacrament of Holy Orders? They are different and set apart for a particular purpose.

    As for Canon 277 and the permanent deaconate, I think it’s safe to say that those deacons who were ordained w/out committing to continence will not suddenly be required to do so – you have to have FULL KNOWLEDGE, which they did not.

    The interesting point made here is what this will mean moving forward. SHOULD a permanent deacon be continent like priests? It seems the Church believes this is wise b/c it is part of Holy Orders – continence is a vital sign to the world, just as marriage is. It should not be downplayed or rejected b/c it is “difficult.”

    Secondly, should permanent deacons be married? It seems perhaps not, since it would affect a main aspect of the marriage – it is a tremendous sacrifice, though one that is possible to be made. For instance, if your wife was paralyzed or very ill and unable to have marital relations with you, would you “demand” the Church allow you to have sexual relations that go against the moral law, or demand an annulment b/c she cannot have relations with you?

    For sure, the marital act is a very important part of marriage, but it is not all that marriage is. Is taking sex out of marriage going to “destroy” your marriage? Of course it would be a tremendous sacrifice to offer to God, but we shouldn’t be acting like it’s the end of the world. It’s supposed to be a huge sacrifice b/c entering into Holy Order IS a huge sacrifice. And no one is forcing a married man to do this – the man and wife are CHOOSING to say yes to Christ’s call, if the husband believes he is called to the permanent deaconate.

    Also, what about Our Blessed Mother and St. Joseph? They were married (lived as husband and wife raising Jesus in a true family), but did not have sexual relations b/c God asked this of them – they would be a primary model. Granted, the situation was much different, but in the end it was a calling from God, just as the permanent deaconate is a calling from God.

    I’ve heard too many men say, “Well, I can’t handle celibacy, but I can always become a deacon!” Perhaps they had priestly vocations, and perhaps not, but “falling back” on the deaconate so you can get “the best of both worlds” doesn’t ring true to me. I’m definitely not saying all deacons are doing this, just that I’ve heard this a lot. And it doesn’t do justice to the deaconate. Maybe these men will take Holy Orders more seriously if Canon 277 is enforced as written and all clerics remain celibate or continent.

    Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE deacons and have several friends who are permanent deacons. I believe they serve a valuable role in the Church. But if part of the “sign” of a cleric is to be continent, then it has to be taken seriously and understood theologically, not dismissed b/c it is “difficult.”

    Perhaps we can recall how many of Jesus’ disciples left him after the Bread of Life discourse, saying, “This is a hard teaching.” Do we really want to do the same? Of course, I recognize that, unlike the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, clerical celibacy CAN change, but only for good reason. Saying we need to change it b/c it’s “too hard” is not a good reason. If so, then our Lord wouldn’t demand that we, with His grace, become saints, b/c that’s the hardest task of all – to be HOLY as Jesus is Holy. Maybe that’s just it – maybe we just don’t trust His grace enough to believe that nothing – even continence – is impossible with God.

    To demand the Church to change something just because it is difficult seems absurd – the Gospel is difficult, but the grace is also there to live it. If you are called to a vocation to the permanent deaconate, and fully understand what the Church is asking, you will have the grace to do it as long as you are OPEN to it.

    Clerical celibacy is a vital and much-needed SIGN, just as marriage is a vital sign in our world, and should not be done away with or treated lightly. If the deacon is called a “cleric,” and a cleric is called to “continence,” whether he’s a priest or deacon, then the Church is trying to teach us that this is a vital part of Holy Orders. We shouldn’t just dismiss it, as so many so readily dismiss authority today. We should be open to Her teachings, not attacking Her b/c her teachings are “hard.”

  36. Marie, Read the gospels! It is certainly not central. It is given some justification at a time when celebacy was looked down upon. But by no means is this central or the aposles would have been told to give up their wives. The letters of Paul and the Catholic letters make reference to a married clergy. Why are you personally so afraid of the beauty of sexual relations within marriage? What the first millenium of the church corrupt for having a married clergy?

  37. Canon Law is Canon Law. Obey it! I’m a seminarian studying for the priesthood and there are now more of us than ever. The permanent deaconate was established as a stop-gap measure but spoiler alert!: Deacons can’t run the Church! The Church is utterly and 100% dependent on the Eucharist and the Eucharist is only possible through the consecration done by a priest. Having thousands of permanent deacons is a nice way of saying there are thousands of married men who want to have their cake, eat it to, and play dress up with the priest on Sundays or whenever it is convenient. Thank God vocations to the priesthood are up or we would be screwed.

  38. Now all we need is for all dioceses in the US to ordain men with true vocations, even if they are conservative in outlook. Sadly, where I live, this is not happening.

    I was educated by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus for 12 years. I often wonder why Cornelia Connelly has not yet been beatified – perhaps it’s because too few people know her story, and so they don’t think to ask for her intercession.

    This whole discussion is very interesting to me, because I have several married friends who are permanent deacons or who aspire to ordination to the permanent diaconate.

    I do wonder why Deacon Kandra is asking us what we will “countenance,” when conformity with Church teaching and canon law is something we must perform. Last time I checked, majority rule was not part of that process.

  39. “I was educated by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus for 12 years. I often wonder why Cornelia Connelly has not yet been beatified – perhaps it’s because too few people know her story.. .”

    Glad to hear there is another person educated by the SHCJ, who is interested in telling the story of Cornelia Connelly.

  40. In 1997, the CDW issued a letter stating the conditions under which a deacon may remarry (there is some debate as to whether “some” or all of the criteria are necessary:
    1) his ministry his “great and useful” to his diocese; 2) his children are young and require maternal care; 3) he has elderly parents, in-laws (or presumably other disabled adult relatives) who require care.
    The reasoning is basically that if a deacon has to hire a nanny or nurse, the situation creates the scenario that Canon 277 is targeted at: a position of potential temptation and scandal.

    The assumption is that if a deacon has a nurse or nanny living in his house to care for his kids or their grandparents, he might be tempted to have intercourse with her, and it’s better to let him marry her than be in active sin or in constant temptation, or to have tongues wagging.

    So doesn’t that ruling by the Church imply that deacons are allowed to have sex with their wives?

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