Monday, January 17, 2011

So I leave town for a few days and look at what happens!

Over on my friend Deacon Greg Kandra's blog The Deacon's Bench, things have been heating up a bit.  Deacon Greg posted some information about an opinion of noted canonist Dr. Edward Peters on the subject of clerical continence for married clergy, which would of course, include married (permanent) deacons.  Here's Deacon Greg's original post, and here is the link to Dr. Peters' position, well laid out with suitable references.  In response to Deacon Greg's post, Dr. Peters' son entered the lists with his own piece, found here.

So, why am I about to make a modest offering in this debate?  Long before Dr. Peters wrote his article in Studia Canonica, several theologians had offered similar positions which most other theologians dismissed as not being what was in the mind of the Church when renewing a diaconate permanently exercised; this rather abrubt dismissal was probably unfortunate, in that the questions raised should have been tackled directly.  I first became aware of the general argument: that married clerics following ordination ought to remain sexually continent, in 2002 when I arrived on the staff of the USCCB in Washington.  A theological paper had been sent to the Conference on the issue; it was ultimately decided that no action would be taken on it at that time.  Then, in 2005, Dr. Peters published his article in Studia Canonica.  I often inquired among canonist-friends whether they were going to develop any kind of response to the arguments presented, and most declined (and still others suggested that it might be helpful if I, as a theologian, would write a response).  I have always hesitated precisely because I am not a canonist, and Dr. Peters' arguments are made solidly from within a canonist's frame of reference.

However, because I belive the matter does warrant further discourse, I'm willing to make a modest effort.  I want to be perfectly clear, however, about two very important things:

1) What I am posting here is NOT an academic research piece for submission to a learned journal.  I may try to develop such a piece, but I caution my readers that this is a BLOG, and only a blog.  I hope that this may be of some help to readers with questions or concerns, but it does not present itself as any kind of definitive response.  At best it is an interim response.

2) As I said above, I am a theologian (Ph.D., the Catholic University of America), not a canonist.  That needs to be borne in mind.

OK, down to cases.

Here's the canon that is at issue. This is c.277 from the 1983 Code of Canon Law: § 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.

So let's begin with the definition of some of the key terms:

1) Celibacy can be defined as "the state of being unmarried."  In its broadest terms, as we sometimes hear it used in popular "culture", the term itself makes no assertion about a person's sexual activity or lack of sexual activity.  It is, simply, the state of being unmarried.  As we all know, unmarried persons often engage in sexual activity!  Obviously, within the Church, when we speak of celibacy, we generally include the understanding that a person is living appropriate within their state of life with regard to the sexual gift.  Therefore a Christian celibate (such as most Catholic presbyters in the Latin Church) would be assumed to be abstaining from sexual relations, since the Church teaches that the only proper use of the sexual faculty is within marriage.  Not married = no sex.

2) Chastity can be defined as the integration of one's sexual faculty within the context of that person's state of life.  The Catechism reminds as that ALL persons are called to chastity, whether celibate or married.  Again, popular culture, "chastity" is often equated with "abstinence" or "continence" when the meaning is actually much broader.  There is, for example, a married chastity which would include proper sexual activity within that marriage.

3) Continence is abstinence from sexual activity, either permanently (such as in the case of a professed religious who vows such continence) or temporarily.

Back to c. 277.  "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."  The law states "clerics" -- and that certainly involves deacons -- are OBLIGED to observe perfect and perpetual continence. . . ."  So far, so clear.  Unless and until certain categories of clerics might be exempted from this obligation, it applies to all, including married deacons (by the way, for the record, I must point out for clarity that not all permanent deacons are married deacons; to reduced this question to "celibate priests" and "married deacons" would be a gross oversimplification, since we have married priests and we have celibate permanent deacons!). 

By way of background, this section of the Code is referring to matters relating to all orders of the clergy.  So, we have to find if there is anything that might exempt married or permanent deacons from any of these things.  Other canons in this section, for example, legislate that clerics are obliged to wear clerical attire, that they are to avoid secular occupations and so forth.  Many of these things simply could not apply to permanent deacons, who most often work in the secular world (I was a career Navy officer!  It would have been tough to wear clerical attire while on duty!).  So, we find at the end of this section of the Code something I like to call "the deacon's canon."  It's canon 288, and it reads:
The prescripts of cann. 284, 285, §§3 and 4, 286, and 287, §2 do not bind permanent deacons unless particular law establishes otherwise.
Interesting point: Notice that c. 277 about clerical continence isn't there!  So, so far, Dr. Peters appears to be correct.  The law does not seem to remove the obligation for perfect and perpetual continence in the case of permanent deacons.

According to Dr. Peters' original article, during the preparation of the new Code of Canon Law, such a statement, removing this obligation for permanent deacons, was included.  However, for no known reason, it was removed prior to the promulgation of the Code.  The problem for me is this: Its absence from the Code does not seem dispositive.  It's not there.  No one in authority has explained why it is not there.  It just isn't.   Therefore, I don't believe I can take that silence or absence to reach any fully substantiated conclusion; neither can Dr. Peters: he can't use "silence" to prove his case any more than I can use it to make mine.  However, what may I nonetheless infer from that silence?  One, I can infer that Dr. Peters' conclusion is correct and that married clerics are bound to continence.  Two, I can infer that there was a mistake made and that particular statement exempting deacons was left out simply by a clerical (no pun intended) error.  Three, I can infer that those responsible for the drafting of the Code felt that such a statement was not necessary because of other statements in the Code itself which would indicate this obligation did not bind married clerics.  For sake of argument, I'm going with inference #3.  Here's why.

What else does c. 277 say?  After it imposes the obligation, it goes on to use a very important, and I submit, critically important Latin word, ideoque.  Ever since I first read Dr. Peters' article in Studia, this word has troubled me.  Ideoque has a variety of meanings, most usually translated as "therefore."  In the English translation of the canon above, "and therefore are bound to celibacy. . . ."  Now having studied Latin myself for many years, I'm never far from the wonderful Latin Dictionary by Lews and Short, and the entry for ideo offers the meanings of "for that reason, on that account, therefore."  So it seems quite clear that, while continence is the fundamental "value" being addressed in the canon, this continence is to be lived out ("for that reason") in the celibate state.  Celibacy flows from the desire for continence.

But here's my question: If clerical CELIBACY flows from the desire for clergy to be CONTINENT, then wouldn't the very removal of the requirement for CELIBACY in the case of certain clerics not also remove the requirement for CONTINENCE?  (I'm not shouting here; I'm simply typing for emphasis.)  All clerics are to be continent.  Therefore, all clerics are to be celibate.  But not all clerics are celibate.  Therfore, not all clerics are continent.

In the case of married permanent deacons, clerical celibacy is not required.  According to c. 1042:  a candidate for orders who is married is "impeded" from ordination "unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate."  So, with the removal of the obligation of clerical celibacy, it would seem to me that likewise the obligation for clerical continence is removed.  If the church wishes all of her clergy to be continent, then all of her clergy must be celibate.  If there is a category of clerics for which celibacy is not obligatory, then it seems reasonable to infer that the church does not wish to impose continence either.

Let's look at more sources.  The Eastern Catholic Churches have married clergy.  What does the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches have to say about all of this that might help our interpretation?  Let me invoke again my disclaimers above: I am not a canonist, nor have I made a scientific study of the Codes, especially the CCEO, but in my rather cursory review, I found NO mention whatsoever of continence, clerical or otherwise.  In the section of the law pertaining to clerics, however, I did find these three canons to be pertinent:
CCEO, canon 373: "Clerical celibacy chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor."
CCEO, canon 374: "Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end."
CCEO, canon 375: "In leading family life and in educating children, married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful."

Now I may have missed something, but I find it interesting that none of this invokes "continence" in specific.  As noted in our definitions above, a celibate cleric would be bound to continence, and all clerics are bound to chastity, but those are not the same thing.  Not only are we speaking of the same Catholic Church here, we must acknowledge that the Eastern Catholic Churches have as venerable a history as the Latin Church (and in some ways even more ancient), so an appeal to any historical connection between clerical continence and celibacy must account for this silence on the point in the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches.

Dr. Peters refers to this ancient historical connection.  Even granting and respecting any such historicity, however, does not bind the church in perpetuity, either.  While we honor our history we are not necessarily and in every instance restricted to it.  And here we enter into the next chapter of the discussion.

Space doesn't permit me to do much more here, but let me pose the next question: What was it that the church was intending with the renewal of a diaconate permanently exercised?  Was it simply a return to the ancient diaconate of patristic times, or was this to be an ancient order re-envisioned for the contemporary church?  I have argued extensively elsewhere the latter position, so I won't recount all of that here.  New wine should go into new wineskins, so maybe it IS time that the law in the Latin church be modified accordingly to be clear on this point.  The great canonist Fr. Jim Provost once pointed out that what remained to be done in future revisions to the Code of Canon Law was for a more complete and substantive treatment of the permanent diaconate in its own right, and I strongly support that insight.  Fr. Provost also offered his own critique of the position taken by Dr. Peters by focusing the mutual rights acquired by a married couple through the celebration of the sacrament of Matrimony.

Finally, let me conclude with a final reflection.  Law serves the Church.  Law is to reflect the theology of the Church.  As the Church and her theology changes, so too must the law.  So, to interpret the law, it seems to me (a theologian) one must first look at the theological sources for the law.  Such a theological hermeneutic seems to me quite obvious.  So, when considering the permanent diaconate, what has the church had to say about all of this OUTSIDE of the law?

At no point, in any conciliar or post-conciliar official document has there ever been a single statement that directed permanent deacons were to remain continent following ordination.  It is not in any of the Council documents, it is not in any papal statements, nor is there any mention of it in any of the several documents promulgated by the Holy See concerning the nature and exercise of the permanent deacon.  No pope, no dicastery, has ever exhorted their married deacons to observe continence; in fact, we have been encouraged to be completely faithful and diligent in carrying out all of the responsibilities, duties and dimensions of family life.  Interestingly, for many deacons and their wives who have had children AFTER ordination, there has been no public outcry that some kind of canon has been violated, or has such a deacon been dealt with by means of loss of faculties or suspension from ministry.  If such a connection as posited by Dr. Peters was of such importance to the Latin Church (it clearly is not in the Eastern Churches), you would think that SOMEONE in authority would have acted accordingly.  In this case, theological and pastoral praxis seems to provide a powerful hermeneutic for approaching the law.

Therefore, it seems to me that, clearly, the mind of the church is such that there is NO expectation of clerical continency by married deacons, despite Dr. Peters' claims.  Perhaps he is correct that the law should be changed to prevent any similar misunderstanding in the future.


  1. I had heard somewhere that canon law frequently has to be adjusted to the lived practices that develop in the Church.
    My wife was (very obviously) soon to deliver our youngest child when I was ordained in 1980. We kept waiting for the scandalized ceiling at Holy Cross Cathedral to cave in on us, but it didn't--So I guess everything's OK.
    I'm more concerned by the way we use the words permanent deacon in a manner that leads some people to believe that there are 2 orders of deacon--the "higher order" of transitional deacons who are unmarried and on the way to being ordained priests, and a "lower order" of permanent deacons who are married and can never be ordained priests no matter the circumstances.
    Yet, of course, if a deacon's wife should die, the man could be ordained to the priesthood or even the episcopate. You never hear Eastern Catholic or Orthodox married priests who could become bishops someday as "permanent" priests.
    So shouldn't we refer to ourselves in articles and commentaries like here as deacons who are married or deacons (married) when there is an absolute need to do so for clarity's sake.
    And then let the words "permanent deacon" disappear in the same purgatory the unused words "permanent priest" have disappeared to in the East.

  2. When I spotted this controversy on Deacon Greg's blog, I just knew you would be the man to resolve it--thoughtfully and more-or-less (in the absence of a Vatican decree) definitively. Thanks for this detailed and well documented answer.

    BTW, a (Freudian?) typo in paragraph one here speaks of "continents" for married clergy. I propose North America.

  3. Why not just petition Rome to have a definitive statement made, with the pope's approval, to the effect that the rule for clerical continence does not apply to permanent deacons?

  4. I think you mix up the major and minor premises in your argument about ideoque. The law states that clerics are obliged to continence. Celibacy is added afterward, as it were, as a means of supporting the obligation to continence.

    This is rather like saying a police officer is obliged to enforce the law with authority; therefore he will be given a uniform and badge to publicly support his authority and obligation. But the obligation depends, not on the uniform, but on the role itself.

    Removing the binding to celibacy does not, in and of itself, remove the obligation to continence.

    Please note: I am not suggesting that married clerics have to suddenly stop having relations with their wives. I am merely suggesting that the discrepancy between law and practice is real, and needs a clear and authoritative resolution.

  5. Dear Robert,

    I take your point. And I have agreed that the law seems inadequate on the point and could use clarification in future revisions of the Code.

    Still, the Code says celibacy is required of all clerics AS A RESULT of the obligation for continence; it's the reason for celibacy.

    But the law now permits clerics who are NOT bound to the discipline of celibacy. In fact, that law which relieves certain clerics from celibacy would seem to create a contradiction in the law itself. C. 277 says one thing, while not accounting for c. 1042. This lacuna is precisely what needs to be plugged, unless the Legislator (the Pope) feels that there IS no lacuna because the exemption from celibacy, working backward, exempts from continence.

    And, over and above all of this, the law must be interpreted through the lens of the overall teaching and praxis of the Church. Law is adapted by that, not the other way round. To the extent that this is what Peters is suggesting, I agree. To the extent that he suggests changing diaconate formation to adopting his interpretation of the law, absent some magisterial statement, I disagree.

    God bless,


  6. Thanks for your usual clear & concise explanation, Bill.

    As I posted on Deacon Greg K's blog, I find this whole issue to be in the same category of the centuries-old debate among theologians, philosphers (and perhaps now, canonists!) regarding the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin!

  7. the wedding photo (please remember that Eastern Catholic seminarians wear clerical collars- he hasn't been ordained to anything yet!)

  8. Kudos, Bill! God bless you for responding in such a balanced way and thorough way.

  9. Deacon Bresnahan - Please contact me. I would like to discuss your comments privately.

    Thank you!

  10. In his response to your post. Dr. Peters says "...the prospect of non-continence among clerics was never even a thought in the Council Father’s heads, and no one felt constrained to restate the unbroken and unexceptioned assumptions of law and tradition."

    Oh really? Then why did these 3,000 bishops then go out and seemingly FORGET that they actually meant to prohibit married deacons from conjugal relations as they restored the diaconate in their respective dioceses?

    It seems to me that if one wants to discern the mind of the Council Fathers, one could look to how they implemented the documents they wrote.

    This constant hermeneutic of interpreting the Council documents divorced from the organic movements that preceded them for centuries; their context in written records of preparations and debates; the explicit, stated intentions of the Council Fathers in the aula and the way they implemented their own documents is most tiring.

    The "strict interpretationalists" of the Council labor over every word, but they ignore the context and mind of the Council Fathers, which is obvious from the historical record.

  11. This Pope is the Supreme Law Giver. The current Pope is 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. So if there was ambiguity for the diaconate, the ordinations of these former Anglicans to the diaconate and priesthood in Westminster clears it up for all clerics. 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.

  12. Deacon Bill,

    Great commentary and I desperately want to agree with your argument here. However, I think there is a flaw in the logic. When you state that if no celibacy is required, therefore no continence is either, that is doing a simple A=B=C argument. If C no longer = A then A cannot = B either.

    However, I don't think this is an issue of one thing equaling another. A, being a cleric, causes B, continence, in the law. B causes C, the state of celibacy for the unmarried. Since the state of celibacy cannot exist for a married person it cannot cause it of course.

    I don't think that logically you can say that no possible celibacy therefore means no possible continence, because we are talking about one thing being the reason for another, rather than one thing being the same for another.

    Again, I am not in favor of a continent diaconate, as I am in formation myself and see this as a possible impediment. I just want to see a resolution one way or another.


  13. Dear Fric,

    I understand.

    It's possible that Rome will clarify this, but I don't think they really need to. Law serves the Church, not the other way around, and the Church -- through the bishops, including successive bishops of Rome -- has already interpreted this canon in question as NOT applying to married clergy.

    (By the way, that's a point that can't be stressed enough: THIS IS NOT ABOUT ONLY DEACONS. This is about ANY married clergy in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. That includes married former Protestant and Anglican ministers who come into full communion and are then ordained to Catholic diaconate and presbyterate) as well as deacons. And at no point, in any document from any magisterial or otherwise official source, has anyone in authority ever espoused such an interpretation. And this would go all the way back to the Council when the bishops were debated the possibility of ordaining married men as deacons, through the 1980 Pastoral Provision permitting the admittance of former Protestant clergy into the Catholic clergy, the establishment of the new personal ordinariate, and so on.

    However, if it will clear things up so that there is absolutely no confusion for anyone to have some revision to the law, I suppose that would be a good thing.

    God bless,


  14. Ok I KNOW I am asking for trouble and will get in hot water with some but the Italian in me can't be quiet:

    Is it just me or does anyone else notice that when dealing with someone who continually refers back to "yesterday" as the primary litmus test for things "today", there always seems to be this fierce attachment to the letter of the law in a very "no matter what" kind of attitude?

    Now I know about continuity and I am very aware of the Tradition when dealing with things doctrinal and even liturgical....but isn't the nature of law SERVE the lived needs of human beings in the here and now and therefore must needs be adaptable to time and place?

    Jesus and his disciples dispensed themselves from the Law when charity dictated such. Perhaps Jesus should have joined the Pharisees in scolding his disciples for eating grain on the Sabbath, or maybe he should have just told the palaytic to remain disabled and "come back tomorrow" so that they could observe the Law of Israel.

    If honestly scrutinized I bet most of those whose voices are being raised loud about this diaconal clerical continence issue have really not been supporters of the restored permanent diaconate in the first place. And I bet they are none too happy when Anglican or Protestant ministers convert and receive permission to pursue the Catholic priesthood.

    Just my 2 cents, if its even worth that much.

  15. Bill,
    Thanks for your response to this highly charged question. Having read all of the arguments pro and con concerning Dr. Peters article on Deacon Greg's website and in the comments here I find it compelling that the Gospel for today from Mk 2:23-28 seems to speak to the legalistic type of thinking that results in this type of dialog.
    When the Pharisees challenged Jesus because his disciples were not following the Law -“Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
    Jesus gave the example of what David did that was contrary to the Law and ended with "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
    I suggest that would be what Jesus would say about this particular argument on the content and intent of Canon Law 277.
    An old colleague at the NCS and ADW

  16. A political wag once remarked that “The guaranteed fastest way to cause a ruckus on Capitol Hill is to point out what the Constitution actually says.” I think canon lawyers who point out what the Code actually says will understand that remark.

    (TEST: If you are reading this post, it means I found a computer from which I can reach your website! Cordially, edp.)

  17. Dear Ed,

    Glad to see you've finally been able to post here!


  18. What the Code ultimately says Prof. Peters is what the Supreme Law Giver says it says. That is Pope Benedict. In the Apostolic Constittion and the erection of the Ordinarite he has held you are wrong in your interpretation as to Canon 277. Former Anglican and now newly ordained Catholic deacons and priests are free to have marital relations with their spouses. There is nothing unclear in the Apostolic Constitution or the erection of the Ordinarite document, and I imagine that this would have generated a bit of a discussion before the ordinations if you were at all in the ball park. My guess is you know that you are wrong, there is only one Supreme Court in this instance and he has acted.

  19. I've noticed throughout this entire discussion, the liturgical texts for the ordination of deacons hasn't been a part of the conversation. This is unfortunate, I think, because they are a source not only of the theology of the diaconate but also are also canonical as well.

    What is interesting to me is that in the rite, there is a specific question asked of all unmarried candidates for diaconal ordination at 228 of the rite:

    Do you resolve to keep for ever this committment to remain celibate as a sign of your dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven in the service of God and man?

    The rubric notes that " It is to be omitted only if the elect who is to be ordained is married."

    The next question has to do with the canonical requirement to celebrate the Divine Office daily.

    What I wonder is this: if the liturgical rite is this attentive to the requirement to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours each day (as is expected of all clerics - although permanent deacons are only canonically required to celebrate Morning and Evening Prayer), it would seem to me that also within these promises at 258 in the rite would be a question addressed to married candidates, similar to the promise of celibacy for unmarried candidates, in which they would promise perfect and perpetual continence.

    The absence of such a question in the ordination rite, spelling out a requirement for married deacons as significant as perfect continence within a valid sacramental marriage, argues (at least to my mind) against such a requirement.

  20. The supreme law giver has changed, abrogated, or modified Canon 277 for the new Ordinate and indicated that can happen for additionally created ordinates. So Canon 277 will not have universal applicability to Latin Rite clerics, if it has been abrogated as to those clerics. The same is true for former Anglican, Episcopalian, and Lutheran clergy ordained to the priesthood under the Pastoral Provision.
    Now with regard to permanent deacons, Pope Paul VI’s motu proprio reestablishing the permanent diaconate did not enjoin permanent clerical continence and was in derogation of the 1917 Code. That motu proprio was not and has not been supressed or modified by Popes John Paul, John Paul II nor Benedict. Canon 277 does not apply to permanent deacons on the force of the motu proprio alone of Pope Paul VI.

  21. Charles- very good point! I haven't been to a Roman-rite ordination in a long time

  22. Deacon J.M.B.- I called my husband a 'permanent priest'- he thought I was brilliant- had to attribute the phrase to you :)

  23. I'm posting my comments on this topic in the, 'might as well throw my two cents worth in', category. I am neither a theologian nor canon lawyer. I am merely a second year aspirant desperately struggling to discern and form my vocation. As always I am immensely impressed with Deacon Bill and his measured response to any and all topics. (You will be remembered in my prayers if I am ever ordained). As a retired police officer I am QUITE familiar with the parsing of words in the law. Many times it is helpful and necessary and many times it is not. I am quite undecided which category this particular topic falls into, however, I think it falls into the broader, let's resolve the Deacon issue clearly, definitively, and once and for all category. Lets resolve clerical wear, two classes of Deacons, continence, and any thing else that has or might become an impediment to Service. I, for one, have already experienced the double standard and I am not even ordained! It was often said during my years of government service, that the last thing you wanted to do was introduce common sense. Please don't let that philosophy come to define this next phase of my life.

  24. Dr. Peters' position is based on an interpretation of Canon law, on what is (supposedly) implied, but not explicitly stated.

    Can. 18 “Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.”

    Magisterial teaching frequently refers to marital relations as a right. Therefore, Canon law cannot be interpreted so as to take away that marital right.

  25. I never know which posts will go through here (alas!), but in case this does: ronconte, let me ask you, is the right to enter marriage something to which “Magisterial teaching frequently refers to … as a right”? Tell me you’ll say Yes. Now, does the Western Church require single men seeking holy Orders to give up the exercise of their right to marriage? (Again, I assume you see that she does). In making that demand on men who seek Orders, is the Church 'violating' their rights, or her own Canon 18? I hope you’ll say No. Well then, my point is that, when married men seek Orders, the Church requires men (and their wives) to give up the exercise of their right to marital relations. Now, I might be right in that claim (I think I am) or I might be wrong, but I am certainly NOT overlooking a major point of canon law in offering it. You are misunderstanding Canon 18.

  26. Eureka! Registration glitch (apparently) resolved....

    Three things if I may.

    First, most of the (substantive)comments offered against my thesis on clerical continence focus on various aspects of Marriage. That’s understandable, in that we are talking, after all, about MARRIED deacons and priests. Now, after 25 years of marriage, and 10 years in tribunal work, and 10 more years of teaching and writing about, inter alia, Christian marriage and marriage canon law, I know how much more I still have to learn the Great Mystery that is Matrimony! I appreciate the kind efforts of some to make sure that I understand what Marriage is all about.

    But this exclusive discussion of MARRIAGE in regard to married deacons and priests misses the fact that we are, obviously, talking about married DEACONS AND PRIESTS, in other words, that one must consider the doctrine, theology, and, yes, the canon law of HOLY ORDERS in order to understand this issue, and not just continue to ruminate on Marriage. Virtually no one (besides me, and in places, you, Dcn. Ditewig) seem to be talking at any length about the demands that HOLY ORDERS makes upon men (and, if they are married, upon their wives). But folks, I gotta say, that's rather like trying to compete in the Tour de France on a unicycle. One might be moving, but one is not going to get very far.

    In the Studia article, I discuss canonical issues related to holy Orders at length.

    Second, Dcn. D, did you see (you probably did) my response to your original post earlier, at

    Third, I have outlined what I think are four possible ways the questions of continence and married clergy might be eventually resolved, here:

    Kind regards, edp.

  27. Today I read the apostolic constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus",in English and portuguese(my language).
    The Pope , at VI # 1.,pointed out a difference concerning married ministres and not married ministres.
    There we can read that only not married ministres must follow the canon 277.

  28. It seems to me that Prof. Peters whole argument is built on a fundamentally-flawed view of the sacrament of marriage. His construct-- "continent marriage"-- is simply an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Whatever a hetersexual relationship might be called where the parties have agreed never to have sex, that sort of a relationship is not a marriage as the Church uses the term.
    Prof. Peters never addresses the issue of sexuality in marriage, other than to say that "a married man may, under certain circumstances, choose to live continently or not." As authoirity for this "continent marriage" he cites sections of the Catechism which actually say quite the opposite. Makes me wonder about the rest of his citations.
    But fortunately the Church has spent a good deal of time teaching about the essentials of marriage-- most recently in response to the push for so-called "gay marriage." In November, 2009, the USCCB published "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan." The Bishops clearly defined marriage as a lifelong heterosexual partnership ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation of offspring. Over and over again the Bishops emphasize the essential attributes of marriage-- in natural law and history--at the center of which is conjugal love. You can't find anything like "continent marriage" in this 60-page theological work. Sure, sometimes aging, physical problems or other reasons cause couples to be unable to have have sexual relations. But someone who has publically promised not to have sex, or who refuses to have sex after marriage, simply should not be married, and cannon law says as much.
    If this were not the case-- if heterosexual relations open to cooperating with God in creating life-- were not at the core of marriage as the Church sees it, then we'd have simply a contractual relationship of rights and responsibilities, which is what Prof. Peters seems to think is the case. And, for him, sex is just a "right" which the wife gives up when her husband is ordained.
    But if that is the case-- if marriage is just a deal between consenting adults which might or might not include conjugal love-- then it bears no special relationship to God's plan for humanity and we're perilously close to the arguments made for other kinds of "marriage."
    Let me suggest that the reason no Bishop has ever had the slightest concern about ordaining non-continent married men is that the ordination of a married man ipso facto dispenses the husband/couple from the obligation of Canon 277. Were that not the case the ordination would make a mockery of the pre-existing marriage.

  29. Hi Dcn. Schnell, who writes "[Peters'] construct--continent marriage--is simply an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms." Hmmm.

    Were Mary and Joseph celibate, continent, neither, or both? An orthodox answer will exonerate me at least of having offered an oxymoronic contradiction in terms, I think.

  30. It’s probably not fair to wait until Dcn Schnell reappears; and there’s no obligation to answer questions anyway, so I’ll just say it: The answer is, “None of the Above.”

    Mary and Joseph were, of course, the one possibility that is not listed above, and which Dcn. S dismisses as being oxymoronic and a contradiction in terms. Mary and Joseph were absolutely continent and fully married. Church history affords us many examples of continent married couples, but I only needed one to make the point.

  31. So a marriage need not be consumated for it to be valdi or "take effect" (whatever the term is)? Hmmmmm...I always thought that sex was the actualization of the proclaimed vows and of the essence of matrimony. As a matter of fact, doesn;t the Church forbid a couple from marrying who are unable to consumate a marriage (such as permanent impotence)? And how can the marriage be valid if there is a defect of intention? Aren't the couple obliged to accept whatever children God sends them (which implies sex)? OR is this all an example of different kinds of marriage such as legal vs. valid?

  32. Hi Dante. You asked "So a marriage need not be consummated for it to be valid or 'take effect'"?


    For the rest of your questions, please consult any standard marriage law commentary. We are talking about something else in this thread.

  33. I've been following this debate for several months, word of the controversy is leaking out of the blogosphere into the "real" world.

    People with no stake in the matter can read 277 and 288 for themselves and realize that a tremendous gaffe was made by someone, somewhere, and the Church has been operating contrary to its own code of law for 3 decades.

    So, the code will have to be amended to expand 288 to include continence. In other words, yet again, what began as an abuse and became "too large to fail" will have to be hastily propped up by official action.

  34. Dr. Peters-- thanks for responding to my post although, respectfully, I don't think you engaged the argument. Perhaps you agree that there is nothing in the Bishops' "Marriage" document, or in canon law, or in the CCC that supports the notion of "continent marriage." Certainly the CCC section you cited in your article, section 2349, doesn't. It says:" Married people are called to live conjugal chastity [ie, sex only in marriage]; others [ie, those NOT married] practice chastity in continence.
    Your example of Mary and Joseph actually supports the notion that a foundational element of marriage is co-operating with God in the creation of new life. The way they did that is unique to them, but it was foundational to their marriage. For everyone else in history, we co-operate with God in the old-fashioned way. The procreative aspect of marriage is simply inconsistent with "continence."
    I stand by my statement that "continent marriage" is an oxymoron because marriage (the livelong hetersexual union ordered towards the good of the spouses and the creation of offspring-- the Bishops' definition) is definitionally inconsistent with continence (total absence of sex in marriage). For you to disagree, you must be using the term "marriage" in some way other than what the Bishops say. What is it?

  35. Thanks, Dr. Peters. I guess that's great news to impotent couples. Knowing they can marry since there is no obligation to consumate the union...spiritual/emotional union counts as much as the physcial.

  36. Ok so I have been following the issue here and at Deacon Greg's blog and have even put in my reactionary 2 cetns. I spent the weekend really praying about this. The Church will decide one way or another, sooner or later. and we know that these decisions are not always the best but they still need our obedience. And so that made me think of St. Joseph. When he became betrothed to Mary I am sure he wasn't planning on a continent marriage. Yet that's what he got and he did it well! Why? I think because he didn;t focus on himself but on his spouse and Child, on his work and on others. Now I am not throwing in thw towel, but I AM, from this moment on no matter what the eventual outcome may be, taking St. Joseph as my special personal patron saint. he was a man, on ordinary guy, a carpenter, hard worker, probably in shape and eager for a good life. If he could do with God's grace so can we if it turns out that God is asking this of us.

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  38. Bill;

    A few jokes would have made it more interesting.


  39. Leave it to you, Ken! Thanks, yerhonor, I'm giving you the last word!

    Love to you and Rita,


  40. I wish to comment that I'm very strongly in favor of clerical continence including for married clerics. This reflects a profound reverence for the Sacred Mysteries. That relationship, in some way more absolutely personal than the marital relationship (because this Person is self-existent Being) overwhelms everything and demands all, transforming all but not destroying anything that is human and good. I think we can have mercy on the permanent deacons (and their wives) whom nobody told prior to ordination that this was a requirement. But I think that men who are not willing in regards to the obligation of continence and the sacrifice that entails, may be lacking in freedom to put God radically first. Continent clergy remain married anyway, and I think continence is not going to destroy the friendship and bond of the spouses in a good marriage, but elevate and transform it.

  41. 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?

  42. I have another point. Marriage came first. Does the fulfillment of that sacrament usurp those of Holy Orders when a permanent deacon is already married. At my ordination, a widower was ordained to the deaconate, and also was required to avow celibacy.

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  44. (Deacon Bill Toronto)

    Seems pretty clear to me that 277 does not apply considering I had two children in formation my wife was pregnant at my ordination and one after my ordination,

    The following I believe carries some canonical interpretive weight per Can 32. I wonder why no ever uses this quote maybe I am misreading it?

    "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."