I know this has been touched on a few times at CAF before, but I wanted to bring it up again for some clarification.
A canonist of some note, Ed Peters, made the argument a few years ago that longstanding Church tradition and canon law both require absolute clerical continence, i.e., total abstention from sexual intercourse. You can see the outline of his argument here, as well as responses to a few objections. He also addresses it on his blog, which can be Googled (too many posts on the topic to link to all of them). The relevant citation under canon law is:
Can. 277 §1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.
§2 Clerics are to behave with due prudence in relation to persons whose company can be a danger to their obligation of preserving continence or can lead to scandal of the faithful.
§3 The diocesan Bishop has authority to establish more detailed rules concerning this matter, and to pass judgement on the observance of the obligation in particular cases.
As Peters points out, the requirement for clerical celibacy is a relatively recent innovation. Prior to that time, married men could be ordained, but the expectation was that they would be continent; the celibacy requirement was intended (so Peters argues) to help facilitate adherence to the law of continence. This is where the requirement for candidates for ordination to obtain their wife’s permission comes from – because their ordination would impact wife’s conjugal rights.
He goes on to point out that there are a few other strange issues at work here. One, there are several canons that deal with exemptions for permanent deacons, yet the requirement for clerical continence is never listed among them. Two, the original draft of the 1983 CIC evidently included a provision explicitly exempting permanent deacons from canon 277, but this was deliberately removed before the promulgation of the CIC. Three, there don’t appear to be any relevant documents lifting the requirement (including the one in which the permanent diaconate was established, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem).
So, in other words, the longstanding tradition of the Church has demanded clerical continence, and canon law itself still demands it, and this policy does not appear ever to have been formally repudiated. Yet obviously, in practice, this isn’t expected or demanded and the vast majority of deacons don’t even seem to be aware of it (note that, for this reason, Peters argues it isn’t actually binding on them, and that any solution would have to involve accommodations for all the married deacons ordained without knowledge of this requirement – i.e., the question is about objective requirement, not whether or not any individual deacon is so required).
Now I’m not interested in whether or not diaconal continence is in principle a good or defensible policy, whether or not the policy ought to be more rigorously enforced, etc. Nor am I interested in hearing reaffirmations that the Church’s policy is to allow married and sexually active permanent deacons (I’m already aware of this) or armchair psychological speculations about Peters’ motives (plenty of that out there already).
Rather I’m interested in knowing if there’s a way to reconcile what the Church legally requires (in canon 277) and what the Church actually practices. In my searching I haven’t come across anything to that effect, since many of the responses to Peters’ arguments seem to involve mere ad hominem or the aforementioned sort of speculation. Is there some information missing in Peters’ analysis and, if so, what is it?