Perfect and Perpetual Continence for Married Deacons

Hi all,

I was having a discussion in the World News thread about the Canonical requirement for married permanent deacons to maintain perfect and perpetual continence. I was arguing the negative, i.e., married deacons have a primary obligation to fulfill their marital obligations and debt, i.e., to be available to hae relations with his wife. The other party, citing Canon Law, stated that all clerics are called to maintain perfect and perpetual continence, even married priests and deacons of the Latin Rite.

Before I get into the meat of the discussion, I wanted to ensure that everyone was clear on a few terms:

Chastity: A state of sexual purity.
Celibacy: The state of being unmarried.
Continence: The state of non-engaging in sexual activity.
Marital debt: The obligation that married people we owe their spouses to be open and available to enjoy the fruits of conjugal love. In other words, marriage sex.

We know that all of us are called to a life of chastity. Priests and other religious are called to a life of celibacy and continence. There seems to be, however, a conundrum for those married religious in the Latin Rite. There are few married priests in the Latin Church and there are a greater number of married permanent deacons.

Canon 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.”

This seems to conflict with:

Canon 1135: Each spouse has an equal obligation and right to whatever pertains to the partnership of conjugal life.

and

The Spouses deliver power over their bodies to one another. The Husband has the right to command his Wife in this respect, and she the duty to obey, and likewise the Wife has the right to command her Husband in this respect, and he the duty to obey. (Roman Catechism and 1 Corinthians ch. 12 vs. 4)

It seems taht Canon Law 227 cannot invalidate Sacred Scripture, in where the wife has authority to demand conjugal love, and a husband has a duty to obey. This duty seems to overrule the canonical requirement for married clerics to maintain perfect and perpetual continence.

Yes, the canon was written in error (or, rather, an exemption to the continence requirement was erroneously omitted for married deacons). Fortunately, everyone understands and agrees that the unintended implication can simply be ignored, so Rome has never had any reason to rewrite the statute itself. I know that for legalistic Americans (of whom I am certainly one) this seems shocking, but that is mostly because we do not think with a Latin mind.

I think that it may be that the bishops, who have the Magisterial authority to interpret and apply Canon Law. consider celibacy and continence as a single obligation. Since a married cleric is by nature not celibate, the obvious requirement of continence is also void. It has been stated that if the wife dies before the deacon, he automatically incurs the obligation of celibacy and continence for the rest of his life. The only exemption from this is if the deacon has young children, he can be given a dispensation by his local ordinary to remarry.

If I am not mistaken this has to be a Papal dispensation.

Actually, I think you may be right. there is a Canon that states that anyone under holy orders can only be dispensed at the discretion of the Holy See.

Small correctin: Priests are not necessarily religious. The religious are the monks and brothers (and the sisters and nuns), and they are never married.

Priests and religious are both still bound to an obligation of celibacy and continence. There are few exceptions for married priests (obviously) and then the rules are a little different for Eastern Rite Catholics

Hello Scott,

Certainly canon law cannot invalidate Revelation and any interpretation of the law which contradicts Revelation is itself an “invalid” interpretation. Those who are of the mind that the law says what it means and means what it says regarding this issue (all clerics are to be continent) suggest that the involvement of the deacon’s wife in formation and her consent to his entering the program is based in the fact that both parties are expected to freely surrender the use of the right to the body/conjugal acts.

I think it is also helpful to point out canon 288: “The prescripts of cann. 284, 285, §§3 and 4, 286, and 287, §2 do not bind permanent deacons unless particular law establishes otherwise.” Obviously, c. 277 is not in the list. “MarkThompson” chalked this up to an error that everyone understands so it doesn’t need to be corrected. I respectfully disagree. If this law–which is clear in itself–is continually disregarded, the law suffers and the community can begin to doubt its relevance. The law has to match the community’s practice.

I know of no other provision in the Code that is so clear, touches upon something so important and is not followed anywhere. The Pope should do something to bring the law into accord with practice, or vice versa. The clerical state, along with its obligations and rights, is a merely ecclesiastical distinction that has no necessary connection to Revelation. So, the Pope can do whatever he wants with it.

Dan

Perhaps Canon 277 section 3 give the bishop the right to decides these matters.

“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.”

Ed Peters has discussed this topic at length on his website and elsewhere - good reading to get a background on the different aspects of this issue.

canonlaw.info/a_deacons.htm

He even chimed in on a previous thread here at CAF

Can a permanent deacon have children after ordination?

Scott,

I read the debate on the other thread and kept out of it, as it was a derailment of that thread.

There has been a rather large bruhaha over this C277 issue. I think, in large, it comes from the very reputable canonist Ed Peters. You can see some of the issues discussed on his blog, In the Light of the Law (the hyperlink takes you to search results on C277). Before you blow off his opinions, keep in mind that he is a consultant to the Apostolic Signatura – he isn’t just some ham-and-egg canonist.

Obviously, you would need to act in obedience to your Ordinary on the issue one way or the other. As well as any guidance that might come out of the applicable curia dicasteries. But the opinion given by the other party in that thread is not just off-the-wall.

I’m not an expert enough to give my own opinion on the matter. But I figure the link above may give you some expert information that you may find useful.

One other thing I will throw out there: continence is an issue of discipline.

I agree that Ed Peters is well respected and he has a point that canon does not clearly make an exception for married clerics, however Cardinal Burke is no ham-and-egg’er either. The married diaconate had no such restrictions during his time in St. Louis. He put one of his favorite priests in charge of the program too, now Monsignor Eugene Morris (who has since been plucked out of the diocese to work at the Josphinum in Ohio) Neither Cardinal Burke or Msnr Morris are shy about ruffling a few feathers for what is right. My point is I don’t think this is a big issue outside of a few blogs and perhaps with some pre Vat II types. Perhaps it will be clarified with the next canon law revision.

I think the key is obedience to the Ordinary since this is a matter of discipline.

Having said that, it would be nice if the CDF could publish a little note on the subject to put the matter to rest.

Canon 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.”

But, because “clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence” they also “therefore are bound to celibacy.” Permanent married deacons are obviously not “bound to celibacy” and so one must wonder if they are then not the clerics spoken of here as being “obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence”? One gets the impression that this canon is referring to priests and bishops, by limiting itself apparently to celibate clerics, and so perhaps it is simply not applicable to married deacons in any case.

Good point, and I just noticed the highlighted part, continence would not free the deacon from having a divided hear, he still has responsibilities to his wife, family, job whether he has sex or not.

If a permanent deacon who has received the Sacrament of Matrimony, is currently married and is required to be continent; what would the penalty be for a married deacon who has conjugal relations with his wife? There are none because a married man ordained a permanent deacon does not give up obligations, responsibilities, and rights within the Sacrament of Matrimony.

CIC 1055 §1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
§2. For this reason a matrimonial contract cannot validly exist between baptized persons unless it is also a sacrament by that fact.

And looking at the definition of Matrimony CIC 1061 §1. A valid marriage between baptized persons is called ratified only if it has not been consummated; it is called ratified and consummated if the parties have performed between themselves in a human manner the conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children, to which marriage is ordered by its very nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.

The Congregation for the Clergy in the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons 61. The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies conjugal love and constitutes it a sign of the love 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.

In response to both markthompson and the person who aptly brought up Ed Peters’ commentary, does Peters not refer to John Paul II’s final editing of the 1983 Code, wherein he struck out the text given to him that would’ve altered Canon 277 with respect to continence for deacons, thereby showing that he had no intention of changing 1000+ year practice for the Latin rite of a continent clergy?

Canon Law Code 277 seems to make allowance for this exception when it says in 3 that …“The Diocesan Bishop is competent to…pass judgement in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation.”

If the Diocesan Bishop is competent then certainly the Pope is competent and as far as I’ve heard there has never been any rule of Continence for married Deacons.

The Church can’t very well impose that after the fact, if Deacons weren’t told before they became Deacons, that Continence is a requirement, especially since it doesn’t just affect the Deacon but also their wives. I would think that men who become Deacons have been through a thorough vetting process and that most if not all have marriages that can be upheld as examples of good and holy marriages. The Church has a great respect for Marriage and I don’t think she wants to go around trying to break up valid marriages.

I’m a stickler for the law too but there are cases where you have to use common sense and I think this is one of them.

No one said anything to me about it! :shrug: Boy is my wife going to be upset.:rolleyes:

The bolded part would be an assumption of his intent. Assuming the story about JPII crossing it out is accurate, he could have crossed it out because he thought it was unnecessary or that it should be up to the local bishop under subsection 3.

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