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Explosive – permanent deacons must be celibate! – ? January 17, 2011

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, Dallas Diocese, disaster, General Catholic, North Deanery, scandals, Society.

According to well known canon law expert Ed Peters, canon law stipulates that all those who are ordained – including permanent deacons – must refrain from sexual relations, even though they are married.  Catholic Vote (Ed Peters’ son, Thomas) is arguing that the Church needs to start enforcing this virtually forgotten canon, and since there are now 15000 permanent deacons in the US, this should make for some interesting discussion:

This little point, illustrated my father Canon Layer Ed Peters, has huge potentially consequences for many thousands of men already serving as permanent deacons in the United States (and around the world), and it also promises to impact the growing number of married Anglican and other protestant clergy coming into the Church through the ordinariate established by Pope Benedict and similar, previous provisions.

Simply put: the law of the Church says that permanent deacons, because they are clerics, are obliged to observe “perfect and perpetual continence.” In simple terms, permanent deacons are obligated by law to refrain from sexual relations with their wife once they are ordained.

More than that, the same obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence would seem to apply to married priests who obviously remain married after they enter the Church and are ordained as priests (this would seemingly apply to all married Anglican clergy about to be ordained as Catholic priests). Again, simply put, ordination to holy orders in the Roman Catholic Church always carries with it the obligation to abstain completely from sexual relations.

My father has published on his website CanonLaw.info a complete explanation for this argument, briefly, that we have fallen out of the habit of observing Canon 277 in the Church, but the law (and theology behind the law) remains unchanged. In addition, he has made available the PDF file of his 34 page academic article substantiating his argument. Fair warning: the argument is air-tight. There are, in my opinion, simply no loop-holes to be found.

Fr. John Boyle, an English canonist, also has a helpful post on his blog explaining my father’s argument step-by-step.

I believe this is a “Josiah moment” for the Church. In the Old Testament, we are told that the good King Josiah discovered the law of Moses, after it had been long forgotten, and had it proclaimed again to the people of Israel. In the West today, we have forgotten the Church’s discipline about one of the essential obligations that ordination to orders carries with it. We are now witnessing this forgotten law being discovered again. The question now is, “will we follow the law?”

There are more than 15,000 permanent deacons in the United States alone, and the great majority of them are married. I do not know the number of married priests, but we can expect their number internationally to increase as more married Anglican priests come into the Roman Catholic Church.

And, yes, if this canon is enforced, one wonders how much that will dampen enthusiasm for Anglican clergy to convert.  Even without that aspect, this could be a truly explosive situation – were this canon to be enforced, how many permanent deacons would abide?

And a larger question is, with this canon having been in place for……forever……..how did we come to have married permanent deacons in the first place?  Was it assumed they would give up their marital responsibilities in that area?  What of their wives?  Once again, we see ‘provisions’ emerging in the wake of Vatican II that seem difficult to reconcile with law, practice, and Tradition.


1. thewhitelilyblog - January 17, 2011

Ver-ry interesting. I checked Fr. Ralph Wiltgen’s reportage on the discussion and action of the Council (in which the European alliance’s support for the diaconate was shown as a stepping stone to a married priesthood, as was, by the way, the idea that homosexuality is an inborn trait, and the corresponding idea that the expression of sexuality is an irresistable force), and then the Vatican website itself. In Lumen Gentium, Vatican II prepared for a married deaconate, and then Paul VI’s motu proprio in 1967 set up the practical framework. I’ll put the website at the bottom.

Paul VI stipulated this regarding canon law:

Therefore, in the first place, all that is decreed in the Code of Canon Law about the rights and obligations of deacons, whether these rights and obligations be common to all clerics, or proper to deacons–all these, unless some other disposition has been made– we confirm and declare to be in force also for those who will remain permanently in the diaconate.

If the canon law referred to here says that deacons should be celibate, then what?

We need a canon law expert. Also, I would like to know (if you find such an expert!), was all of canon law changed to reflect the decisions, the changes, of the Council? There was a recent VIS release–like within last three months–that the Holy Father was changing some things in Canon law that had given responsibility over priests engaged in criminal sexual behavior to the national bishops’ colleges, and the Holy Father was taking that power back to the Vatican. The article spoke of other related things about the Council and canon law, but I didn’t focus on it at the time.

But so what, dear Tantum? It doesn’t seem to matter what the law actually is. The law still says–and you pointed this out to me–that the pope has the power. Not the pope with the bishops. That liberal idea was in the end not endorsed by the council (partly because Scheelebeckxx–whatever–circulated a memo giving the real plans of the liberals regarding collegiality, and it was leaked, and Paul VI finally defended tradition on that point) and yet our Holy Father continues to act as if it were, and apparently some aspects of canon law were adjusted to give the bishops more specific powers anyway. It’s like yet one more strategy they used: act as if a law had been passed in our favor even if we lost the vote!

Funnily enough, this same thing is happening in Chicago. They passed this ‘bubble zone’ law for abortion clinics in which, within fifty feet of a ‘clinic,’ we can’t approach anyone closer than eight feet without their permission. Okay, well, we deal with that. We kind of say, ‘Hey, we have this information, want some?’ and keep walking toward them. We stand right by the door, of course, just where we always did, because that’s where the action is, and because of the way the law reads.

But not all of us. Some of us stand right at the fifty foot mark (they measured it). They say that it’s safer that way, nobody can say they broke the law because they’re outside the fifty foot mark. Okay, except that now people are starting to literally attack those of us who are inside the fifty foot range, getting really mad, as if we’re breaking the law. Who’s teaching them this incorrect version of the law? Our comrades! Visually! It’s going to get somebody hurt, watch.

Same thing with collegiality. The Holy Father seems to be standing at the fifty foot mark anyway. Observing (and teaching, modeling) a fantasy law.

I hope you get a response from a canon lawyer. I know somebody myself and think I’ll send her your link. If you get somebody, will you ask my question? Did all of canon law finally get re-written since the Council? And what happens if an item of canon law contradicts the practice, or even an item mandated by the Council, as in this case apparently? I hope the answer isn’t, the Vatican has to act on that. Oopsie. Oopsie so far. As Bishop Fellay always says, though, let’s pray the good in the Holy Father wins out over the bad.


tantamergo - January 17, 2011

WhiteLily – if you go to the catholicvote link in my post, you will find a 34 page opinion written on this subject by a canon lawyer – Ed Peters, the man referenced in the post. He thinks the canon law 277 does apply to permanent deacons – they must be celibate. This could be huge.

2. How did the Church survive? « A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - January 18, 2011

[…] Diocese, General Catholic, North Deanery, silliness. trackback In the continuing dustup over canon lawyer Ed Peters’ claim that married permanent deacons are obligated, under canon law, to forego conjugal relations with […]

3. thewhitelilyblog - January 19, 2011

Yes, I thought of that, and did so later. There was lots of nets bzz too. I wish! But no matter what, the authority needs to speak. This was one of the most hotly contested discussions at the Council. It was seen as a movement toward married priests and an attack on the concept of self-control regarding sexual matters, a concept that had been promoted among protestants since their inception. (Did you know Luther entertained polygamy as an option, at one time? Did you know Rahner had a girlfriend? That’s all the gossip I know.)

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