From a reader…
I am in my early/mid 30s, married with two children. I am considering the permanent diaconate- Our diocese is one where priests are overworked; at my grandmother’s funeral, no priest was available for the cemetery, but we were able to contact a deacon who, thankfully, was available. I believe I could be useful as a deacon, but hesitate because my wife and I are are still interested in future children and Ed Peters has a good argument for a continent diaconate (though the semi-official Vatican reply seems to reject this). Orthodox advice on this point is hard to come by and I wonder if I could trouble you for yours, even in brief.
Here is the response of my friend Fr. Tim Ferguson:
Should you pursue the permanent diaconate? Hmm, I suppose it really depends on one question: is God calling you to the diaconate? Of course, that’s a question that can only, truly be answered through discernment – both by you and by the bishop who may ordain you.
But, since you asked me, I suppose that laying out some ideas by way of advice is warranted.
Dr. Peters does indeed provide solid canonical reasoning supporting the tradition that all clerics are obliged to observe perpetual continence – and that the law currently in force does not exempt married deacons or priests from that obligation. While many in the hierarchy have chosen to ignore his arguments and look the other way, there has not been a serious counter-argument launched. The reply from Cardinal Coccopalmerio given in 2011 contains several points which have handily responded to by the selfsame Dr. Peters (HERE). Barring some further clarification, it seems clear to me that married clerics are still indeed bound by the obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence.
Memorandum on Abp. Coccopalmerio’s second letter on Canon … HERE
If were in your shoes, and more children were being contemplated, I would delay pursuing the idea of the diaconate until such time as I could commit myself to a life of perfect and perpetual continence – and I would make sure that my wife was in agreement with this plan.
In the meantime, I would certainly pray for priestly vocations, so that the situation you describe with your grandmother’s funeral is not repeated. Deacons are not substitutes for priests – deacons have their own worth and dignity. Perhaps, if your pursuit of the diaconate is out of consideration, at least for the next several years, there are other ways you could help. Getting involved in the parish, offering what skills and talents (helping out in the office, unlocking/locking the church, visiting the sick and homebound, pulling weeds in the garden, sanding and staining the pews, manning the barricades, cleaning and sorting the parish arsenal, installing the priest hole and escape hatch – oh wait, the election turned out slightly differently than expected, didn’t it?) you have to the priest can perhaps alleviate many of his administrative burdens and allow him to spend more time and energy on those sacramental and pastoral areas where he, in virtue of his ordination, is uniquely capable.
The moderation queue is ON.