ASK FATHER: Should I consider permanent diaconate if I can’t serve the traditional community?

deacon_dalmatic_02From a reader…

My pastor and several bishops have urged me to enter the diocesan permanent diaconate program. I will be beginning my studies in Sacred Theology this September. But I am having second thoughts, mainly because I have been hearing opinions from priests belonging to Ecclesia Dei communities, that they dislike the concept of married deacons, and that they would not serve at the altar with somebody who is not committed to the sacrifice by living a celibate life. I am afraid, that the traditional community would not accept me. Must I now choose between the diaconate and being a traditional catholic? Are the two really not compatible?

I can’t speak to the attitudes of priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” in your area.

However, it is just plain silly to suggest that permanent deacons are not able to serve – or shouldn’t be allowed to serve – in the traditional Roman Rite.

Deacons are deacons are deacons.

Of course there is a debate about married deacons and continence.  Ed Peters has made a strong case that married deacons should be continent.   The basic argument is this.  In the Latin Church clerics are bound by can. 277 to observe perfect and perpetual continence. This is supported by tradition.  All deacons are clerics.  Hence, all deacons, including married deacons, are bound to be continent.

I supppose that some priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” in your area might add that, if the permanent deacons are not continent, they are not acting as deacons ought.  That being the case, they shouldn’t serve.  However, priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” in your area can’t know how a deacon is living.  They presume to know what they can’t, and ought not, know.  So, do they commit the sin of rash judgment about the deacons whom they meet?

In any event, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon.  Transitional deacons are not “more deacony” than permanent deacons.

Furthermore, given that the Solemn Mass of the Roman Rite should be preferred to the mere Sung Mass or the Low Mass, and that they cannot be celebrated without an additional priest or deacon for the diaconal roll, what are these priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” in your area trying to accomplish?

Subsequently, if you have strong concerns, give yourself some time and talk with your confessor and with wise priests who know the score.  And remember that priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” in your area will be rotated out to serve someplace else… or at least that is what usually happens.

All these things having been considered, ponder deeply that you – as you say – have been urged to enter formation for the diaconate by “several bishops”.  That’s not nothing!  If bishops are asking this of you, pay attention.  Service to Holy Church may or may not include service in traditional forms of the Roman Rite.

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  1. Sixupman says:

    Liverpool Archdiocese UK lists married Permanent Deacons complete with their wives in their Directory. [Absurd.]

  2. Peter Ignotus says:

    With all due respect to Dr. Peters, I think there is a good theological argument against requiring diaconal continence. Pope Benedict XVI amended can. 1009 to reflect the fact that deacons do not “receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head” (Omnium in Mentem, art. 2). If they don’t share in the headship of Christ, it follows that they don’t share in the spousal relationship between Christ and His Church. So it’s not theologically inappropriate for a deacon to maintain marital relations with his wife. For married priests, on the other hand, it’s a different story…

  3. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    As father says, a deacon is a deacon. Would these “Ecclesia Dei priests” refuse to let the deacon assist at Mass, in the sanctuary, in choir? What about a married priest (ex-Anglican, ordinariate or Eastern)?

    I would urge your reader to continue discerning his diaconal vocation (especially with the urging of “several bishops”). Surely the Church needs permanent deacons willing and able to serve in the Extraordinary Form if it is to be part of the normative, everyday life of the Church?

    In response to the first comment, the Archdiocese of Birmingham (UK) lists the name of a deacon’s wife in the directory, but only alongside other biographical and contact information. It can be handy to have (for example inviting a deacon and his wife by name to a celebration).

  4. WVC says:

    Living together in continence? But . . . but . . . but . . . I thought that was absolutely and utterly impossible!?! Where are you getting such zany, high-falutin’ idealistic thoughts from? Surely you don’t expect anyone to try to conform to such rigid, unmerciful, neopelagian constructs?!

    /end AL sarcasm/

  5. APX says:

    priests belonging to Ecclesia Dei communities, that they dislike the concept of married deacons, and that they would not serve at the altar with somebody who is not committed to the sacrifice by living a celibate life.

    This is just sheer ignorance and pride. Our Latin Mass community served by the FSSP has been fortunate to have one of the married priests from the Anglican Use Ordinariate fill in a deacon on numerous occasions in order to make it possible to have solemn Masses, when we have seminarians but no deacons.

    Personally, I have received no small amount of flack from my fellow traditionalists for going to a married priest for confession, when I told one person my previous confessor (FSSP) recommended him to me after he was transferred, the person was “shocked” that our previous priest would recommend a married priest for confession. It’s an ignorant attitude amongst some traditionalists and priests, but not all.

  6. JabbaPapa says:

    I don’t know which “Ecclesia Dei communities” are being referred to here, but as far as I know, the priestly fraternities that seem to be in question often have a mandatory vow of celibacy.

    If this were the case of the “community” in question, not only would you need to gain their acceptance, but in order to join that “community” I think you’d actually need a dispensation from that vow as well, very possibly from the Holy Father, given that you would become a cleric of that “community” whose Rule you would need to obey including, normally, the taking of that vow.

    In other words, I think the thornier problem here is not at all one of theology, but canon law — though of course, the problem of an ideological rejection of married clerics by some of these “communities” may also be difficult to resolve.

  7. wolfeken says:

    “In any event, a deacon is a deacon is a deacon. Transitional deacons are not ‘more deacony’ than permanent deacons.”

    But there is a difference, and it should be highlighted. So-called transitional deacons go through about five years of full-time seminary training before ordination, while so-called permanent deacons (since their modern institution by Paul VI in 1967) usually attend part-time classes while working full-time. It is very difficult to find a permanent deacon who has been well educated and trained, a sad fact that should not be ignored. [Formation of priests from seminary to seminary is uneven. But the deacons and priests ordained from the inferior programs are not less deacons or priests. Within the same program, some deacons and priests are, well, smarter than others. But the lesser gifted are not less ordained. Unless you are suggesting that St. John Vianney, who did so poorly in seminary that he almost didn’t make it through, was somehow not enough of a priest to count. It is also a reality that not everyone in the Church’s ordained ministry has precisely the same role. Some have abilities that make them race horses rather than cart horses. However, we all know people who are perhaps less gifted in education and native ability but who are advanced in holiness. Similarly, we know highly educated people who are … not.]

    But it should also be noted that many, if not most, dioceses have different clerical garb regulations for the two different classes of deacons. In the Archdiocese of Washington, for instance, a transitional deacon may wear the cassock and Roman collar full-time, while a permanent deacon may only wear a gray clerical shirt with collar. [So… the color of the clerical shirt (improperly imposed on him) makes such a difference that he can’t be deacon at a Mass.]

    While some say a deacon is a deacon, that is simply not the reality in practice. [The reality is that these deacons and candidates are being mistreated by those who train them halfway or who don’t allow them to be who they are ontologically. Perpetuating a two-tier view perpetuates the sub-optimal situation.]

  8. Poor Yorek says:

    With all due respect to Dr. Peters, I think there is a good theological argument against requiring diaconal continence.

    There are “good” theological arguments in support of all sorts of issues and positions. Clerical continence in this context, however, is a legal/canonical one; one surely supported by strong theological argument.

    I also find this statement problematic: If they don’t share in the headship of Christ, it follows that they don’t share in the spousal relationship between Christ and His Church.

    Are you suggesting that consecrated virgins, for example, who don’t share in the “headship” of Christ (by their lack of Order), somehow don’t share in the spousal relationship between Christ and the Church?

  9. Moro says:

    The whole issue of continence for married deacons was settled long ago. They are not bound to it. Here is a link with several mentions of statements by various bishops and Vatican Congregations. The entire Catholic world accepted this before Dr. Peter’s decided to take a non-issue and make an issue out of it.

    It’s worth noting that these clarifications occurred BEFORE the current pontificate

  10. A Diocesan TLM I attend somewhat regularly has 2 permanent Deacons and one more along the way, which allows them to have Solemn High Mass every Sunday from September-June. It’s pretty awesome that they are blessed to have that.

  11. Dan says:

    Can 277 certainly does pose a serious question to those married men discerning a call to the permanent diaconate. Especially if you are properly aligned to the Catholic church, which some might call more traditionally minded. It is not uncommon for people in the Church to do what they can get away with, with regard to the Mass, to the music in the Mass, to pretty much everything. If there is a grey area or a loophole it is exploited.
    This makes it difficult for those who are committed to closing those loopholes, or at least making people look honestly at them, when they feel a call to the permanent diaconate. I do not know of anywhere where the permanent diaconate has been re-instituted that married deacons have been asked to make the promise of perfect countenance, although they do still take a celibacy vow and are bound to it should they become widowed, and in that case continence would necessarily follow.
    I am not a canon lawyer and can not refute anything Dr. Peters says, I agree with him there should be clarification from the Vatican, but clarification does not seem to be the Vatican’s strong suit these days.
    For what is is worth though, my thoughts on it are. Both marriage and the diaconate are sacraments. One sacrament of the Church cannot subtract in anyway from another sacrament. If you can’t be fully married and fully a deacon then I don’t think married deacons could have been reinstated. I would argue the same for married priests, where it is aloud, and no it should not be allowed in the wider Church, but to be married you should be able to be fully married, to have Holy Orders you should have Holy Orders, binding to one does not unbind you from the other.
    Yes I know that you can be fully married and continent, I also know that sometimes God asks us to do things that are hard, also that this provides absolutely no help, but that is my $0.02 on the subject.

  12. This fellow, if he is to be ordained by the local ordinary, should definitely find out just how obligated he would be, to be and to serve where the bishop puts him. He may have no say in the matter, regardless of whether priests of “Ecclesia Dei communities” would have him or not. I say this because I have a friend who for years belonged to a parish that was not his territorial parish, became a deacon, and was… assigned… to his territorial parish against his preferences (but he was obedient). (In his case, the preferred parish was charismatic and the territorial parish pretty mainstream NO, but the issues are similar.)

    Secondly, Father, I agree with you – a deacon is made by grace with ordination. Some deacons are undoubtedly better suited, trained, capable, etc., than others, and as a group permanent deacons may differ in many of these respects from transitional ones. But what makes a deacon to be a deacon is God’s action, and in this respect, on the level of substance and essence (in the classical metaphysical sense), “a deacon is a deacon is a deacon” and moreover “a deacon is a deacon is a deacon” for all eternity. Even if he later becomes a priest or bishop, the “deacon-ness” never goes away (and so priests can be the deacon at Mass). The indelible mark on the soul of the Sacrament is what sets a deacon apart.

  13. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Peter Ignotus, make any theological argument you wish. The 277 issue is canonical and, while I think it rests on strong theological premises, the law stands or falls on canonical arguments.

    Moro, you are perhaps unaware that I responded directly to Cdl. Coccopalmerio’s comments on c. 277 at the time.

  14. Joe in Canada says:

    As you imply, Father, there is a distinction between celibacy and continence. Even if a married deacon lived perfect continence with his wife, he would still not be celibate and, I presume from the original poster, ineligible for these “Ecclesia Dei communities”.
    a) I think it is reasonable to presume that a married couple living together is not practicing perfect continence. They are married, after all, and it would be reasonable for those objecting to a uxorious deacon to require some sign, if one granted them the right to know such things, which I would not.
    2) There are lots of indications from the leadership of the Church that despite canon 277, perfect continence is not expected of terminal deacons. I have found that Patheos is not worth my time, but there are others who make this claim as well. I would trust my Bishop on this one. Hey, at least His Grace isn’t boycotting the terminal diaconate because it requires a Y chromosome.

  15. Neal says:

    Why is this surprising? Traditionalists are those who support tradition and suspect innovation, and, as I understand it, the married diaconate is an innovation. And with everything that’s happened in the last few decades, do you blame them?

  16. Deacon Don says:

    Please … If you discern a call to the Diaconate, answer the call. The years of formation will open your heart to the Lord in ways you have never believed possible. You will be pulled, pushed, shoved, grabbed, stretched, compressed . .. you name it.

    You will know if God, through his Son, is truly calling you to Holy Orders … and only then will you grow to experience the graces and gifts that flow from ordination.

    This week’s Gospel is the road to Emmaus. Sometimes we simply have to take a step down that road to truly have our eyes open. Take Jesus’ hand and start down the road.

  17. joekstl says:

    I agree with most comments here. But am intrigued by this quote from Dr. Peters work;

    “There is no doubt, of course, that by expressly admitting married men to the permanent diaconate, the canonical obligation of clerical celibacy […] is abrogated for such men.”

    E. Peters, Canonical Considerations, p. 153

    And I thought this issue had been resolved after a response from Rome to a USCCB request for a clarification of Canon 277: the answer being that continence is not required for married permanent deacons as long as they remain married.

    I hope I have this correct.

    But regardless this debate about celibacy points to something else that our Church needs to address: the value of sexuality in marriage. For too long we have been influenced by St. Aigustine and his almost Gnostic/Manichaean view of sex. Just a reference of his notion of original sin being transmitted to babies via the sex act should invite questions.

  18. Mike of Arkansas says:

    I am of simple mind. Post-1962 innovations like EMHCs, lectors, altar girls, communion in hand, the NO liturgical calendar, and many other things have full legitimacy for the novus ordo, but are proscribed for the EF. [Not quite. They are for the most part unheard of for the EF, which doesn’t mention them at all.] Why should the post-1962 innovation of permanent deacon be any different? [They are different because – for the zillionth time – permanent deacons are really deacons.]

  19. JabbaPapa says:

    wolfeken :

    But there is a difference, and it should be highlighted

    So are you suggesting that the permanent Deacon Francis of Assisi was significantly different in that ministry to Deacon Jean Vianney, later ordained to the priesthood, to the extent that this should be “highlighted” ?

    Sounds silly to me, sorry.

  20. JabbaPapa says:

    Dan :

    I do not know of anywhere where the permanent diaconate has been re-instituted that married deacons have been asked to make the promise of perfect countenance, although they do still take a celibacy vow

    In those cases, it’s actually a vow of chastity, so therefore not incompatible with the existence of sacramentally married life. (The deacon’s wife must take the same vow)

    The vow of chastity prevents marrying in a similar way to the vow of celibacy (it prevents engaging in courtship etc), but it is not incompatible with an already existing marriage.

    And no I think you’re wrong, a proper path of discernment to the diaconate actually DOES include proposing continence, albeit not absolutely imposing it ; and in Europe anyway, at least some deacons and their wives DO make a vow of perfect continence for these very reasons.

  21. tzard says:

    I have said a prayer for this potential Deacon. Knowing the followers of this blog, I suspect there have been quite a few others.

  22. Spade says:

    Setting aside that I’ve seen permanent deacons at EF masses, and father’s comments…

    If you’re traditionally minded, and BISHOPS have told you to become a deacon, well, just think of everything you could bring to an OF style parish. Think of the everything you could influence, or change, to bring the fruits you already have to someplace that may really need it.

    What if you got paired up with a priest who had a hankering to learn the EF, but hadn’t taken the plunge? You’d be in a position to say, “Well, father, I have a bunch of experience attending EF masses, and am very interested in it, and am in a position now to really help you learn and execute it.”

  23. Peter Ignotus says:

    Consecrated virgins and women religious participate in that spousal relationship as brides of Christ. Priests & bishops, insofar as they act in persona Christi Capitis, participate as Bridegroom. Deacons do neither.

  24. Dafyd says:

    An honest question, Fr Z:

    Does Canon 277 efcectively mean that a married deacon or priest and his wife are effectively being told, “No more children,” or that the cleric in question is subject to penalty and scandal if more children are conceived?

    [The canon doesn’t say more than it says. I think that it means that they should be continent. The CCC explains something about continence: 2349 “People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral law, whether they are married or single.” Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses, the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise any one of them to the exclusion of the others. . . . This is what makes for the richness of the discipline of the Church.”]

  25. gretta says:

    Rome has also spoken regarding continence and married priests, in that there is no obligation for continence for the married priests in the Ordinariate or for Eastern married priests. Which is a good thing, given that on the whole, many priests in the Ordinariate have large and growing families.

  26. APX says:

    Permanent deacons aren’t an innovation of the NO. The Second Vatican Council called that the. Permanent Deaconate (and Order of Consecrated Virgins) be restored.

    Honestly, there is so much ignorance out there in traditional Catholicism that it’s just sad.

    EMHC are also heard of prior to Vatican II. The Deacon is the EMHC [No. A deacon is an Ordinary Minister of Communion, as a bishop or a priest.] which is why deacons at the EF Masses will often help to distribute communion if there’s only one priest.

  27. wolfeken says:

    It is unfair to compare deacons in the first few centuries of the Church with so-called permanent deacons since Paul’s innovation in 1967. [Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicholas were deacons… so were Lawrence and Vincent… so was Francis of Assisi… so are Frank and Bob and Joe in the Diocese of Black Duck.] There are a lot of differences from the deacon-saints mentioned above, and the local plumber who slaps on an alb for Sunday services today. [Paul was a tent-maker and he plied his trade: Acts 18:3. Also, it is entirely possible that the local plumber, living in our deeply troubled times, will have a high place in heaven if he is holy and perseveres to the end, perhaps even higher than Stephen. We can’t know.] Sorry to be blunt, but some folks have painted a picture where we have hundreds of Saint Francis’s assigned to parishes, which is far from the case. [I don’t know anyone who does that. Who does that?] The permanent diaconate has become a misnomer, as the ministry is almost always part-time. [However, the diaconal character is not part time. Holy Orders effect an ontological change. When I am eating a hot dog from a hot dog cart in front of the Met in NYC, I’m not doing a priestly thing, but what I am doing I do as a priest. I don’t stop being a priest just because I am at the hot dog cart instead of the altar. Deacons don’t stop being deacons just because they they are at their desk at Bailey Bros. Building & Loan from 9 to 5. When Peter, went back to his trade, fishing, after the Lord’s resurrection, he didn’t stop being a bishop and chief of the Apostles, the body of all the bishops of the world. The Lord, however, wanted him to do something else, and quite properly.]

    But my larger argument is to those who claim a-deacon-is-a-deacon-is-a-deacon. No, it is not the case, practically. [Thank you for affirming my position: deacons should do the things that deacons do so that they are, “practically” doing things in conformity with what they “are”. Agere sequitur esse, after all. Hence, deacons acting in a diaconal role at Solemn Mass is a good thing.] If that was the case today, then bishops would not, among other things, create a two-tier arrangement of clerical garb for permanent deacons versus transitional deacons. [You are confused. Abuse of something doesn’t mean that that thing isn’t what it is. A bishop can be horrid to his priests and treat them badly. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t priests.]

    I would note that even conservative bishops, such as in the Diocese of Madison, have instituted a two-tier system, where transitional deacons dress full-time as deacons (black cassock and Roman collar), while permanent deacons are only permitted a gray clerical shirt outside church: [Thank you for acknowledging that a gray clerical shirt is a clerical shirt. Furthermore, some conferences of bishops, the Italian conference for example, have designated as proper clerical clothing for priests, in addition to black, also blue and gray. Furthermore, clerical garb changes over time. In these USA, for example, the Council of Baltimore established that clerics should wear the frock coat when out in public. Once priests wore preaching tabs. Eventually the present day “Roman” or “military” collar developed. Furthermore, when Spencer Tracy portrayed Fr. Flanagan in Boys Town he didn’t become a priest because he put on the black clothes. I would also note that Bishop Morlino virtually shut down the program for permanent deacons his diocese until he could find a way for them to be soundly formed. Moreover, in regard to your observation about less formation for permanent deacons than for transitional, let’s not get stuck in the trap of thinking that formation is everything. I’ve already made the point about St. John Vianney. Consider that not very long ago, Holy Church would ordained priests who were “simplex”, that is, “Mass priests”. They could say Mass, but not hear confessions or preach, usually because they didn’t have either the firepower upstairs or the formation necessary. Consider the case of Venerable Solanus Casey (+1957). Casey had trouble in classes which were taught in German. He was ordained simplex in 1904 because he was not judged apt for preaching, etc. For a great deal of his priesthood he was the doorkeeper. Casey acquired such a reputation for holiness that 20000 attended his funeral. If you were to make the argument that many permanent deacons shouldn’t be allowed to preach – BAM! – I’m right there with ya! I’ve only known a few permanent deacons who could preach and preach well. However, that doesn’t mean that those who can’t either can’t or shouldn’t function as a deacon at Mass. That makes no sense at all.]

  28. Peter Ignotus says:

    Gretta, this is news to me. Could you point me in the direction of where that can be found?

  29. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Thankfully, in my Archdiocese, permanent deacons, as well as seminarians who are not clerics, may – and do – wear clerical dress when appropriate, including black clerical shirts and if they wish full roman collars, cassocks, birettas, saturnos…

    …not, of course, when doing the plumbing.

  30. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    I also like to think that we have heavenly approval for the married, permanent diaconate. Blessed John Henry Newman was finally beatified because of the miraculous healing of Jack Sullivan’s spine, thereby allowing him to complete his diaconal formation and be ordinained. I am slightly surprised Blessed John Henry has not been adopted as a patron for the permanent diaconate, as he has for the Ordinariate.

    Blessed John Henry, pray for deacons.

  31. APX says:

    No. A deacon is an Ordinary Minister of Communion, as a bishop or a priest.]

    Sorry Father. I should have clarified better. Prior to The change in Canon Law in 1983, and prior to the changes in Vatican II, the Deacon was the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. I have this in an old reputable handbook on Moral Theology.

  32. gretta says:

    Anglicanorum Coetibus’ section VI addresses ordaining celibate men to the priesthood, then states in section VI 2 that as a derogation of c. 277, married men can be admitted to the priesthood on a case by case basis. But it specifically states that c. 277 is derogated in those instances, thus married men admitted to priesthood in the Ordinariate are not bound to celibacy or marital continence. However, as with deacons, if their spouse dies, they are then bound to clerical celibacy. I would imagine, though I do not know for certain, that the same would be for diocesan pastoral provision priests – that c. 277 is specifically derogated for them by the Holy Father.

    I have heard from knowledgeable sources that using the word “clerics” and not “presbyters” in c. 277 was an oversight, in that the drafters simply forgot about the situation of married deacons when they promulgated the code. It was only after it was promulgated that canonists realized the mistake. That is why CDF has been clear in the situations of both married deacons and priests that the c. 277 continence requirement does not apply to them.

    A deacon, is a deacon, is a deacon. They are clerics. They have rights, and they aren’t just “jumped up laypeople” as I’ve heard them referred to. They are also not “lay deacons” a term that makes me crazy and is a flat-out contradiction in terms. Deacons are tasked with being more “in the world” than priests, and their ministries often reflect this. But that is WHAT THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO DO – to be the bishop’s hands to the world. There is no such thing as a part-time deacon, even when working a secular job he is giving witness by his life and work to the gospel. They are CLERGY and deserve to be treated with respect and the dignity befitting their office.

  33. Peter Ignotus says:

    Gretta, thanks very much for the quick and thorough response! I suspect you’re right that permanent deacons were not top-of-mind in the drafting of can. 277.

    As for married priests, sorry, I’m not sure AC actually says they’re not bound to continence. I’ll defer to a trained canonist here, but it seems to me that the derogation referred to in AC is only a derogation from celibacy, and not necessarily from perfect & perpetual continence. (The term ‘derogation’ occurs in connection with ‘admission’; derogating from the law to allow a married man’s admission to the priesthood, strictly speaking, only necessitates derogation from the obligation of celibacy, not continence.) But I could be wrong…

  34. gretta says:

    Peter Ignotus, trust me when I tell you, you’re wrong on this. The derogation is for whole enchilada – both celibacy and marital continence. And if you don’t believe me, do a little research into how many young Ordinariate priests’ wives have had babies since their husbands were ordained in the Catholic Church. If the number of progeny under the age of 5 is any indication, the priests of the Ordinariate are not bound by continence. And since the proof of the violation of this canon is hard to miss, the fact that all of those priests remain in good standing (and continue to have children, cause many have had more than one) would be a pretty good indicator that Anglicanorum Coetibus’ derogation of c. 277 is for both celibacy and continence.

  35. No, gretta, Rome has NOT also “spoken” regarding continence and married priests…we have, at most, an inadequate letter from Cdl. Coccoplamerio which, however insufficient it is in regard to diaconal issues, does not even address priests.

    To quote myself: “Abp. Coccopalmerio’s letter, whatever its weight, concerns only married deacons, not married priests. My original Studia article on clerical continence focused on married deacons but, while the obligation of perfect and perpetual continence begins at diaconate, the arguments for obligatory continence among married priests—who are more closely configured to Christ the High Priest and who are more intimately linked to the altar of sacrifice than are deacons—are even stronger. Therefore, even if some change in the law of continence could be established in regard to married deacons (and recent develops such as Omnium in mentem imply, in some respects, a widening wedge between diaconate and priesthood), nothing, absolutely nothing, in Western law or tradition can account for the abandonment of the obligation of perfect and perpetual continence among married priests.”

  36. gretta says:

    With all due respect Dr. Peters, yes, Rome has spoken, in the cases I specified. Read the rest of what I wrote – it has spoken FOR THE ORDINARIATE that c. 277 specifically is derogated in the case of married priests. The citation in Article 6 of Anglicanorum Coetibus very particularly exempts married clergy in the Ordinariate from both celibacy and continence, and, I would imagine that it was specifically included to counter your article since AC was promulgated after your article was published. I would also be very surprised if CDF hasn’t also specifically derogated c. 277 for every pastoral provision priest as well.

    Has the Vatican made a blanket statement exempting all married priests from c. 277? No. But it has done so though its practice. Has it officially changed c. 277? No. But it has given a blanket exemption for all married priests in the Ordinariate and likely for pastoral provision priests as well. That would certainly indicate “the mind of the Pope” on the subject. Finally, I think what clearly accounts for the change is that Pope Benedict want to encourage the establishment of a home in the Catholic Church for former Anglican and other protestant clergy, and asking them as married men (and their wives) to take on the obligation of continence as a condition for ordination would be, to put it bluntly, a “deal breaker.” And I think the Church wants to encourage men to be permanent deacons, and again, by requiring continence for married couples, you 1) greatly lessen the pool of otherwise called and qualified men to be deacons, or 2) you put at risk the stability of their marriages, or 3) you are asking for needless scandal when a deacon’s wife conceives another child.

  37. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Hate to tell folks, but Eastern married priests and deacons do practice continence. The minimal requirement is being continent during the fasting period before offering Mass. Of course, all married people in the East are supposed to observe various periods of continence in connection with fasting. This does not interfere with having kids; it just means you are not conceiving them on Saturday after midnight, or during Lent and Advent. (Among other fasting times.)

    Jewish priests and high priests were supposed to stay continent while serving their annual time at the Temple. The rest of the year, they enjoyed their wives.

    As for the Gnostics… the Cathars encouraged priests they had recruited to have sex with parishioners the night before Sunday Mass, as long as the particular priests were not Perfecti. The trial records talk a lot about this particular breach of Canon law. Fornicating and not going to Confession was bad enough, but profaning the offering of Mass was really having no shame.

    Obviously deacons following honestly what they were taught are not to blame. But the mind of the Church would seem to ask for fasting and continence. (I guess you could argue that if an hour before Communion is okay for food, then the same goes for continence. In which case there would be very few deacons not practicing minimal continence.)

  38. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Anyway, the point is that, although the various other Rites do have their own canon laws, the Roman Rite has canon law and Tradition saying one thing, while now-common practice and teaching is saying something totally different. Until this situation is resolved, a lot of people are going to be stuck in situations of inadvertent lawbreaking and profanation.

  39. Gretta, I invite you to consider that you might be overlooking reasons that make it fitting for permanent deacons to be continent. Let us recall that there is a discernment process that wives are directly involved in during the formation process. On the basic level, the conjugal act does not make a marriage either happy or unhappy. The act is for the purpose of reproduction, and is a weak foretaste of the joy of Union with God in heaven. The normal maturing of the life of grace (“gratia gratum faciens”, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q.111, a.5) is meant to progress to union of our will and love with God’s in this life (“Love is never idle, and a failure to grow would be a very bad sign.”, Interior Castle, 5.4.10). Union, according to St. John of the Cross, is a supernatural likeness brought about through love (The Living Flame of Love, 13). This union has nothing to do with delightful feelings; it is willing what God wills, and loving as God loves (Ibid.). The wisdom necessary to prepare for and grow in such a degree of conversion and prayer depth is received through love, silence [including daily mental prayer], and mortification (The Sayings of Light and Love, 109; cf. The Interior Castle, 4.2.1). Now, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that the married man is concerned with worldly affairs and how to please his wife; likewise: the wife is concerned for her husband. But Paul wants the Corinthians to preserve good order so that they will be able to devote themselves to the Lord without distractions (1 Cor 7:1; 8; 32-35). In verse 5 St. Paul points out that the husband and wife must be in mutual agreement about this matter, going on to state that even if they do not give up relations that it is necessary for them to take time apart for the purposes of prayer. Yet, if Paul wants all of the Corinthians to be able to devote themselves to the Lord without distractions, then how much more important would that be true for a permanent deacon? The permanent deacon, like the priest whom he helps, baptizes, thus becoming a spiritual father to many. He also prepares people for marriage, and can even witness the marriage if for some reason there will not be a Nuptial Mass. Going back to the basic level of every marriage, the husband is called to mortify himself and to help his wife toward the ultimate felicity of heaven; the wife is called to help her husband in a similar way. Based on what St. Paul teaches, and given that the ordinary maturation of the person in sanctifying grace is intended to flourish into a union of the will with God’s through the operation of love, it stands to reason that every married couple could reach a point when they strive to mortify even their flesh–always in mutual agreement–so that they can truly help their spouse to devote him or her self to the Lord, as Paul teaches. I will let you draw your own conclusions, but I will end by sharing with you that my spiritual director told me, “Many married couples are called to live that way.”

  40. un-ionized says:

    Lucas W, what you say is true. The wives of potential permanent deacons have a very intense discernment process to go through. I have been on retreat in the same center with couples who are mutually discerning this. I am glad I have not been called to do this, it seems very difficult. So it isn’t absurd that the deacon’s wives are very often taken into account as this discernment process makes it clear to both that they are a “package” in many respects. All of the permanent deacon candidates that I know who are married are over 55.

  41. Red_Shirt_Hero says:

    Un-ionized – can you explain what you mean by “So it isn’t absurd that the deacon’s wives are very often taken into account as this discernment process makes it clear to both that they are a “package” in many respects.”? I cannot work out what it means. Why should it be absurd to take wives into account as part of the formation and discernment process?

    A wife must give her written consent to the bishop, both for her husband beginning formation and again for ordination.

    As for married deacon candidates being over 55, how sad; the minimum canonical age is 35 for ordination. I am 34 and (God-willing) will be ordained next year. I am part of a large formation programme, now invoking 5 dioceses and the age of men combining forward includes a fair number of ‘younger’ men.

  42. Supertradmum says:

    When I was interviewing priests for a book on the Ordinariate, I was old that the then Pope, our dear Benedict, intended for the wives of the new Catholic priests to be in a celibate relationship. He allowed the “first wave” a dispensation, I was told, but wanted the ancient tradition to continue–one of complete continence.

    Also, it was my understanding when the permanent diaconate was set up that the Pope then, also wanted continence for the married permanent deacons. It would seem to me to be in the intention of Rome that this would be so from what I heard. Also, I know both Ordinariate and Personal Provision priests and their wives who have chosen “Josephite” marriages, as the husband has a new bride, the Bride of Christ, the Church. Makes sense to me.

  43. Supertradmum says:

    Correction, St. John Paul II’s “Pastoral Provision” not personal, as I wrote incorrectly above, allowed Anglican clergy to apply for the Catholic priesthood individually, before the Ordinariate was established. Parishes were also set up under this 1980 set up. Now, all Anglicans now Catholics in these parishes are under the Ordinariate since this year. There is only one hold-out, but when that happens, that is virtually the end of the Pastoral Provision.

  44. un-ionized says:

    Red shirt hero, see the comment above.

  45. un-ionized says:

    I don’t think candidates over 55 is sad at all.

  46. JabbaPapa says:

    Supertradmum :

    When I was interviewing priests for a book on the Ordinariate, I was old that the then Pope, our dear Benedict, intended for the wives of the new Catholic priests to be in a celibate relationship. He allowed the “first wave” a dispensation, I was told, but wanted the ancient tradition to continue–one of complete continence.

    Also, it was my understanding when the permanent diaconate was set up that the Pope then, also wanted continence for the married permanent deacons.

    Except that the private preferences of any Pope do not constitute “the intention of Rome”.

    This has a certain historical interest, but really that’s all that it is, just as a draft Encyclical abandoned after the death of a Pope who was writing it is not Church teaching.

  47. [Vitiosa emendantur]
    An important link between the will and love is missing from my text above; things fell apart when I posted a version with the sources in an italic font (which was easier to read until it was nothing but Unicode that did not translate).

    The operation of the will is love (The Living Flame of Love, 13). The second source from The Interior Castle that reads “4.2.1” should be “cf. 5.2.1”. As Montagne once wrote, “Without love there would be no contemplation.” Love is the indispensable premise of happiness. But what is ultimately sought by the will cannot itself be an act of the will(1), because all motion seeks rest(2), and rest is not in willing but in knowing(3). “The happy life does not mean loving what we possess, but possessing what we love”(4). Love is the means whereby we possess what is good for us; God is ultimate Goodness; and eternal life is knowing Him (Jn 17:3). When the will is satisfied in its quest for God in prayer, man is gifted with an intuition of God’s presence (normal maturing of grace). God then becomes known by cognition, an act of the intellect (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 3, a. 4). The above serves as a sketch of growth in sanctifying grace, which grace unites us to God himself. For any of these basic preparations and realities to be skipped by an individual we would then be in the realm of “gratia gratis data”; not everybody is gifted with extraordinary graces. All of us are called to perfect charity and Union is this life, which can only be attained by fostering the friendship that we have with God through sanctifying grace (cf. Jn 15:5; Jn 14:23). I hope that many will come to better appreciate the sharing in God’s own intimate life which Jesus opened for us by his saving work, and that this will lead not only to a stronger Church, but also to an increase in holy vocations to the sacrament of Holy Orders; Permanent Deacons and Priests alike.

    (1) Quaestiones quodlibetales 8.19
    (2) Compendium theologiae 1.107
    (3) Summa Theologiae I, q. 81, a. 1
    (4) Bartolome de Medina (cf. Commentary on the Summa Theologiae)

    Pater Z: Benignus erga delendum errores meus. Gratiam tibi habeo. [Satis superque sunt mihi officia mea.]

  48. gretta says:

    Supertradmum, a few corrections. Protestant ministers are are still becoming Catholic priests under the pastoral provision, at least in the United States. PP priests are not attached to the Ordinariate, but rather are diocesan priests all over the country. There are two separate tracks, with Bishop Vann in Orange being the Ordinary in charge of the pastoral provision. Not all of these clerics are former Anglicans, they come from other Protestant denominations as well, and none of them want to be a part of the Ordinariate. The pastoral provision gives them the option to become a “regular” diocesan priest in whatever diocese they are in and for them to function in a “normal” parish. So the pastoral provision is alive and well, and at least in the US, is not going to disappear any time soon. See As it says on their website, “The Ordinariate is separate and distinct from the Pastoral Provision, each serving the cause of Christian unity in its own distinct manner.”

    Also, what Pope Benedict may have thought or wanted prior to AC is somewhat irrelevant because the seminal document establishing the Ordinariate very clearly derogates from c. 277 for all married clerics. That document is the public manifestation of the will of the Pope, regardless of whatever private thoughts he had on the subject. And for permanent deacons, given that permanent deacons are not only exempt from c. 277 but now in some cases are actually allowed to remarry, it seems that the trend practically speaking is getting further and further away from any move towards marital continence for permanent deacons.

    I think it will be interesting when the code of canon law is eventually revised to see what is done with c. 277. I suspect it will be changed to reflect Rome’s current trend and practice.

    Lucas Whittiker, all of those reasons may be valid for why a married cleric may decide with his wife voluntarily to abstain from sexual relations. But that is a different thing altogether than being bound by law to perpetual continence while living in the married state. Remember, a marriage is not fully sacramental until it is consummated, and healthy marriages usually involve sexual relations. Regardless of the theological arguments for it, practically speaking most married priests and deacons are not voluntarily going to forgo marital relations, which are proper to their married state (temporary continence as practiced by some of the Eastern Churches is a different matter altogether, not unlike voluntarily abstaining when practicing NFP. But there is a world of difference between temporary continence and perpetual continence). And clearly, judging from the number of very young priests’ kids in the Ordinariate, married priests and their families are giving public witness to the joys of having big families.

  49. Gretta, You seem to me to be saying two divergent things. You have implied numerous times that happiness, certainly marital happiness, stems from relations and having children to raise and take pride in. Then you support your opinion with a reference to the fear of clerics being bound to continence by Church law. And while that is serious matter to ponder, it does not support your opinion, or speak to your essential motivations. I would be happy to discuss this further if you click on my name (social media or messaging), since this is not the place to do this.

    Dr. Peters cited sources, and is himself an authority on the juridical aspects of the question at hand. I gave you theological sources based at the level of every person, every marriage. I can do the same to refute your concern that a marriage is not sacramental unless it is consummated.

  50. JabbaPapa says:

    Lucas Whittaker :

    You have implied numerous times that happiness, certainly marital happiness, stems from relations and having children to raise and take pride in.

    To be fair, if that is one’s vocation, then there will happiness in this life be found.

    But it is of course a mistake to assume that it’s a one-size-fits-all vocation for all to pursue !

    1 Corinthians {12:4} Truly, there are diverse graces, but the same Spirit.
    {12:5} And there are diverse ministries, but the same Lord.
    {12:6} And there are diverse works, but the same God, who works everything in everyone.
    {12:7} However, the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one toward what is beneficial.
    {12:8} Certainly, to one, through the Spirit, is given words of wisdom; but to another, according to the same Spirit, words of knowledge;
    {12:9} to another, in the same Spirit, faith; to another, in the one Spirit, the gift of healing;
    {12:10} to another, miraculous works; to another, prophecy; to another, the discernment of spirits; to another, different kinds of languages; to another, the interpretation of words.
    {12:11} But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one according to his will.
    {12:12} For just as the body is one, and yet has many parts, so all the parts of the body, though they are many, are only one body. So also is Christ.
    {12:13} And indeed, in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether servant or free. And we all drank in the one Spirit.

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