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Catholic Deacons and Celibacy: Conjugal Love and Charitable Disagreement Comments

A highly regarded Canon Lawyer claims that married men ordained to the diaconate or the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church must practice continence. What does Canon #277 say and what does it mean? Will the discussion raised by Canon lawyer Edward Peters reach Rome? With the coming infusion of married men serving as Priests and deacons it is time for a clarification of Canon #277 which dispels confusion. Continue Reading

1 - 10 of 38 Comments

  1. Steve
    3 years ago

    Let me as succinct as possible: to suggest that there is some God inspired reason, fallible and flawed canon law notwithstanding, that a married Roman Catholic Deacon, or any human being for that matter, should be required to practice "continence" with a spouse - abstaining from even licit sexual relations - amounts to more than just an abomination: it is unabashed blasphemy.

    I spent several years studying at Saint John's Seminary, the Los Angeles Archdiocesan seminary in Camarillo. Several of my classmates, and even some instructors, were among those who were found to be committing sexual abuse.

    It wasn't "the sexual liberation movement" or "liberal theology" (almost every one of those who abused from St John's were very conservative), nor was it "at a rate within the expected norm". What you've read about in the papers so far, and parishoners have paid victims hundreds of millions of dollars to partially compensate, only scratches the surface of the sexual acting out this corrupt notion that married sexuality and holiness are mutually incompatible has fostered for centuries.

    Nothing in the gospel trumps God's original instruction to his human creation: "Be fruitful and multiply." That instruction is the core of the "nuptial mystery".

    Even in Matthew 19:11-12, those "who became eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" are those Jesus lauds for remaining faithful to their marriage vow, not a recommendation of celibacy over marriage. Clearly that is how the Apostles - married men before and after Jesus earthy life - understood it.

    Reading it any other way is self serving eisegesis, much like the comment that Jesus received some monastic vocation. Baloney! Odds are Jesus was married earlier in life and Matthew 19:11-12 has biographical roots in Jesus life.

    Mandated celibacy is the institutionalization of the corrupt notion that sexuality and marriage are mutually incompatible with holiness. It is a heretical idea fostered by those prone to the self-mutilating psychosis of Origen's ilk. It is also the foundational mindset that fostered, and served as justification for those who sought to protect and hide, the sexually abusive priests who were its byproduct.

    Mandated celibacy has a prophetic side too. Many of us stated consistently and clearly that the psychological environment it created would result in the cases of abuse

    The fact that anyone, in light of the horrific sexual abuse scandal perpetrated and hidden by celibates, would still be peddling this nonsense shows that some in the church still don't get it.

  2. Hank
    4 years ago

    When I was young, I aspired to the Priesthood. I visited the seminary several times. However, I was still a teen-aged boy in the early 70's, and at 15 had a sexual encounter with my then-girfriend. I confessed this to my Pastor and in a remark coined "Wonky" by my now-Pastor and a proffesor of Theology in our congregation (an Episcopal Priest converted to Catholicism but does not seek the Priesthood), He told me "if you enjoyed it, you don't have the call---get married and make the Church a few more Catholic babies".

    Now, nearly 55 years old, with a wife, 2 grown children and 2 grandchildren, though my marriage is strong, I feel a deep regret that I "missed out" on my vocation. After a dream where it was suggested to me that I begin the path to ordination as a deacon---a good path to be on and I don't know if I'll ever be ordained, many changes have occured in my life. My wife is only a year younger than I and if I told her that once I am ordained, we must practice celibacy---Well, Deacon Fournier I'll invite you to the party she will throw. It would be a grand one!

    But for younger men who are called to serve God and the Church in this capacity, I see no reason they should adopt a celibate life. For myself, if my wife pre-deceases me, I will put my money in trust for my granchildren, settle my affairs and if one would take me, enter a seminary. My marriage after 32 years is stronger than ever, but I could never see myself entering into another marriage covenant in my lifetime.

    As men get older, what kept us afire as youngsters fades away. Such is the nature of what students of human behavior would call a sex drive. The Church benefits from the Deaconate, especially when there is a recognized shortage of Priests. If I had my life to live over again, I would have shaken off my Pastors advice and apply to join a Seminary or Abbey. None of us have that luxury. I can see no higher calling that to serve God and the Church in my mature years by assisting a Pastor in both the Liturgy and those Sacraments allowed by a deacon to dispense.

  3. Seamus
    4 years ago

    Deacon Fournier -- In your response to my post you seem to suggest that I denied deacons were clerics. I agree that deacons are clerics and never said otherwise. Thus I am not sure on what matter I am "absolutely incorrect."

    My point was that the use of the term in the Code is ambiguous (or at least inconsistent). Thus to understand what the term means within the particular canon (277), it must be read in the overall context of the full range of obligations and rights of those (deacon, priest, or bishop) in the clerical state (and indeed within the general mission of the church to stand as a sign and instrument of the world's salvation). Clearly a married deacon has a principal responsibility to provide for his wife and children (as per Canon 281). How, then, can Canon 286 apply to deacons, where it says "clerics are prohibited from conducting business or trade," etc.? Here is one (among several) instances where the term "clerics" seems to mean ONLY priests, and in fact cannot refer to deacons without creating an inherent contradiction. Are married deacons, as a matter of routine, required to abandon their professions, trades, or businesses upon ordination? Obviously not, since Canon 281 says "Those who receive remuneration by reason of a civil profession which they exercise or have exercised, however, are to take care of the needs of themselves and their families from the income derived from it."

    You are right that the confusion must be clarified, but that is exactly my point. The confusion, insofar as it relates to Canon 277, derives from the ambiguity of the word "clerics." To what logical category of ordained men does the term refer in this instance (Canon 277)? In the statement "All clerics must be celibate" does the term "clerics" include deacons? I maintain that the canon is unclear on that matter, and that the presumption should be that it does not. Yet if we follow your affirmation that all deacons are clerics, and that no ambiguity about the category or meaning of the term exists, then there should be no question about the obligation of deacons to be celibate (in which case we have a serious problem for the thousands of deacons who entered the married state prior to ordination).

  4. Father Constantine
    4 years ago

    Is it irrelevant to note that the entire context of Canon 277 is the celibate clergy?

  5. Deacon Keith Fournier
    4 years ago

    To Seamus: I published your thoughtful comment. However, you are absolutely incorrect. The Code of Canon Law clearly affirms that Deacons, Priests and Bishops are clerics. In the west, one enters the Clerical state with ordination of the Order of Deacon. "Can. 266 ยง1 By the reception of the diaconate a person becomes a cleric, and is incardinated in the particular Church or personal Prelature for whose service he is ordained" Similarly, the Eastern Code of Canon Law affirms the same. (See Nanon #358) No, Seamus, the confusion in the text of the Western Code which gave rise to Dr Peters column and the many responses, including my own, requires some clarification. Thanks for writing.

  6. Seamus
    4 years ago

    The controversy here derives from nothing more than an ambiguity in the use of the term "clerics." If one reads the other canons related to the obligations and rights of "clerics" it is quite clear that many of them do not, indeed cannot, apply to those in the permanent diaconate. In Canon 277 it is very likely that the term "clerics" applies only to priests and bishops (although in other places in this section of canons the term applies also to deacons).

    For example, Canon 281 says: "Married deacons who devote themselves completely to ecclesiastical ministry deserve remuneration by which they are able to provide for the support of themselves and their families. Those who receive remuneration by reason of a civil profession which they exercise or have exercised, however, are to take care of the needs of themselves and their families from the income derived from it."

    At the same time, canon 286 says "Clerics are prohibited from conducting business or trade personally or through others, for their own advantage or that of others, except with the permission of legitimate ecclesiastical authority."

    The only way these two canons are not contradictory is if the term "clerics" in 286 does NOT apply to the diaconate.

    Canon 277 says that "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."

    But how could this obligation legitimately apply to a married deacon who, even if he abstains from sexual relations with his wife (to which SHE would have to agree -- for her rights in marriage are NOT diminished by her husband's ordination) would still be obliged to care for his family. He will never, in that regard, have an "undivided" heart.

  7. kamran Daniel
    4 years ago

    in the catholic tradition there are two types of rules, ecclesial laws and divine laws. the church establishes certain rules which are not directly found in Sacred Scriptures but are rooted in it. Celibacy is one of those rules. i think if a person does not have a vocation to live a celibate life he should not think of becoming a cleric. the divine laws and ecclesial laws are both important for catholics until a person wants to remain in union. those who cannot live a celibate life must think of serving in other way. i feel the catholic church has the most beautiful thing celibacy.

  8. Michael
    4 years ago

    I think Deacon Fournier presents an interesting discussion. But one must remember the charisms of the priest and deacon are different; the deacon following a ministry of diakonos, of service. As one studying for the diaconate, I think about this valid discussion. I also ask myself, can't one fast - as one fasts for receiving Eucharist - prior to service in the sanctuary? It seems that we must examine in detail what it is that drives us to service, and what makes that service perfect. I understand both arguements. For the people who mentioned it seems that deacons want both worlds, they do not understand what makes the deacon. I will be following this story.

    Oh, and it is really interesting to see when Deacon Keith and Deacon Greg have points of view that don't match precisely. Such wonderful guides they are, I believe the laity should listen carefully to the presentation.

  9. chika
    4 years ago

    The situation at moment requires serious reflection and prayer for proper direction by the Holy Spirit. I strongly believe that Christ promise of ever being with the Church remains and gate of hell will never conquer it. PROUDLY A CATHOLIC.

  10. Chiiki
    4 years ago

    Well I see priesthood/celibacy as a special calling. We all need not to be priest to make heaven. It a vocation as well as marriage itself and it is left for one to choose one. Let us consider John the beloved (Appostle), have we ever ask ourselves what made him die a natural death out of the whole appostl. So many marreid men are in heaven and so many good preist are in heaven. To avoid family distraction and the gospel not to suffer, preists should continue the celebacy. Whoever that wants to marry is free to leave the priesthood.

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