Catholic Deacons and Celibacy: Conjugal Love and Charitable Disagreement
unfortunate. It minimized the issues raised by the interpretation of Canon #277 offered by Edward Peters and did not really affirm the dignity of Christian marriage.
The Marital embrace is an expression of the gift at the heart of the Sacrament of Love, Christian Marriage. It is not some concession to disordered passions but rather about those passions transfigured by grace. Marriage in Christ is a vocational call to the evangelical counsels. Chastity is binding on all the faithful and practiced in accordance with one's state in life, including marriage. The vocation of a chaste Christian marriage - and the family built upon it - is a prophetic witness in an age that is hostile to fidelity.
To use an old cliché "some of my best friends" are priests and deacons, both celibate and married. They are all living their vocation with dignity and holiness. Within that community of celibate and married priests, there are different kinds of ministry, in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. The Eastern Church, both Catholic and Orthodox, assigns married priests to different types of ministry than celibate priests. Similarly, in the Latin rite, married men ordained to the priesthood serve in a manner that reflects and respects their state in life and offers its pastoral witness as a gift to the whole Church.
In the Eastern Catholic Church there is an unbroken tradition of admitting both celibate and married men to candidacy for the order of deacon and priest. The men must have married before ordination as deacons. In the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches we read: "Clerical celibacy chosen for the Kingdom of Heaven and suited to the priesthood is to be greatly esteemed everywhere, as supported by the tradition of the whole church; likewise, the hallowed practice of married clerics in the primitive church and in the tradition of the Eastern Churches throughout the ages is to be held in honor. Clerics, celibate or married, are to excel in the virtue of chastity; it is for the particular law to establish suitable means for pursuing this end. In leading family life and in educating children married clergy are to show an outstanding example to other Christian faithful." (Canons # 373-375)
We now have married men within the body of Catholic clergy, deacons and priests. We must learn from this fact and trust that the Lord is behind it. At the foundation of both consecrated celibacy and sacramental marriage is a call to live the nuptial mystery. The consecrated celibate does so in an immediate and prophetic way, while the married man does so in a mediated way, through their chaste love with one woman and the couple's openness to life. Both responses have a prophetic dimension as well as a pastoral one.
If, as Edward Peters and others including Fr. Ray Ryland assert, the Latin Code of Canon Law raises impediments to this lived experience of a married diaconate or a married priesthood which allows for the sexual expression of married love, there is a serious need for a clarification of Canon #277.
When I was invited to Holy Orders as a deacon, I knew that it was a vocation. As a Married man I pledged to embrace celibacy if my wife should predecease me. My wife gave her consent. I soon came to understand the theology I had studied; there truly is an "ontological" change that occurs at ordination. My life was turned upside down and has never been the same. I believe there is room in the Catholic Church, East and West, for a celibate and a married clergy, deacons and priests. Both consecrated celibacy and consecrated Christian marriage are a response to the invitation to holiness and a gift to the whole Church because they both participate in the one nuptial mystery revealed in Jesus Christ.
The prophetic witness of celibacy has endured beyond the ranks of celibate clergy. It is also preserved in the inspired vowed life of monastic orders, the sacrificial witness of religious men and women, and the increasing new ecclesial associations of lay men and woman, who have chosen it, not to avoid marriage, but to enter more fully into the very nuptial mystery that marriage also reveals, but in a unique and prophetic way.
I hope that the discussion raised by Canon lawyer Edward Peters reaches Rome. With the coming infusion of married men serving as Priests it is time for a clarification of Canon #277 which dispels confusion. If that clarification were to result in a direction from the Magisterium of the Church asking married men serving as Deacons to embrace marital continence, my wife and I would prayerfully follow the Church. In so doing we would have the witness of many couples who have done the same to follow. One of the recent examples was Fr Eddie Doherty and Catherine de Hueck Doherty, co-founders of the Madonna House Apostolate. Their story, contained in "The Life of Eddie Doherty" is well worth reading.
However, I expect that the continued work of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the full communion of the One Church will lead to something else, the recovery of the ancient practice of allowing both celibate and married men to discern whether they are called to ordered service as deacons or priests. As the witness of the Eastern Church has confirmed, such an approach has not lessened the respect for and embrace of consecrated celibacy among the clergy. It has, in fact, enhanced the whole Church.
Finally, this recent discussion on Catholic Deacons, celibacy, conjugal love, continence and chastity calls for a recognition and application of the principles of charitable disagreement among Christians. Edward Peter's article is a credible and scholarly work which deserves a serious and respectful response.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Celibacy, Chastity, Deacons, Priests, Marriage, Edward Peters, Deacon Keith Fournier, Orthodox, Catholic, Deacon Greg Kandra
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