Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deacon Keith Fournier

1/21/2011 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

We need a clarification of Canon #277 which dispels confusion

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.

The wives of the first three priests of the Anglican ordinariate in the Catholic Church bring forth their priestly vestments during the Rite of ordination in Westminster Cathedral.

The wives of the first three priests of the Anglican ordinariate in the Catholic Church bring forth their priestly vestments during the Rite of ordination in Westminster Cathedral.

Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

1/21/2011 (4 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Celibacy, Chastity, Deacons, Priests, Marriage, Edward Peters, Deacon Keith Fournier, Orthodox, Catholic, Deacon Greg Kandra


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) - After my morning prayer on the Feast of St Anthony I reflected on the excerpt on the Life of Anthony by St. Athanasius in the Office of Readings entitled "St. Anthony receives his vocation". I was moved by the naturally supernatural way in which this great ascetic and disciple of Christ lived his calling in the ordinary day to day world in which he found himself.

After receiving his call to the monastic life, and before he went into the desert, he began to live his vocation in the exigencies of real life. He cared for his sister who was orphaned when both parents died. In doing so he allowed his vocation to be forged and formed in the fire of daily experience and it took shape. I resolved in prayer to try even harder to do the same as a husband, father, grandfather and deacon of the Church.

I then opened my E mail and found a letter from Deacon Greg Kandra, a man whom I respect. It was sent to a list of deacons and concerned an article written by a Canon lawyer, Edward Peters, a man whom I also respect. Edward Peters has reintroduced the discussion of Canon #277 of the Code of Canon Law and the practice of clerical celibacy in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church in a post entitled "Canon 277 and clerical continence in the Roman Church."   

His claim is not new. He joins others such as Father Ray Ryland in asserting that married men who enter the clerical state should practice continence, including married deacons and priests. I often visit Ed's excellent blog on Canon Law. I am also a fan of his son, Thomas Peters, of the American Papist/ Catholic Vote. Thomas also posted a piece entitled "Church Law says Permanent Deacons (and all clerics) are obliged to abstain from sex, notes Canonist Edward Peters {updated}" 

I am not a Canon Lawyer but a Civil lawyer. However, I have studied Church history and theology and have served as a member of the Catholic Clergy, a deacon, for fifteen years. I am familiar with the ongoing dialogue and debate concerning Canon #277 and the underlying issues involved. They lead us back to the earliest centuries of Church history and the early pronouncements of Church Councils  concerning clerical celibacy.

I found it intriguing that this discussion began on the weekend on which the announcement was made that the Venerable John Paul II will be raised to the altar. There is no doubt that his work, popularly called the "Theology of the Body", is at the epicenter of the resurgence of important theological work on nuptiality,  conjugal love, marriage, and the complimentarity of consecrated celibacy and marital chastity. 

It also came on the weekend when the first three priests of the Anglican Ordinariate were ordained. Former Bishops of the Anglican Church, these married men laid aside Episcopal office. They did so out of love for the Catholic Church, a hunger for full communion, and respect for the ancient practice, even in the Eastern Churches, that Bishops must be chosen from among the celibate clergy. However, they did not - nor were they asked to - pledge to remain continent within their marriages. In a beautiful part of the Ordination Liturgy, their wives actually brought forward their priestly vestments.

Perhaps it is also not accidental that this is the Feast of St. Anthony. The Egyptian Saint Paphnutius, his disciple and student, is often raised in discussions on the admission of married men to the diaconate and priesthood. Many scholars say the saint was a legend; others disagree. Eastern Christians, both Orthodox and Catholic, point to his purported intervention at the Council of Nicea opposing mandatory continence for married clerics. Some others claim that even if he was a legend, his position was confirmed at local Church Councils such as the Fourth Century Council of Gangra.

I write with deep appreciation for the celibate vocation among the ordained ministers of the Church, the religious orders and the growing lay ecclesial movements. I have had the privilege of knowing some profoundly holy consecrated celibates. Consecrated celibacy "for the kingdom" is a prophetic witness in every age. It is a particularly poignant and effective one in an age which is losing its soul, partly because it has followed the path of nihilism and utilitarianism on many fronts, including its view of human sexuality.

The fact that the issue of continence for married men who serve as deacons is now being raised by someone as credible as Edward Peters invites us to reflect on consecrated celibacy as well as chaste Christian marriage. Deacon Greg Kandra's E-Mail message to me was captioned "Off to the cold showers, men". I presumed the caption was meant to be humorous. However, I found it to be 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.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for June 2015
Universal:
That immigrants and refugees may find welcome and respect in the countries to which they come.
Evangelization: That the personal encounter with Jesus may arouse in many young people the desire to offer their own lives in priesthood or consecrated life.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More U.S.

Learning from the Wonderful Witness of 'Doubting' Thomas Watch

Image of Thomas the doubter became the Thomas the model believer, an example for each one of us. He is a great beacon of light for all of us as we cry out with him, MY LORD AND MY GOD!

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

What conclusion, dear brethren, do you come to? Surely it was not by chance that this chosen disciple, was missing in the first place? Or that on his return he heard, that hearing he doubted, that doubting he touched, and that touching he believed? It was by ... continue reading


Catholic Church in U.S. has weathered adversity before - and will emerge triumphant, historian says Watch

Image of As bishops warn of current threats to religious liberty in the United States, Catholics can take heart that such challenges have faced them before, and they have persevered, one Church historian says.

By Matt Hadro, CNA/EWTN News

As bishops warn of current threats to religious liberty in the United States, Catholics can take heart that such challenges have faced them before, and they have persevered, one Church historian says. Washington D.C. (CNA/EWTN News) - "It's okay to realize that ... continue reading


After same-sex unions legalized, polygamous Montana trio demands same Watch

Image of The 46-year-old Nathan Collier owns a refrigeration business in Billings. He married 40-year-old Victoria in 2000. His second wife, Christine, was wed in a religious wedding ceremony in 2007 without a marriage license in order to avoid bigamy charges.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It was bound to happen. After the Supreme Court ruled same-sex unions legal in all 50 states, other proponents of non-traditional arrangements are clamoring for equality under the law. Nathan Collier, along with his wives Victoria and Christine have applied at ... continue reading


350-pound dolphin accidentally lands on cruise ship severely injuring woman Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

To kick off the summer break and celebrate Father's day, a family went aboard a cruise that ended with a traumatizing accident. As the cruise started to sail back to the harbor, a group of dolphins started to swim alongside the boat. However, as the passengers started ... continue reading


Episcopalians overwhelmingly vote to let same-sex weddings in churches Watch

Image of Episcopalians voted overwhelmingly this week to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Episcopalians voted overwhelmingly this week to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples. The Episcopal Church has long been on the forefront of equal rights for homosexuals, ever since electing it first openly gay bishop 10 years ago.  LOS ANGELES, ... continue reading


TERROR LEAK: ISIS learns of FBI command centers across U.S. for Fourth of July Watch

Image of One such likely ISIS candidate, 23-year-old Alaa Saadeh, was believed to be part of a group interested in detonating a pressure cooker bomb at a New York landmark.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It appears that an important bit of counter-terrorism may have landed into the wrong hands. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI is installing command centers around the nation to prepare for possible terror attacks for the coming Fourth of July holiday ... continue reading


Remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan 'feel forgotten' Watch

Image of Several US Troops felt abandoned and forgotten by the US government

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A total of 10,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan. These troops believe they have been forgotten by the Obama administration, as the US Government shifts its attention to ISIS. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - The US Troops, 10,000 men and women left ... continue reading


Risk for massive earthquake in California increases as scientists find dangerous helium coming from fault zone Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Researchers recently discovered helium leaking from a giant fault in the Earth's crust near Los Angeles, as well as discovering an increase in chance for California to have an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - They did not expect the ... continue reading


United States prepares for Fourth of July amidst threat of ISIS attacks Watch

Image of The U.S. Government prepares for possible terrorist attacks this coming Independence Day celebration in the U.S.

By Linky C. (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Three days before the United States' Independence Day, the FBI has already began setting up command centers in all of the 56 field offices across the country prior to the fourth. The U.S. Government is preparing for possible terrorist attacks and terrorist threats that ... continue reading


America's MOST and LEAST patriotic states in 2015 Watch

Image of Virginia [not pictured] has been named the most patriotic state.

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A recent American pride survey, published on June 29, 2015, revealed Virginia to be at the top of the current list of the most patriotic states in the USA. WalletHub, a consumer website, evaluated the military and civic engagement of all 50 states, included in the ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 2:19-22
19 So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 117:1, 2
1 Alleluia! Praise Yahweh, all nations, extol him, ... Read More

Gospel, John 20:24-29
24 Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 3rd, 2015 Image

St. Thomas
July 3: St. Thomas was a Jew, called to be one of the twelve Apostles. ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter