Monday, January 17, 2011

Permanent Deacons and Perpetual Continence

Ed Peters, renowned canon lawyer, is creating a bit of a storm which may have universal consequences.  According to a thesis he wrote five years ago, and being discussed again, he maintains that Canon Law requires that permanent deacons must refrain from sex with their wives after ordination.  He is discussing canon 277 of the 1983 code.  Here is the canon:
§ 1. 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. § 2. Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful. § 3. The diocesan bishop is competent to establish more specific norms concerning this matter and to pass judgment in particular cases concerning the observance of this obligation.
At the moment it is understood that men ordained to the permanent diaconate, may continue normal relations with their wives, but if their wives should die before them, then they are bound to celibacy, ie they may not marry again.  Peters is saying that while permanent deacons are dispensed the rule of celibacy (they may remain married), they are not exempted from the rule of continence (refraining from sexual relations with their wives).  This rule may even apply to those former Anglican ministers who are ordained priests.

He has come to this position having studied the practice of the early Church and the rule of law in the Church since then.  In the early Church those ordained to service in the Church in the clerical state, if married, were required to live a life of continence.  Clerical continence and celibacy have been part of the Church's life from the beginning, contrary to what progressives teach.   It seems Peters has a point if we are to argue from history. 

It will be interesting to see how this one will pan out.  Ed Peters's thesis is here.  His son covers the story here on his blog.  An interesting reflection by Fr John Boyle on his blog.  Here is one deacon's reaction.  This is an area the Church is going to have to address. 

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