Responses to recent assertions concerning Canon 277 and clerical continence
The 2011 issue of Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions, published by the Canon Law Society of America, contains two items of interest to those following the discussion of clerical continence under Canon 277. The first, offered as a “Roman Reply”, is a brief letter from Abp. Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. The second is an advisory opinion by Rev. William Woestman, omi, now with the Archdiocese of Chicago. Both gentlemen disagree with my interpretation of Canon 277.
Now, I say “my interpretation” advisedly. I am not alone in reading Canon 277 as imposing an obligation of continence on all Western clerics, married or celibate, though I am presently the author most engaged in the public debate about the sharp discrepancy that has set in between the text of and tradition behind Canon 277 on the one hand, and the lived experience of tens-of-thousands of Western married clerics and their wives on the other. Also, my interpretation does not, contrary to how it is usually presented by opponents, direct a single specific resolution, but instead admits of various resolutions.
In any case, Abp. Coccopalmerio’s letter and Rev. Woestman’s opinion need reply, the first, because it will inevitably be mistaken for something akin to Roma locuta causa finita (which it quite clearly is not), and the second because it is a rare example of a qualified scholar trying to deal with this complex question in a competent manner. I disagree with the conclusions contained in both documents, but Rev. Woestman’s, especially, raises some points that will allow me, I think, to show how the question of clerical continence in the Roman Church remains very much an open one.