Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Canon 277 and clerical continence in the Roman Church

My article “Canonical considerations on diaconal continence”, originally published in Studia Canonica 39 (2005) at 147-180, and some introductory observations, are now available on my website, here.

1983 CIC 277. § 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.

Update, 16 Jan 2011: I attempted to post the following comment over at Deacon's Bench, but it was rejected as "spammy". Oh well, here goes.

Dcn. Greg Kandra, webmaster of the respected “Deacon’s Bench” blog, asks: “Does anyone seriously think that tens of thousands of married deacons — not to mention the hundreds of married priests — are now suddenly going to commit to stop having sex? If that’s the case: gentlemen, ask your wives to add more saltpeter to your diet.”

I assume Dcn. K’s read my article, so he knows that “suddenly stop[ping] having sex” is not my suggestion to Western married clerics. His tendentious phrasing, therefore, can only be rhetorical, in which case, though, he is implying that I do, in fact, hold that married clerics must “suddenly stop having sex”. That's disappointing, coming from one of obvious good sense on so many other topics; worse, it's distracting from the real discussion that needs to take place.

Canon 277 (and the immemorial tradition behind it) either means what I say it means, or it doesn’t. My arguments are open to rebuttal, but I don’t think they should be subjected to ridicule. If a sexually active (married) diaconate, and a fortiori, a sexually active (married) priesthood is, in the end, a contradiction of canon law and Western tradition—and neither I nor Dcn. K get to decide that—then only two choices will ultimately be available: (a) change the law and abandon the tradition, or (b) accept the law and observe the tradition, in which case, obviously, reasonable accommodation must be made for the thousands of men who were ordained without being advised of the requirements of their state. Those are important questions, not trivial ones.

In short, I welcome informed discussion of my thesis and its implications, but I hope we won’t have to spend too much time telling people to ignore quips about "saltpeter" and such along the way.

Update, 16 January 2011: Dcn. Kandra has updated his post, here.