Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Monday, January 17, 2011

Some thoughts on Dcn. Ditewig's comments on diaconal continence

I must be jinxed. I’m no nubbie when it comes to the internet and blogging, but I am constantly stiffed when I try to post replies on other blogs using Google stuff. And I always try first to reply in the context in which folk’s remarks are made. Anyway, skunked again, this time, when trying to post some thoughts on Dcn. Bill Ditewig’s thoughtful reactions to the diaconal continence debate unfolding around us. So, in lieu of posting over at Ditewig’s Deacons Today, I’ll offer my comments here . . .

Hello Dcn. Ditewig. Thank you for a real attempt to think through these issues. There are some points that, although they are in my Studia article (and you might revisit it) could do with some underscoring here [on your website].

1. The obligation of continence is express in the law (c. 277), and the disappearance of the proposed exception for married deacons was not a typographical accident. At least 30 canons of the 1982 draft underwent significant textual amendment at the hands of JP2, and no one regards any of those changes as accidental. They were deliberately made by the pope. See the introduction to my Incrementa in Progressu (2005). Indeed, the deliberateness of the removal of the exemption for married deacons in c. 277 is recognized by EVERY canonist who has considered the issue (even those who disagree with my conclusions on other grounds). Thus the ‘silence’ you suggest regarding the proposed exemption for deacons speaks volumes.

2. Eastern law is not an issue here. I am talking about the law and tradition of the West. I don’t know why so many people assume that, where East and West disagree, the East must have it right (that is not your claim, I know); but it’s a debate I don’t enter, or need to enter. I am talking about Western canon law.

3. You have the priority of the related-but-distinct obligations of continence and celibacy reversed. Consider, all unmarried people are bound to continence, no? But most of them are not bound to celibacy, right? --See n. 4 below.-- So the obligations are distinct. Mary and Joseph were not celibate, they were continent. Celibacy is, to be sure, the context in which most Western clerics will live out their holy continence, and it (celibacy) is recognized as "a special gift of God", but even for those clerics who are not celibate, western canon law and tradition still expect of them continence. That is my claim, at least, based on the plain text of c. 277.

4. Small point: re yours that celibacy can be defined as "the state of being unmarried." Hmmm. I would rather say, “the willed state of being unmarried”, to distinguish “celibates” from folks who just happen to be single.

5. Your definition of continence as “abstinence from sexual activity, either permanently (such as in the case of a professed religious who vows such continence) or temporarily”, is ok as far as it goes, but the West, unlike the East, has never used continence in any “temporary” manner when it comes to clerics. For the West, clerical continence is always regarded as absolute and life-long from the moment of ordination.

6. I addressed Fr. Provost’s canonical arguments expressly. Just so people know.

7. Re VC2’s 'silence' re continence, yours here is more of a theological, even a prudential, argument, and personally, I might agree that VC2 maybe could have said something. But, in default of their addressing the matter, the point falls to me, for the reasons I set out at length in the article, chiefly, that the prospect of non-continence among clerics was never even a thought in the Council Father’s heads, and no one felt constrained to restate the unbroken and unexceptioned assumptions of law and tradition. Even Paul VI, as you know from having read the article, adopted the then-current discipline for all clerics when he reorganized the diaconate, and that discipline was, absolutely beyond any question, one of absolute continence for all married men in holy orders.

Again, thank you for treating the arguments here [on your website] so respectfully. Once we get clear on what the laws says (and there are many who need convincing yet) we’ll be in a better position to reflect together on what the law should say, or on how to bring the married diaconate (and presbyterate) into full accord with the law, in a reasonable way.

Best, edp.