My position is, of course, that Western law and tradition expect, beyond any question, the observance of perfect and perpetual continence among all clerics, and that arguments from, say, silence and/or inadvertence (hallmarks, I suggest, of a hermeneutic of rupture) are insufficient to defeat that expectation. But that is not to say that the Church cannot choose to modify or abandon her clerical discipline in this regard; indeed, I suspect that the Church can change her expectations here, and that persons with deeper knowledge of, among other things, the theology of holy Orders, the sacred liturgy, and the nuptial imagery of the Eucharist should advise her on whether such change is a good idea or a bad. My only point is that the Church has not, contrary to common assumption, formally changed her expectation in regard to complete clerical continence, and that damage is being done to important ecclesiastical values by assuming otherwise. As for what the Church will decide to do in this matter, or when she will decide to do it, such things are not for me to say.
I can say, though, that this question is not going away. To the contrary, what was even a few years ago a question posed chiefly in regard to married deacons is suddenly relevant to hundreds, even thousands, of married priests coming in or perhaps coming into full communion and taking on ministry under current and/or proposed provisions. Now, however strong are the arguments for clerical continence among deacons—and they are very strong—those arguments are even stronger yet when applied to priests, men who are still more closely configured to Christ our High Priest and who are the very agents of his Eucharistic cult on earth.
Kandra then asks, "Given all that, perhaps someone should just take a red pencil and rewrite that line in the law and be done with it…?" Deacon Kandra is correct, if that is what needs to be done, let it be done. Although, it seems as if Peters has persisted in this, even though the USCCB has penned a letter sent on January 31, 2012 that reads in part:
Earlier this week, we were informed that Cardinal-designate Francesco Coccopalmerio,I wrote on this entire issue, focusing on Peters' academic article of 2005, in America Magazine in January 2011. I do not know what bothers him so much about deacons and their wives having sex, or married priests and their wives having sex, unless, of course, it is the fact that he thinks they are breaking canon law.The Church seems to think, however, that all is well.
President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, with Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary, has forwarded to Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan the Pontifical Council's observations on the matter (Prot. N. 13095/2011). The observations, which were formulated in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarify that married permanent deacons are not bound to observe perfect and perpetual continence, as long as their marriage lasts.
There is another reason, though, why I thought the issue was being raised then and why I believe it is being raised today even more so and that is the influx of married priests into the Roman Catholic Church. I wrote:
Married priests of course are mentioned by Peters in his blog post today and we are very close to the 30 years of continuous practice since the 1983 Code of Canon Law as we approach 2013. It is time to let this be: the Church has allowed this practice, rightly so, and it should have the force of law, because it is reasonable, right and sensible.But why is this issue being raised again now in the last few days, in his son’s blog posts and his own, given that his article was written in 2005? I have a hypothesis and the clues come from the article itself. Peters notes that a custom which has taken place contrary to canon law might become law: “finally, however, because such a practice is, it seems certain, one actually "contrary to canon law," it could obtain force of law only if it was "legitimately" observed for "thirty continuous and complete years."The norm in question, of course, c. 277 of the 1983 Code, while consistent with earlier law, has itself been in place only for some twenty years” (178-179). Those words, of course, were published in 2005, but the year today, 2011, brings us to 28 years, only two from the "thirty continuous and complete years” which would make this practice law according to Peters. Yet, there is something else going on beyond this time-frame which I think troubles Edward and Thomas Peters and has led to a flurry of recent activity with respect to an obscure article on canon law: the establishing of the Anglican ordinariate, which is bringing into the Roman Catholic Church something even worse than married deacons: married priests.
John W. Martens
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