Can a married permanent deacon continue to have natural marital relations open to life with his spouse after he is ordained as a deacon? The question was much discussed on the internet due to the repeated assertions of Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters. He has written several posts claiming that married permanent deacons are forbidden by Canon law to have marital relations with their spouses. Some examples of those posts: Diaconal Categories and Clerical Celibacy, Some thoughts on Dcn. Ditewig’s comments on diaconal continence, Canon 277 and clerical continence in the Roman Church.
My past reply to his position is in these two posts: May married deacons have marital relations?, and Married deacons: celibacy, continence, chastity. My assertion that married deacons may have marital relations is based on the teaching of the Church that sexual relations within marriage is a right, and based on Canon law, which says that every Canon that deprives someone of a right must be interpreted narrowly. See my posts for more details on my argument.
Now, according to a recent post at The Deacon’s Bench blog:
“In January, the USCCB issued the following letter to bishops, from Bishop Robert Carlson (Chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations) and Archbishop Timothy Broglio (Chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance)….
“Earlier this week, we were informed that Cardinal-designate Francesco Coccopalmerio, 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.“
The Church has decided the question. Dr. Peters’ interpretation of Canon law is a grave error. Well, we are all fallible sinners, in a fallen state. An error by Peters on this subject does not imply that he is wrong on some other subject. And Peters never argued that celibacy should be required of married deacons; he only argued his interpretation of Canon law.
Dr. Peters has excellent scholarly and ecclesiastical credentials; but, credentials do not decide who is right in any dispute.
Several online commentators agreed with Dr. Peters, and yet they were mistaken also, including:
English Canonist Fr. John Boyle at Caritas in Veritate
blogger ‘Pertinacious Papist‘, a professor of philosophy
Phil Lawler found Peters’ argument persuasive and some points of the argument unassailable.