Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Married permanent deacons and observance of perfect and perpetual continence, Prot. No. 13095/2011, 17 December 2011.
The President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at the request of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance, sought a clarification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on the observance of diaconal continence by married deacons in the Latin Catholic Church. The observation of the President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council, 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 Pontifical Council’s response follows.
PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR LEGISLATIVE TEXTS17 December 2011
I refer to your letter of April 8, 2011 in which Your Excellency has requested this Pontifical Council to clarify whether married permanent deacons, so long as their marriage lasts, are bound to observe the perfect and perpetual continence indicated by can. 277, §1 CIC. The question was raised because some have expressed the opinion that permanent deacons are also bound to the obligation which the said canon imposes on clerics in general.
It should be noted that often the canonical discipline on a given topic is not inferred from the wording of a single legal precept, but rather from the whole set of existing regulation on the matter in the law of the Church, always in harmony with what has been stated by the Church’s Magisterium. This is what can. 17 CIC prescribes.
With regard specifically to the question above, after consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and having made the necessary studies, this Pontifical Council offers the following observations.
1. In can. 277, §3 CIC, the requirement of perfect and perpetual continence is inseparably linked to the obligation of celibacy to which all clerics, in principle, are bound.
Also can. 1037 CIC requires that unmarried candidates for the permanent diaconate must assume the obligation of celibacy prior to ordination. Furthermore, can. 1087 CIC establishes an impediment to marriage for those in sacred orders. For this reason, permanent deacons who are widowers cannot marry, unless being dispensed, and therefore are bound to observe perfect and perpetual continence.
The particular discipline of these last two canons, 1037 and 1087 CIC, applicable to certain situations of permanent deacons, explains on the one hand why can. 288 CIC did not exempt in a general way “all” permanent deacons from the obligation of continence established by the can. 277, §1 CIC; and on the other hand how it is evident from all these norms that the canon wanted to exempt married permanent deacons from such obligation of continence so long as their marriage lasts.
2. Indeed, can. 1031, §2 CIC admits married men to the clerical state in the particular cases of permanent deacons, but states nothing about a hypothetical obligation to observe perfect and perpetual continence, as the Legislator would indicate if such an obligation were to be established.
Ultimately, the fact that in order for a married man to be admitted to the Order of the diaconate, the consent of his wife is required (cfr. Can. 1031, §2 CIC) implies that an explicit consent would have been required for reasons of justice if the condition of permanent deacon had entailed the obligation of perfect and perpetual continence (cfr. Can. 1055 CIC).
3. Naturally, this canonical discipline does not state anything apart from what the Church’s Magisterium has already affirmed in this regard. In fact, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, n. 29 (§2), and other successive normative documents of the Holy See, appear to take for granted that married permanent deacons live their marriage in the ordinary way (cfr., above all, CONGREGATIO DE INSTITUTIONE CATHOLICA, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis diaconorum permanentium, Instituto diaconorum of February 22, 1998 (nn. 7, 27, 33, 45, 50, 59-62, and particularly n. 61).
In conclusion, the current canonical discipline does not require married permanent deacons, so long as their marriage lasts, to observe the obligation of perfect and perpetual contiennce established by can. 277, §1 CIC for clerics in general.
I hope that these clarifications, briefly presented in this letter, may be helpful to Your Excellency in indicating what the content of the canonical discipline is at this point.
While remaining at your disposal for any further clarifications, I take this opportunity to extend to you and the members of your Conference my sentiments of personal esteem and prayerful best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a fruitful New Year.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Juan Ignacio Arrieta
Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Married permanent deacons and observance of perfect and perpetual continence, Prot. No. 13095/2011, 17 December 2011, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2012, 12-14.