CDW and Cong. for the Clergy, The Permanent Diaconate and the Sacrament of Marriage, 1989-1991. Private.


1. A possible candidate for the permanent diaconate who had been married twice.

This case concerns a man in his 60s who was interested in the permanent diaconate. He married in the Church in 1957, subsequently divorced and attempted marriage with another woman before a justice of the peace in 1969. The first union was declared null and void in 1972, and his civil marriage was then convalidated. Further inquiry showed that the possible candidate, Titius, was 24 at the time of the first marriage. The age of his wife is unknown. There were no children. The second marriage, which was convalidated in September of 1972, resulted in three children. In light of this situation, the chancellor of the Diocese of Lystra wrote to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments concerning this manner in a letter of July 5,1990:

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"In light of the Code of Canon Law c. 1041, 3° which declares irregular for reception of Holy Orders one who has attempted marriage, even civilly, while impeded from marriage by an existing matrimonial bond, I am requesting the favor of an interpretation. With regard to a potential candidate for the permanent diaconate, is it the position of the Congregation that the irregularity under c. 1041, 3° ceases with a definitive declaration of nullity in the existing marriage (accompanied by convalidation of the union that had been attempted civilly)?"

The following reply was received on July 28 of the same year:




This Congregation has received your letter dated July 5, 1990, requesting an interpretation concerning the irregularity for reception of Holy Orders according to c. 1041, 3°.

In the case which you have described, there is no irregularity. The first canonical marriage has been declared null by the competent ecclesiastical authority; the second marriage (civil) is now canonically a valid marriage.

However, while there is no canonical impediment, one might ask whether a person with such a confused matrimonial back-ground is really suitable to be a permanent deacon, since a married deacon should be a model for Christian family life.




2. An inquiry regarding a married permanent deacon who had divorced and requested laicization to avoid scandal.

This deacon subsequently obtained a declaration of nullity of this marriage and remarried in the Catholic Church. He now wishes to be reinstated as a permanent deacon.

The following is a letter of December 4, 1990, from a diocese in the United States to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments regarding this case:




Recently an inquiry has come to our attention about which we can find nothing in either the law or various Church documents. We have contacted the office of the Pro-Nuncio and have been informed that since they have had no history of dealing with such a case, they are at a loss as to what is acceptable practice in this matter. The case is as follows:

A married permanent deacon who was experiencing marital difficulties due to the public infidelity of his wife, ceased to function in his diaconal ministry. Eventually he and his wife were civilly divorced. For the sake

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of the community and to avoid scandal, the permanent deacon sought a return to the lay state. This favor was granted to him. In the meantime, after a tribunal investigation, his marriage was declared ecclesiastically null and void. He has entered a subsequent marriage in the Catholic Church. He now approaches the Church with a request to be reinstated to his former status as a permanent deacon.

Before we would prepare any formal documentation and present the case to your office for consideration and before the Bishop makes a determination about his votum in this matter, we judge it advisable to inquire about the possibility of such an action. Therefore, we propose the following questions:

1) May a permanent deacon who has been returned to the lay state be reinstated at a later time in the diaconate?

2) Is the return to the lay state on the part of a permanent deacon a complete renunciation of orders and a loss of the clerical state thus requiring re-ordination if diaconal ministry is able to be resumed?

3) If reinstatement or reordination is possible, under what circumstances and by what procedure may this be sought?

Thank you for your attention to this matter and any information you are able to provide.




A reply to this inquiry was given on January 19, 1991:




We have received the letter of 4 December 1990 from Reverend Athanasius, Chancellor and Vicar General of the Diocese, in which he describes the case of a married permanent deacon who obtained a divorce, was released from the clerical state and then obtained a declaration of the nullity of his marriage. The deacon subsequently entered into a new canonical marriage and now wishes to return to the active ministry.

In conclusion, Fr. Athanasius added some questions of a general nature which concerned the reintegration of the permanent deacon to diaconal ministry.

The general questions were stated as follows:

1) “May a permanent deacon who has been returned to the lay state be reinstated at a later time in the diaconate?”

2) “Is the return to the lay state on the part of a permanent deacon a complete renunciation of orders and a loss of the clerical state

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thus requiring re-ordination if diaconal ministry is able to be resumed?”

3) “If reinstatement or re-ordination is possible, under what circumstances and by what procedure may this be sought?”

The Congregation responds as follows:

1) A permanent deacon who has returned to the lay state may be readmitted to the diaconal ministry according to the judgment and discretion of the Holy See (c. 293).

2) The loss of the clerical state by a permanent or transitional deacon carries with it only the privation of the rights and duties of the clerical state as indicated in c. 292, but not the loss of the sacred character of orders. Therefore re-ordination is not necessary.

3) Concerning the readmission of a permanent deacon to the diaconal ministry, the essential requirement is that his “status” would have remained unchanged, i.e., that there would have been no legal separation, divorce, declaration of the nullity of his marriage, and no remarriage. Moreover, the circumstances and reasons that led to his return to the lay state would be carefully considered and evaluated.

Regarding the procedure to be followed for a possible readmission to diaconal ministry:

a) The petitioner must address a personally signed and detailed request to the Holy Father;

b) A Report on the conduct of the Petitioner since his return to the lay state should be prepared by the Bishop of incardination and joined to the formal request of the deacon. These documents are to forwarded to this Congregation, accompanied by the Votum of the Bishop in which he states his opinion and the reasons why the request should be granted or denied.

In the specific case cited above, the Congregation does not recommend requesting a readmission to diaconal ministry because the person in question has remarried. The exercise of diaconal ministry by a married man is permitted only if he was married before ordination and since that time has not remarried.

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3. A request for reduction to the lay state with a dispensation to remarry for a permanent deacon.

Correspondence received from the Diocese of Lago Maggiore offers the following summary of the situation of a particular permanent deacon. The summary states: “The Congregation refused the first request to a permanent deacon to remarry and continue the diaconal ministry [cf. rescript dated March 26, 1990]. The rationale for the refusal gave two conditions under which a favorable but rare consideration might be given:

1) Grave familial reasons and

2) an indispensable need of the ministerial services of the deacon for the pastoral work of the diocese.

The second request was for a reduction to the lay state with a dispensation to remarry which the Congregation had indicated might receive a favorable hearing. The laicization and dispensation were granted on June 21, 1990.”

For a clearer understanding of the proceedings in this matter, some of the pertinent documents are reproduced here. The matter was officially initiated by Reverend Tempus Utile, judicial vicar of the Diocese of Lago Maggiore, to where this particular deacon had recently moved. Father Utile, in his letter of November 21, 1989, to Bishop Paul of the Diocese of Lago Trasimeno (from where the deacon had just moved), explains the situation:




Stephanus Primus is a permanent deacon incardinated the Diocese of Lago Trasimeno, but now living in the Diocese of Lago Maggiore. He moved here several months ago. I believe he has written to you recently, stating that he would like to be incardinated into this Diocese since he intends to remain here.

This letter addresses a different subject: Stephanus was widowed in 1984. He would like to marry again, but still remain an active deacon. While this is not permitted by the Code of Canon Law, I spoke with one of the priests from the office of Archbishop Laghi and was told that such dispensations have been given on occasion. The reasons to be stressed in such a petition are care for minor children (better done by a married couple), and a need for the deacon’s apostolate. I believe both of these points can be addressed sufficiently well in the formal petition.

This letter requests from you a votum on behalf of Mr. Primus’ petition. To assist you, I am enclosing a copy. Bishop Peter is also being asked to present a votum . However, as the Diocesan Bishop in whose Diocese Stephanus is presently incardinated, procedures require a votum from you.

Stephanus recently contacted Reverend Timothy Pastor, Director of your Permanent Diaconate Program. Though I was not a party to that telephone communication, Mr. Primus informed me that Father Pastor, stated he would not process a request for such a dispensation. I am aware of nothing more than that. As stated, I have been informed that such a

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request can be made, though the prospects of a favorable decision are not very high. In light of this request to you for a votum on behalf of the petition, I thought I should at least communicate this information.

I sincerely hope that you will be able to write such a votum so that the petition can be forwarded to the proper Congregation. Mr. Primus was ordained a deacon in 1979, and has ministered in different ways, particularly in St. Dorcas Parish in your Diocese.

Thank you very much for your assistance in this matter.




On January 15, 1990 Deacon Stephanus petitioned the Congregation for the Clergy for a dispensation so that he could marry a second time and continue his diaconal ministry. In his four-page petition, he detailed the current state of his family life and the events which prompted him to move from the Diocese of Lago Trasimeno to the Diocese of Lago Maggiore. These chiefly involved difficulties with the needs of his children. In his petition, he also recounted his diaconate ministry of the previous ten years, and the reasons which led to his decision to remarry. The votum of the diocesan bishop of Lago Maggiore, Bishop Peter, also stated many of the same facts. Concluding his letter, Bishop Peter said that:

“Therefore, I recommend that out of pastoral concern for the Petitioner himself and for the welfare of his family and for the welfare of the local Church, that the Petitioner, Stephanus Primus, be granted a favorable consideration for a dispensation from celibacy in order to remarry as a permanent deacon in the Church and to continue his diaconal ministry.”

The proper documentation and letters were sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments through the Apostolic Nuniature on March 16, 1990. On April 2, 1990, the following Communication was received from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It was dated March 26, 1990:




We have received your votum of 22 February, accompanying the request of Deacon Stephanus Primus who, being left a widower, asks for a dispensation to remarry and still continue his ministry as Permanent Deacon.

The Holy See considers every request of this kind with great care and prudence and usually suggests the reduction to the lay state when the person involved does not wish to remain unmarried. It has been only in exceptional and rare cases that we have presented the petition for the consideration of the Holy Father. Such might be the case when, in addition to grave familial reasons, such as a necessary assistance required for his young children, the ministerial services of the deacon

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are considered indispensable for the pastoral work of the Diocese. The latter implies that his reduction to the lay state would cause serious harm to the community or program where he has been assigned.

Having carefully studied this case, we find that it does not fulfill the required conditions whereby Deacon Stephanus might be permitted to remarry and continue the diaconal ministry. Therefore, in the event that he remains firm in his decision to marry, we would ask you to invite him to prepare a request for reduction to the lay state with a dispensation to remarry. Please forward this to us together with your final Votum.

We wish to express our compassion for the present circumstances of Deacon Stephanus and his family.




On April 11, 1990, the bishop of the Diocese of Lago Maggiore wrote to Deacon Stephanus, to explain that his request was not granted, and encouraged him to seek laicization. He continues:

“I am concerned about your desire to remarry and your serious family responsibilities at this time. I invite you to submit a request for reduction to the lay state with a dispensation to remarry, and I am willing to give full support to your petition. If you desire to proceed with an application for reduction, please contact Sister Mary immediately, so that she may assist you with the preparation of the petition.

“Your patience in this matter has been greatly appreciated. I trust that you will continue to seek assistance through proper channels, so that this matter may be resolved as quickly as possible.”

On April 24, 1990, Deacon Stephanus sent his request for laicization to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. The bishop of Lago Maggiore sent his votum to the same Congregation on May 2, 1990. Both of these contained many of the same reasons which had been stated in the previous request. Deacon Stephanus was dispensed, by a rescript dated June 21, 1990, and signed by the cardinal prefect of the Congregation. The rescript was communicated to Bishop Peter on July 2, 1990, who in turn communicated the fact of the dispensation from the obligations of the diaconate to Deacon Stephanus on July 9, 1990. His letter of July 9, 1990, explained the contents of the rescript:




I have just received a rescript from the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which gives an affirmative decision to your request for a reduction to the lay state with a dispensation to remarry. The rescript was dated June 21, 1990, under protocol number xyz/90.

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With this rescript of the Apostolic See, you are dispensed from all obligations and rights of the clerical state, and you are also free to remarry. Of course, the diaconal faculties granted you from the Diocese of Lago Maggiore are no longer effective.

Please accept my gratitude for your pastoral assistance at St. Agatha Parish during the brief time that you have been with us in the Diocese of Lago Maggiore. In addition, I’m sure that the Church in the Diocese of Lago Trasimeno has also been greatly enriched by the many years you served as a deacon there.

I know that your decision to seek this dispensation has been prayerfully sought, and probably laden with ambivalent feelings about pursuing this course of action. I am grateful for your patience in seeking this dispensation through the proper channels so that you might be properly married in the Church.

I encourage you to seek the Lord frequently through His many sacramental helps, particularly in the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I have a continued solicitude for you and want you to know that the Church needs your witness and dedication. You remain in my prayers, that the Spirit’s guidance and generous blessings may follow you in your lay vocation as a parent and spouse.




The decision was also communicated by Bishop Peter to Bishop Paul of Lago Trasimeno, where Deacon Stephanus Primus had worked for the previous years.




CDW and Congr. for the Clergy, 1989-1991, The Permanent Diaconate and the Sacrament of Marriage, RRAO (1991): 16-25.