Monday, February 3, 2020

January 30th -- Adult Ed Series on Priestly Celibacy, Session 4, Celibacy and the Nature of the Priesthood (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi)

In this final session in our series on priestly celibacy, we consider the essential link between Holy Orders and celibacy.  Reflecting on the person of Jesus as a celibate priest, we see that celibacy is tied to the very nature of the priesthood.

Listen online [here]!


Priestly Celibacy
The History and Theology of the Church’s Discipline
Session 4: Celibacy and the Nature of the Priesthood

Note on Schedule:  Session 1, Introduction. Session 2, History. Session 3, Theological Reflections. Session 4, Celibacy and the Nature of the Priesthood.

I. Review of Theology of Clerical Celibacy
A. The Priesthood in the Old and New Testaments: As salvation is freed from mere physical descendance, so also the priesthood is freed from marriage and united to continence and celibacy.
B. Continence and Ritual Purity: This is still important in the East were priests abstain before offering the Divine Liturgy
C. Priestly Celibacy within the Hierarchy of Vocations in the Church: As priesthood his a higher vocation than marriage, it is fitting that the priest embrace celibacy
D. Priestly Celibacy and Spiritual Fatherhood, Espousal to the Church
E. Other considerations: Prophetic witness of celibacy, continence aids prayer, allowes priests to be more dedicated to their ministry, etc

II. The Modern Case of Married Deacons and Priests in the West
A. For married men who are to be ordained deacons, their wives must agree to this. Why? Perhaps because their wives must renounce their claims to marital intimacy – the wives must accept continence.  At the very least, it seems clear that the wives must accept that their married life must now come second to the demands of clerical life.  [however, this is often precisely the opposite of what married deacons are told when being formed – but were does anything state that the married vocation comes before their diaconal ministry?!]

B. The Code of Canon Law currently states that all clergy (apparently including married deacons and married priests) are bound to continence.  [Canon 277.1 – All clergy are bound to perfect and perpetual continence].  An early draft of Canon Law excepted married deacons from this requirement, but this was removed by Pope St John Paul II – seemingly because the Church does intent to mandate continence for married deacons/priests.
Can. 277 §1 Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy. Celibacy is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can more easily remain close to Christ with an undivided heart, and can dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and their neighbour.

C. Why is it that a married man can be ordained a deacon, but a deacon can’t get married? Is there any logic to this law – unless it is related to continence? That, by virtue of ordination, a man renounced not only any future marriage, but even renounces marital relations within his marriage?  Possibly there are other explanations – but looking at the history of how the practice developed in the West (recognizing that the East has a different history), is there any more likely or more reasonable explanation?

D. From Dr Ed Peters: “I think it ironic, to say the least, that Western married deacons and priests, despite belonging to the Church that has unquestionably held with near absolute consistency for a celibate (and, even if married, a completely continent) clergy, have—doubtless for lack of direction—adopted an approach to continence that, not only has no support in Western law or tradition, but fails to satisfy even the mitigated continence expectations of various Eastern Churches. Some people are not struck by the fact that, with no express approbation or endorsement by ecclesiastical authority, such a dramatic abandonment of Western expectations regarding such an important area of clerical life has occurred in so short a time. But, as I said in my Studia article, I think it very important, both for the operation of law and for the stability of the faith community, that such a complete change in fundamental clerical practice either be formally recognized in law if it is genuine, or be reasonably but firmly removed from practice if it is not. The current continued dichotomy between law and history on the one hand, and assumptions and practice on the other, is quite incongruous and ultimately unsupportable.”

E. Four solutions (From Ed Peters): “reaffirm the unbroken tradition of perfect and perpetual continence for all clerics; or, reaffirm the continence obligation for all priests, but abandon it for married deacons; or, assert a temporary continence obligation for married priests (and possibly deacons); or, abandon any expectation of continence for married clerics (i.e., canonize the present situation).”
It is worth considering what each of these “solutions” would mean for the future of the Church.  Especially, danger of bifurcated presbyterate, even as there is now a bifurcated diaconate – and mass confusion about what it is to be a “cleric” and even whether deacons are “clerics” – and, finally, a challenge to the unicity of Holy Orders.

F. Other notes related to the continence obligation for married deacons and priests:
1998 memorandum from the Congregation for the Clergy (the highest Vatican authority besides the Pope in matters dealing with the life of bishops, priests, and deacons), called for deacons to live “a certain continence” within their marriage!
“Married deacons should feel especially obliged to give clear witness to the sanctity of
marriage and the family. […] This love grows thanks to chastity which flourishes, even in the exercise of paternal responsibilities, by respect for spouses and the practice of a certain continence. This virtue fosters a mutual self-giving which soon becomes evident in ministry.”

There was a recent letter from Cardinal Coccopalmerio (then, head of Canon Law in Vatican) in which he wrote to Cardinal Dolan that continence was not required of married permanent deacons, but the reasoning is very convoluted. Further, it is only his private opinion and not an official ruling (and we sadly must note that he has been tied to several very horrible sex scandals, thus his private opinion may not be valuable).

Further, it is worth noting that Canon Law at the time of Vatican II required continence of all married clerics, and Vatican II never said anything explicit about changing this requirement.

Finally, Canon 288 lists exemptions from previous canons for married permanent deacons – and it does not give an exemption from Canon 277.1 (which speaks of perfect and perpetual continence for all clerics).

III. Lastly, there is the example of Christ Jesus, who was a celibate priest
A. Of all blasphemies, what seems to strike us as most inappropriate and pernicious is the idea that Jesus had been married or wanted to be married or had children etc.  Think of the horrible movies: Last Temptation of Christ, Da Vinci Code, etc.

Why is this considered so horrible and blasphemous? Because we know that priests shouldn’t be married – we know that celibacy is tied to the nature of the priesthood.

I do not imply that celibacy or even continence must always be actual in the life of every priest, but I do contend that there is something in the very nature of the Christian Priesthood that ties it firstly to continence and then to celibacy.


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