Readers of this blog, or followers of Prof. Edward Peters’s blog over at “,” will recall that the canonist and I do not see eye-to-eye in our respective interpretations of canon 915. At least in certain circumstances.  That discussion is well documented here and elsewhere as it played out in the context of the diocese of Albany earlier this year. Although we can publicly disagree on one pastoral, theological and canonical situation, I want to take this opportunity to direct readers to his recent work on the canons related to the “permanent” diaconate.

His work in these two articles, published in Studia Canonica and Chicago Studies, is well-written and raise some very interesting questions. The two primary questions are the technical canonical mandate for clerical continence for (so-called) “permanent” deacons and the need for the dropping of qualifying adjective before ordained deacons (i.e., “permanent” vs. “transitional”), an acknowledgement of the singular clerical state, not two separate iterations. As one who is but a short three months away from being ordained a deacon, I think Peters’s observations are well raised and worth consideration.

Both of the matters he discusses in these articles are questions I have had myself. I have previously said to other friars that the use of qualifiers like “permanent” and “transitional” are unhelpful when the canonical clerical state is exactly the same. Also, raised in a respectful and insightful way, the question about the double-standard of clerical continence is a curious one.

These are two excellent points and ones that merit further exploration. I think that the first matter, the pleonasm of diaconal terminology is a “no brainer.” Peters is 100% correct in that we need to get away from speaking as if this semantic distinction bears any truth in either fact or practice. A deacon is a deacon is a deacon. As I like to remind some presbyters, they are also still deacons, a point that I believe comes across clearly in Peters’s Chicago Studies article.

The second matter, the issue of clerical continence and the canonical obligation for married deacons and their wives, is one that is well presented. There are some serious lacunae in the Code of Canon Law that, as Peters notes well, was apparently not anticipated during the implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s restoring of the diaconate to its rightful place within the ecclesia. In his Studia Canonica article, Peters rightfully observes that, in practice, the obligation of clerical continence has been mitigated for married deacons, yet there is no clear indication within the Code of Canon Law of where or how this has happened. There is, as it is said elsewhere, an apparent double-standard among Catholic Clerics concerning celibacy.

While he does not explicitly take a side on whether or not priests should be permitted to marry (although he acknowledges that, in cases such as the recent document on priests entering from the Anglican communion, there are exceptionally permitted instances already), he does challenge the Church to address this matter, noting that perhaps married deacons provide an “obvious step in the right direction” (CS 114) if that is the ultimate trajectory of the Church’s response. Regardless of the address, something has to be done to clarify this point.

Edward Peters has made both of these articles available on his website and I encourage those who are interested to check them out. “Canonical Considerations on Diaconal Continence,Studia Canonica (2005) and “Diaconal Categories and Clerical Celibacy,” Chicago Studies (2010).

So, although Peters and I do not agree on all things, I do tend to agree with him on his suggestions and careful study of the matter in his writing on the Canonical issues surrounding the Diaconate. It will be interesting to see what happens now.

Photo: Brian Leddy


  1. Yes, priests are still deacons because that ordination is “permanent,” but a deeper ecclesiological question that Susan Wood raises is why they should have been.

  2. I left out the rest of the last sentence: “why they should have been ordained deacons in the first place.”

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