Back in 2011, canon lawyer Ed Peters published an incendiary analysis of Canon 227 § 3, suggesting that permanent deacons (as well as Anglican priests who are being received into the Church and who embrace the Catholic priesthood) must abstain from sexual relations with their wives.
The vitriol to which Dr. Peters’ assertion has been subjected is evidence that people feel deeply about this issue—“people” being, I think, not only the 15,000 permanent deacons in the U.S. and their wives, but also thoughtful Catholics who balk at the apparent injustice of this cruel surprise.
This seems a good time, then, to talk just a little bit about my life as wife of a deacon.
First, regardless of the high esteem in which I hold both Dr. Peters and his son Tom, the “American Papist,” I’m confident that American deacons won’t be forced to choose between the diaconate and their marriages. I say that because:
- Celibacy is an imposed discipline, not a theological requirement as is the male priesthood; and as such, it is subject to change. If canon law must be adjusted to right this error, then so be it.
- Even before the Anglican Ordinariate or the special arrangements which have been made with a few priests (i.e., Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Fr. Ray Ryland), priests in Eastern Rite churches have been permitted to marry.
- Deacons would do well to review St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy 3:12-13, which states: Deacons should be the husband of one wife; who rule well their children, and their own houses. For they who have ministered well, shall purchase to themselves a good degree, and much confidence in the faith, which is in Christ Jesus.
- Lastly, Dr. Peters may feel that canon law supersedes all things—but the Church is the repository of justice, and there really is an injustice in hitting all of these well-intentioned and godly servants with a big “OOPS!” and asking them to forfeit their marriage vows or leave their ministries.
Deacon Greg Kandra blogs about the issue at his website, The Deacon’s Bench:
Well, now. Does anyone seriously think that tens of thousands of married deacons — not to mention the hundreds of married priests — are now suddenly going to commit to stop having sex with their wives? Does anyone think the vocation could even survive such a 180 degree turnaround? The restoration of the diaconate is one of the great success stories of the Church in the last half century. Do they really want to screw that up?
‘Nuf said. Let me tell you what it’s like to live, day in and day out, with a guy whose faith has led him through five years of graduate study and four years of formation, who was buried in books and saddled with term papers for so long that it was sometimes hard to remember what “free time” felt like, and who then walked the aisle, knelt before the archbishop and heard this clarion call to mission:
“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become.
Believe what you read,
teach what you believe,
and practice what you teach.”
First, he’s away from home—a lot! My husband, unlike some of the deacons in his ordination class, actually holds a fulltime job in the Church as pastoral associate. His diaconal service overlaps, of course, but adds yet another level of responsibility.
Weekends revolve around Mass, RCIA classes, baptisms, special prayer services. On weeknights, there are often meetings: parish council, counseling sessions, baptism or marriage prep. Sometimes, after all that glorious service, it’s hard for him to muster the energy for mowing the lawn, or puttering around the house, or going out to dinner.
When we were twenty-somethings, I think I’d have been jealous of his time away. At this point in life, though, I accept our separations and revel in the hours we spend together. When we finally sit down for dinner, we’ve both filled our days with meaningful activity, and our “couple” time—albeit limited—is enriched by the experiences and joys we each bring to the table.
Each Sunday, I attend Mass as Jerry serves at the altar. In the minor elevation, the priest uplifts the host, and the deacon holds the chalice for all to see. It is one of many proud moments for me, as I watch those arms—which rested casually on my shoulder in the morning—now hold the Blood of Christ.