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Deacon and wife

Vatican allows deacons to have sex

Deacon and wifeSince 2005 there has been confusion whether married Roman Catholic deacons may have sex with their wives.

It is a little surprising to me that for a church that usually dots its i’s and crosses its t’s the reintroduction of the married diaconate was not done with a little more care and thought about the married part of this reintroduction.

This is not a small issue – there are, for example, something like 17,000 Roman Catholic deacons in USA! For those who have been waiting for the result:

Cardinal-designate Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, with Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary, has forwarded to Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan the Pontifical Council’s observations on the matter (Prot. N. 13095/2011). The observations, 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.

deacon and wifeFollowing the comments around cyberspace on this discussion has been interesting. Including that the requirement that deacons be older (RC celibate deacons can be younger than married ones) would make continence a relief for the wife!

To the question, had the Vatican ruled in the other direction, and agreed with canonist Doctor Edward Peters, the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair Professor of Canon Law at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary, who argued against the possibility of having sex, Susan Kehoe, blogger at A Deacon’s Wife, was quite clear – they would stop having sex.

I am not aware of any clarification as yet for married priests in the Anglican Ordinariate.

Only through researching this post did I become aware of a whole industry for deacon’s wives from pendants, keyrings, lapel pins, embroidery, logo, Christmas tree ornaments, rings, even to… a wedding ring!!!

Someone more intelligent than I will have to explain how, if you can only be ordained deacon after being married, you can have marrying a deacon as a symbol on your wedding ring!!!

image source and here.

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14 thoughts on “Vatican allows deacons to have sex”

  1. Many couples will get new rings for significant anniversaries — my husband & I got new rings for our 10th & plan to get them for our 25th. I think it would be a nice way to honor both your commitment & your husband’s new ministry.

    1. Thanks, “justme2”. Firstly – please use your ordinary name here.

      I have never heard of someone intentionally replacing their wedding ring in the manner you describe. So I’m fascinated by your response. The wedding ring is a primary sign, blessed at the wedding service. What do such people do with the “old” ring? Do some wear two (or three) wedding rings at the same time (from the same marriage)?


  2. What a weird bit of new knowledge. In all my years in the RCC, it never occurred to me that deacons would lose their rights to have sex with their wives. So it’s still up in the air, then. How strange.

    After a good many years, I developed an allergy to the alloy in my wide gold wedding band, and I had to replace it with a thin gold band, I must say I was very sorry to put asidce the original.

    June Butler

    1. June, I’m not close to being knowledgeable in this area – the books on the other post are good for those interested in this area. I understand that there is a tradition of clergy abstaining from sex the day before the Eucharist. With the growth of daily Mass, that, of course, would impact the celibacy tradition. Someone else may comment if this is the case in Eastern Christianity (which, of course, does not have a concept of daily Mass), including Eastern Rite RCs (which has married clergy). And how this works in the Anglican Ordinariate (which has married clergy).

      I understand your point about replacing your wedding ring. Hence my using the word “intentionally”. I’ve recently been alongside two situations where the original wedding ring needed to be altered in size. In both cases these where not easily made decisions.


      1. Brother David

        Anglican Ordinariates, they have now erected two! They are the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for England and Wales and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for the USA.

        Next month, if all goes as planned, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross is to be erected on 15 JUN in Australia.

        They are just growing by the handful! 😉

  3. Bosco,
    My ring was made of tungstun wich cannot be manipulated once made, I lost alot of weight and so it no longer fits. I bought a new ring and had it blessed. The wedding ring is a symbol not the agreement, if the ring is unifying a wife to her husband there should be no problems.

    I am so glad the church has ratified it’s position on the topic of Deacon celibacy. I am a devoted catholic, though struggle that with the fact this is even a question for some people. In relation to abstaince on days receiving the Eucharist, must we be so blinded by the fact sex between a a man and wife is a holy sacred act, not some dirty peverse act.

    1. Thanks, Mark.

      Yes, your example makes sense – not an intentional replacement, but one required because of circumstances; and you replaced your original one in a ritual context.

      The question arises because of the RC connection of abstaining from sex with ordination. You will know, for example, that if the RC deacon’s wife dies he cannot marry again.

      It is interesting that you interpret this discussion as being about sex being “some dirty peverse act”. No one has been saying that, although there is a thread in Christian history, as you will well know, that has such an attitude. The tradition is not as you describe it, abstaining on the day of receiving communion, it is abstaining the previous day. Just as there is a tradition of abstaining from food as part of the preparation for communion – no one is saying that eating is “some dirty peverse act”. If something is “some dirty peverse act” we should not do it at any time.


  4. Gillian Trewinnard

    An interesting question I think: if as part of your marriage vows, you promise to love your spouse and indeed ‘worship’ him/her in your body (to use the old prayer book term), how can being ordained as deacon nullify that promise? Can it be legal or moral for one’s ordination as deacon to undermine or cause one to renege on an earlier vow made before God to one’s spouse? Don’t know if I am being clear here.

    1. You are perfectly clear, Gillian. There is the tradition of husband and wife agreeing to both enter separate monasteries; with concepts of “greater” and “lesser” – marriage being the lesser. I think under such thinking is a negative attitude to sex, bodies, creation that has been pointed to in previous comments. Blessings.

    2. Andrew Patton

      A married man has no right to renege on his promise of marital relations to his wife. Therefore, any vow he makes binding himself to continence without her consent is invalid, because the sacrifice of continence is not his to make, but rather his wife’s. If, however, both spouses vow to abstain from sexual relations, it is valid and binding, abrogating their previous promise of merely being sexually faithful to each other in favor of a vow not to have sex at all.

  5. earlier i was reading an article about the knights templar and they had a picture of pope clementi that was from the vaticans’ secret archives. noticing this i started to wonder , why does the vatican even need a secret archive, i mean this is not a military organization or a government, this is just a religious order, what could they possibly hide
    His Eminence The Patriarch Sir. Archbishop Michael

    Email: OrthodoxArchbishop@yahoo.com
    Skype: Orthodox.Archdiocese

    1. Michael E Averyt

      In this sense the word ‘secret’ merely means ‘private’. It is an antiquated translation of the term, giving rise to some rather silly speculation and even more entertaining novels.

  6. This is interesting (I realise I’m a year late to the conversation) because according to Pope Leo I, sub-deacons and anyone higher in the hierarchy are required to be continent in marriage — and Leo imagines married presbyters and, if memory serves, married bishops as well. But none of them allowed to have sex.

    According to one of our earliest papal decretals (‘Ad gallos episcopos’, fr. 380s), clerics aren’t allowed to have sex precisely because sex is dirty and a defilement. Thankfully, not even Leo says this in the fifth century! Sadly, then, there does seem to be a background of opposition to sex as somehow sinful in the origins of the canons of the church.

    That said, I’m glad the Roman Church is willing to be flexible on certain points of canon law where sensible and contrary neither to scripture nor tradition!

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