Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Diaconal Continence and Canon 277 - There Is No Cause To Panic

Dr. Ed Peters, whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting but with whom I have at times exchanged pleasantly cordial emails, five years ago wrote an article ("Canonical considerations of diaconal continence," Studia Canonica (2005) pp. 147-180) on Canon 277. It's available on his website as a PDF file. It's a very careful and thorough analysis of this canon, and I'm not really qualified to respond to it in depth. However, in the past several days, and rather more in conjunction with the erection of the Ordinariate in England than with us married permanent deacons, this article has become the center of an uproar.

American Papist posted this.

Deacon Greg Kandra responded, not trying to take on the argument of the original article; Dr. Peters replied.

Deacon Bill Ditewig responded, calmly and from an interesting point of view; Dr. Peters replied, with moderation and fairness.

Deacon Keith Fournier also responded, with considerable insight.

As a general comment, Dr. Peters has also posted this plea to avoid "consequence-driven analysis." I complete agree with this. Dr. Peters's argument needs to be responded to on its merits.

This dispute is also making the rounds of several other blogs and portions of the Catholic commentariat, and my above links aren't meant to be exhaustive, but do trace the main lines of the debate.

What I am noticing among the various comments and replies is a considerable share of alarm, coming from ordained permanent deacons, from men in discernment of or formation for the permanent diaconate, and from their wives. This is what motivates me to throw my hat into this ring. As a formator of permanent deacons, I feel a certain responsibility, not only to the men of my own deacon community, ordained and in formation, but also to all those who are disturbed in their vocation or discernment of same by this sudden eruption of academese.

First, please do not do anything sudden or hasty in your vocation or discernment. Dr. Peters is offering a theory about the meaning of Canon 277. He's a canonist, and a good one; it's part of his job to offer it. Because he's a good one, he's careful to offer a coherent, thorough, and well thought-out theory. But his argument, however good it is, is only a theory, unless the Magisterium affirms it as the proper interpretation of the law. That hasn't happened.

Second, as Pope John Paul II said so often, "don't be afraid." Just as Dcn. Fournier said, if this really is part of the true meaning of our vocation, then the grace to accept it, to thrive under this discipline (just as we try to thrive under the current discipline and its graces) will abound. Despite the emotional baggage of this particular topic, it's really just one more piece of our discernment and submission to God's will. Take a deep breath; don't panic. (Repeat as necessary.)

Third, remember that Dr. Peters's argument may in fact be incorrect. I'll post my thoughts on that separately.


Dr. Edward Peters said...

Good comments, Deacon. Best, edp.

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's panic. ONE Canon lawyer with a son who runs a Catholic blog has said every thing we've understood about the permenent diocanate and matramony is wrong. This is the end of sex for 15,000 American deacons and thier wives!! When in danger, when in doubt, run in cirles, scream and shout!