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The difference between personal status and the objective requirements of law

January 18, 2011

A recent post over at Dcn. Kandra’s site lets me underscore what is, I think, an important point.

A reader tells Dcn. K that: “While I was studying for my Licentiate in Canon Law (JCL) at Catholic University in the late 80s, I brought up this very question, since I was already ordained as a Permanent Deacon. Rev. James Provost (RIP), a revered canonist, said that the change in status of the husband did not take away the ‘acquired right’ of the wife to conjugal relations within the marriage…(emphasis added).”

I agree completely.

That is exactly what I would have said to a married deacon who came up to me and presented this question. Indeed, that is exactly what I did say when I addressed Provost’s position in my Studia article, esp. at pp. 174-177. An acquired right cannot be surrendered without consent. But—and this is crucial!—the mere fact that many people were not informed about how the law reads does not mean that the law suddenly does not read the way it does.

Therefore I disagree with Provost when he went on to say “and thus canon 277, in essence, did not apply to married permanent deacons.” It most certainly does apply to permanent deacons, for several reasons I outlined in the article, as those who have read it know. Whatever we may say about the situation of married clergy who were ordained without adequate information concerning the requirement of continence, their innocent ignorance does not serve to change how the law actually reads; and it certainly does not change how it can be applied to those coming later.

Until we are clear on what the law says, it is rather pointless to argue about what the law means for (a) those ordained without adequate knowledge of it, and (b) those seeking ordination with adequate knowledge, both being groups deserving of our attention.

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