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Clergy, continence, and custom

November 20, 2012

Note: This post makes two points of possible interest to those following the debate over the clerical continence obligations set out in Canon 277.

1. I have thoroughly reorganized the webpage that I launched some years ago to keep track of my writings and other developments regarding the discussions of clerical continence and Canon 277. I hope that folks find the reorganized page more manageable.

2. The new Memorandum of Canon Law introduced by this blog post does not make the case that Canon 277 binds all clerics in the Roman Church, including those married, to perfect and perpetual continence. That argument is made here and more generally here. Rather, this Memorandum addresses a different audience and a different issue.

    Some of those who hold that Canon 277—and the unbroken tradition behind that canon—binds all Western clerics to complete continence nevertheless wonder whether widespread inadvertence to the continence obligation on the part of Roman married clergy might work to derogate from that obligation—put another way, some wonder whether “custom” is (or might be by, say, late January 2013) applicable against certain obligations set out in Canon 277. I believe the answer to that question to be No, but explaining that conclusion is no simple matter.

    In this context, “custom” is a canonical term of art which must be taken in its canonical—not popular—sense if it is to be invoked for canonical purposes, and no less an authority than Alphonsus Van Hove (1872-1947) dubbed “custom” the canonical topic “intricatissima”. But, anticipating that “custom” might be invoked against the obligations of Canon 277 by some unaware of what the term actually means canonically, I venture to explain here why, in my view, a “custom” argument does not avail those who hold against the obligation of perfect and perpetual continence for all clerics in the West.

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