When Priests and Deacons have Marital Relations

The Catholic Church has legitimately married priests, most of them in the Eastern Rite Churches, though some are in the Latin Rite. The Church also has married permanent deacons. There are still some theologians who say that all married clergy must refrain from marital relations continually: perfect perpetual continence. But the generally-accepted opinion and practice is that married priests and married deacons may have marital relations, just like other married Christians.

The Question

Now we come to a delicate question. Some married deacons are enthusiastic supporters of the writings of Christopher West and Gregory Popcak. And those writings approve of the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. These sexual acts are much the same as those used by same-sex couples. These acts are inherently non-unitive and inherently non-procreative, making them intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

A correct understanding of magisterial teaching condemns these sexual acts, even in marriage. Saints have specifically condemned these acts. Orthodox present-day theologians condemn this type of behavior in the marital bed. And yet some misguided authors approve of these gravely immoral sexual acts.

So what we have is a situation where some ordained men are committing acts of grave depravity with their wives, on the basis of a false claim that such acts are holy and moral, and then they minister the Sacraments to the faithful. So their sexual sins in the bedroom are made worse by combination with their sacred duties as ordained clergy.

What can be done to avoid this problem? One option is for married clergy, by mutual consent with their wives, to practice perfect and perpetual continence.

The other option — actually, it is a grave moral obligation — is to refrain from any and all unnatural sexual acts. The married couple may have natural marital relations open to life, if the Church decides to permit this holy act to the ordained. But unnatural sexual acts are even more gravely disordered when done by the ordained.

The Hypocrisy

The Church must remove from ministry ordained persons who commit homosexual acts, those who commit heterosexual acts outside of marriage, and, as the highest priority, those who commit sexual acts with minors. But it would be a severe hypocrisy to remove, as some have suggested, even celibate gay priests from their ministry for having a homosexual orientation, without having committed any sexual acts, and yet permit married priests and deacons to commit unnatural sexual acts with their wives.

The Church correctly teaches gay Catholics that they may not marry a person of the same sex, that they may not have sexual relations outside of marriage, and that the sexual acts toward which their orientation is directed are acts of grave depravity. And then we see theology of the body teachers (and others) approving of the use of the same types of sexual acts, though in a heterosexual marriage. It is as if they are saying: “Your orientation toward these acts is disordered. We can do all these things, and you can do none of them.”

The truth is that the only moral sexual act is natural marital relations open to life, neither married persons, nor the unmarried, nor gay persons may commit any kind of sexual act which is inherently non-unitive or inherently non-procreative or inherently non-marital. It is a grave problem in the Church today that many teachers, seemingly with Church approval, are promoting acts of grave depravity in the marital bedroom. And this problem is worse when the behavior is adopted by married clergy. Will Pope Francis increase the number of married priests in the Church? He might do so. But that will only increase the urgency for the faithful to be corrected on this subject. Otherwise, we will have priests who commit gravely immoral sexual sins ministering the Sacraments to us. And that is not much different from having a gay priest who is sexually active in the ministry.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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3 Responses to When Priests and Deacons have Marital Relations

  1. Grindall says:

    I am disturbed by your acceptance of a gay priesthood. This is expressly forbidden, even if celibate.

    • Ron Conte says:

      There are already many gay priests. I’m concerned that celibate gay priests will be removed from the priesthood, doing much harm. Ideally, seminarians should not be admitted to the priesthood if they are gay. Ideally, priests should be lambs without blemish. But I am concerned that gay priests will be blamed for the CSA crisis, when they are not the cause. Though, of course, even priest who is sexually active in a consensual adult relationship breaks his vow and should be removed from ministry.

  2. Matt Z. says:

    I agree with all of what you say although the terms you use are misleading. A person warring against same sex attraction is not gay or a homosexual. A gay or homosexual is someone who is sinning by committing sins that are homosexual in nature whether they be of the intellect or will. Just as an adulterer is a person that is committing adultery either in acts, or in the mind, or in intention or circumstance and so forth. Grindall says that it is forbidden for someone wanting to enter the seminary fighting same sex attraction.

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