Can Married Priests and Deacons have Marital Relations?

I’ve covered this topic in past posts.

* Married deacons/priests and Marital Relations
* May married deacons have marital relations?
* More on Married Deacons and Continence

My understanding is that the Church has always permitted some married men to be ordained as priests and deacons. Now the primary purpose of the Sacrament of holy Matrimony is the procreation and education of children. And since the Church permits married men to be ordained as priests and deacons, these married men should be permitted the marital right, as it is also part of the main purpose of marriage. Two Sacraments cannot be at enmity with one another. And the Sacraments cannot contradict or nullify one another. Neither can one Sacrament deprive another Sacrament of its force or purpose.

Christ could have chosen to design the Church such that all ordained persons must be unmarried. But He did not choose to do so. And the practice of ordaining married men has been constant from the very inception of the Church to the present day. Furthermore, if Christ had intended all married priests and deacons to practice perfect and perpetual continence, why would He permit married men ordination in the first place? If all ordained persons must be entirely continent, then it would seem more fitting never to ordain the married. But, to the contrary, the Church has always permitted the married to be ordained. Therefore, married priests and deacons can and should be permitted by the Church to continue having marital relations with their spouse.

The reference by Cardinal Sarah to the Council of Elvira in 305, as a way to assert that all married clerics throughout Church history to the present must practice perfect and perpetual continence is absurd. The Synod of Elvira was local. “It was attended by nineteen bishops and twenty-six presbyters, mostly resident in Baetica. Deacons and laymen were also present.” [Wikipedia]. Such a gathering has no such authority over the universal Church at that time, nor certainly in perpetuity. And there were multiple Synods between the first and second Ecumenical Councils, Synods with more Bishops and from a wider area, which unfortunately confirmed Arianism. But local Synods can err to any extent, (unless the Roman Pontiff participates and approves of its decisions). So in trying to hold priests and deacons today to the decisions of that ancient local Synod, Cardinal Sarah is grasping at imaginary straws.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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8 Responses to Can Married Priests and Deacons have Marital Relations?

  1. sircliges says:

    « Christ could have chosen to design the Church such that all ordained persons must be
    unmarried. But He did not choose to do so. »

    There is a very practical response to this argument. When Christ came, the normality for men was marriage. It was very rare to find men unmarried. So, if Christ had to choose only unmarried, what a poor range of possibilities.
    He chose instead married men at the beginning, and then He taught to the Church that the best option is celibacy.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Then why did the Church continue ordaining married men for 2000 years? The argument fails as it only explains the early time period, and because the Spirit is capable of calling early Christians to martyrdom, and so also to celibacy.

  2. doctormaniax says:

    Dear Ron,
    thanks for clarifying this issue. I have read so many stupid things – mostly heretic comments – on the fact that married priests should abandon their wives, or even that – God forgive them! – married priests would not be valid priests. Of course, ignoring the fact that married priests are currently ordained in most Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Pope, and that these priests are not forced to abstinence from the marital relations.

    I don’t know if it’s true, but I believe that it is no coincidence that Western Church alone began to demand abstinence first, and celibacy later, for their own priests at a later time. Both the West and the East have a long tradition of demanding abstinence from sexual relations on the night before celebrating the Eucharist. In the East, it is a tradition that parish priests celebrate only on Sundays and Solemn Feasts, which means that abstinence is demanded only on Saturdays and Solemn Vigils. Of course, it’s not the same in the West, where daily Mass was gradually introduced from the 3rd century until it became an established practice in the 7th century. It is not a case, I guess, that it was only at the Trullan Council in 692 that this divergence became an issue: at that time, the Greek Church re-established the ancient and venerable rule of married priesthood, while in the West, the church of Rome had just managed (more or less) to establish the rule of clerical celibacy. Of course, these people forget that there is no obligation for priests to celebrate daily, and the Pope might establish the rule that married priests only celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays and Solemn Days.

    I believe this heretical hatred towards married priests is nothing but a consequence of the heresy of post-Vatican II latent sedevacantism – a false and parallel Magisterium that is now being exposed by Pope Francis. Coincidentally, everybody attacks Pope Francis for being favorable to married “viri probati” in the Amazon, saying that he is unfaithful to the Magisterium of his predecessors and that Pope Benedict XVI is, on the contrary, the true Pope because he defends clerical celibacy in line with his predecessors. It is curious and absurd considering that his argument in Sarah’s book is that married life is incompatible with the 100% dedication of a priest’s life to the Church, while Paul VI – who reaffirmed the Roman tradition of clerical celibacy – was also the first one who affirmed as part of his Magisterium that it is no problem for the Church to ordain married priests in the Eastern Church. See for reference Presbyterorum Ordinis 16, where he says that “Indeed, [celibacy] is not demanded by the very nature of the priesthood, as is apparent from the practice of the early Church(35) and from the traditions of the Eastern Churches. where, besides those who with all the bishops, by a gift of grace, choose to observe celibacy, there are also married priests of highest merit. This holy synod, while it commends ecclesiastical celibacy, in no way intends to alter that different discipline which legitimately flourishes in the Eastern Churches”. Of course, these heretics are ready to give more credit and infallible value to the words of an elderly and manipulated “conservative” former Pope, who lost the Petrine ministry upon his resignation, than to the words of a legitimate Vicar of Christ living half a century ago during and after the presumed heretical Vatican II. The barque of Peter is indeed sailing in stormy waters: let the schism happen as soon as possible, so that the falsities of the heretics will be exposed once and for all!

    • Ron Conte says:

      “a consequence of the heresy of post-Vatican II latent sedevacantism – a false and parallel Magisterium that is now being exposed by Pope Francis”
      Yes, exactly.

  3. sircliges says:

    There are two possible errors on this topic:
    1) celibacy is absolutely necessary in order to ordain priest
    2) celibacy and not celibacy are at the same level

    The 1 is false because Christ chose also married men to be Apostles, and because the Church does, in special cases, ordain married men (for example the Coptic Catholic Church by decision of Benedict XIV, or the former Anglicans by decision of Benedict XVI).

    The 2 is false because the best is celibacy. This is very clearly stated by Christ himself. The Tradition of the Church is for celibacy, no doubt. No celibacy is just exceptional. The rule has to be celibacy: exceptions are possible, but they must not become the new rule.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You are wrong that a married priest is an exception. It is the constant practice of the Church to ordain some married men, because marriage is a holy Sacrament, not a sacramental, not a sin, not a second-class Sacrament. But, yes, celibacy and virginity are better than marriage.

  4. sircliges says:

    I spent some time through research in order to decently reply to you. You says that Elvira was merely a local synod with a poor number of bishops. But we don’t have only Elvira!

    Brief list of Ancient Church’s documents demonstrating the rule of continence:
    – Council of Elvira, 308 A.D., 19 bishops; the 33° canon states that bishops, priest and deacons must not have sex with their wives, they must not generate children;
    – Council of Arles, 314 A.D., 600 bishops; the 29° canon states that bishops, priest and deacons must not have sex with their wives, they must not generate children;
    – Council of Nicea, 325 A.D.; the 3° canon states bishops, priest and deacons cannot live with woman who are not mothers, sisters, aunties or people “above suspicion”;
    – Council of Carthage, 390 A.D., states that bishops, priest and deacons have to be continent, stay pure, not have sex with their wives, becase that is what Apostles and ancient Church had taught;
    – Epistles “Directa” and “Cum in unum” of Pope Siricio, 385 A.D., condemn those priests who have marital sex with their wives. The law of continence is explained as the development of the periodic continence of Levites in the Old Testament;
    – Eusebio of Cesarea, 265-340, in the “Demonstratio Evangelica” states that bishops, priest and deacons have to renounce the marital sex with their wives;
    – Ambrogio of Milan in “De officiis ministrorum” states that bishops, priest and deacons have to renounce the marital sex with their wives;
    – Saint Jerome, in his comment to the letter of Paul to Titus, states that bishops, priest and deacons have to renounce the marital sex with their wives.

    So, the rule has always been the continence. The celibacy rule is a fair improvement of the continence rule.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You are speaking as if the Magisterium does not currently exist, and as if the Church does not have authority to teach and judge. None of the sources you give are binding on the Church in perpetuity; none are dogmas. These are disciplines, which are not currently in force for deacons or priests. Council of Nicea merely states “bishops, priest and deacons cannot live with woman who are not mothers, sisters, aunties or people ‘above suspicion’ ” which prevents scandal and the temptation of sex outside of marriage. The other councils you cite are local. You cannot gather a set of ancient opinions or practices and bind the authority of the Church. Peter holds the keys. If he opens, no one can close.

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