Thursday, June 02, 2022

Stop Trying to Make Deacon's Wives a Thing

The image for this post is taken from my diocesan magazine. The article interviews five women who are married to permanent deacons and discusses how that affects their marriages and their work in their parishes. 

The celebration of the "role" of deacon's wife as a quasi-ministry within the Church is something I long ago predicted, as permanent deacons are increasingly looked to as a solution to the priest shortage. Since pushing a married priesthood on the Latin rite is still facing too many obstacles, I suspect the idea of deacons and their wives working jointly within the parish is a more surreptitious way to introduce "couples ministry" into Holy Orders.

There's nothing wrong with a husband and wife volunteering together for the parish; I'm sure many of my readers and their spouses are involved in such laudable activities. Even so, the emphasis on a deacon's wife filling an actual "role" within parish life is another subtle movement away from the traditional view of the diaconate in particular and Holy Orders in general. 

The article (which is broken into a Part 1 and Part 2) asks five women to comment upon their experiences being married to deacons, how this affects their marriage, and how they participate in the ministry of their husbands. Reading the article, I am left with the impression that these women consider deacon's wife itself to be a vocation, and that their status gives them a unique shared ministry with their husbands. We see a discussion of "how married couples might begin discerning a call to the diaconate life"; we are told that "the role of deacon's wife is as unique as the women who fill that role"; that being a deacon's wife allows "opportunity to participate in a more active role in ministry"—one says "we are involved in ministry together." Another speaks of fulfilling her "commitment to my vocations as wife, mother, nurse practitioner, and deacon's wife." One says that "one way I participate with my husband in his diaconal ministry is when I serve as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist or lector at our parish," suggesting that she views these things as sharing in the diaconal ministry itself.

A few out of context quotes do not give the big picture, so I encourage you to read the articles linked above.

Two points:

First, I understand that none of these statements imply there is any sort of institutional "deacon's wife ministry." And some of them can be taken innocuously enough; obviously before a married man enters the permanent diaconate, he and his wife together should discern what that vocation would mean for their marriage. So I don't mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, or infer nefarious meanings to these statements that the women clearly do not mean. Even so, one cannot deny there is a substantial blurring of the lines between clergy and laity demonstrated here. While a husband and wife must discern together what a diaconal ordination will mean for their marriage, it is the husband alone who has the vocation to Holy Orders. While a deacon's wife may be laudably engaged in parish volunteer work, none of this constitutes "participating" in the husband's diaconal ministry. While being married to a deacon may give a woman more visibility in the parish community, she is not thereby admitted to a "unique role" that necessitates active ministry. While a permanent deacon's wife should support her husband in his ministry, but that does not translate into his ministry becoming a "couples ministry." 

Second, this critique should not be construed to devalue the very good things these women do in their parishes. They are certainly not lukewarm Catholics. Most of them have decades of volunteer work serving the poor and sick and clearly take their obligations to God and the Church very seriously (even if some of it, like serving as an EMHC, is misguided). They should be commended for this, so I would hope nobody considers this article disparaging these women or tearing them down. I pray that when I am their age I might even have half as much time spent volunteering for my parish as they.

The issue is not with the women, but with an ecclesiastical philosophy that urgently wants to replace the traditional, celibate male only priesthood with something—anything—else. That philosophy did not begin in the humble parishes where these women serve, but in the high echelons of the Church bureaucracy years ago when old men, stricken with the sickness of the age, theorized that the Church's traditional model of the priesthood needed to be drastically reformed. Until the Church recovers a clear and compelling vision of who a priest is, what he does, and why we need them, the effects of these deviant philosophies will continue  to ripple outward.


Anonymous said...

The elephant made to be outside the room is that permission is canonically required from a guy's wife before he can ascend to the diaconate. The reason? The higher clergy (those ordained to participate in the One Sacrifice: bishops, priests, deacons) are required to maintain strict and perpetual sexual continence. (Canonist Ed Peters has a lot to say on this point). She is giving up her marital rights, forever! Though this is massaged away, that's why her permission is a canonical requirement. So wipe that grin off your face, lady.

Boniface said...


Yes it is "required" BUT in almost every diocese in the Latin rite the Bishop dispenses the deacons from that obligation. The obligatory sexual continence that deacons are expected to maintain exists in theory only.

Kathleen1031 said...

I've got news for these people, in case they don't understand. I'm going to make it real simple and use easy words.

Catholic who attend the Latin Rite don't, in general, want to see ladies up at the altar in any capacity whatsoever, or playing a big role in things at the church. I'm a lady, and love being one, but I absolutely do not want to see ladies up at the altar or playing any prominent "role", in any capacity. I need to say that once again, in...any...capacity.

JTLiuzza said...

If there's a top ten list of most abused church words, "discernment" has to be in the top three, at least. It seems to often be used to slap some pseudo-imprimatur over choices people make, regardless of whether or not the Holy Ghost had anything to do with it.

What is the Church's official purpose for the permanent diaconate? I've yet to receive a coherent answer to that question.

In Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (1967) it points out that in mission territory certain functions are being done by laymen out of need and it would be good to strengthen these men with holy orders. Hence permanent diaconate.

It then goes on to say: "Although the restoration of the permanent diaconate is not necessarily to be effected in the whole Latin Church..."

In typical slithery conciliar fashion they introduce it as an "extraordinary" innovation only required rarely and in mission territory, etc. not unlike "extraordinary" ministers of Communion and all the other "rare" innovations.

Five minutes later they're ubiquitous, as intended. Rather slippery of you there, Clarice.

So what was the real purpose of the permanent diaconate intended by the innovators? I think the article alludes to it: a trojan horse for the married priesthood in the Latin rite.

Men who operate in such a sleight of hand fashion are not to be trusted, with anything, particularly not God's Church.

Anonymous said...

A Bishop can no more validly “dispense” from binding Divino-Apostolic Tradition (such as complete continency for clerics), than any member of the Hierarchy can validly “dispense” from the necessity to observe the 6th Commandment in order to receive Holy Communion. Amoris cough Laetitia cough, cough…

Boniface said...


I'm sorry I misspoke. The bishops do not dispense permanent deacons from celibacy; the obligation of celibacy simply does not apply to them if they are married.

Canon 1037: An unmarried candidate for the permanent diaconate and a candidate for the presbyterate are not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless they have assumed the obligation of celibacy in the prescribed rite publicly before God and the Church or have made perpetual vows in a religious institute."

The vow of celibacy only applies to permanent deacons who are not married. See also Canon 1050:3, which mentions that a wife must give her consent for her husband to be ordained but makes no mention of conjugal celibacy

John F. Kennedy said...


John F. Kennedy said...

Deacons are clerics.
"Can. 277 §1. Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity."

Boniface said...

@John F. Kennedy

Please reconcile with Canon 1037 that says the vow of celibacy only applies to deacons who are unmarried.

John F. Kennedy said...

You do realize celibacy mean not getting married? Perfect and perpetual continence mean not having sex.
If the wife dies, then the Deacon will remain celibate, ie not married.

Anonymous said...

Canon 1037 is only dealing with an unmarried candidates and their obligation to perpetual celibacy which means that an unmarried candidate is promising to perpetually remain unmarried.
Canon 277 deals with the obligation of all clerics to observe continency which mandates no sexual relations.

Unknown said...

Not the hill to die on.

A deacon's wife will naturally have a role to play in the parish. That's why a deacon's wife and a priest's wife in the Eastern Church are known as Matushka etc.

While it seems that the evidence and support for the Latin discipline is substantial, the discipline of the East is accepted. In the East, however, a deacon or priest abstains from marital relations the day before any divine liturgy and, I believe, during all penitential seasons (Great Lent, the Nativity Fast, etc).

We have the worse situation now with at best effeminate priests (even in trad circles) and many homosexual priests. The married deacons in the West are chosen as yes men. In the East, a lot of deacons and priests are really gruff and grunts which is such a relief.

Anonymous said...

It seems that a crucial issue here is the real distinction between celibacy and continency.

Canon 1037 is only dealing with unmarried candidates who are obliged to promise to be celibate forever which means to promise to be perpetually unmarried. Canon 1037 does not refer to already married candidates at all. They are not required to promise to be unmarried since they are already married.

Canon 277 deals with the unchangeable and indispensable Divino-Apostolic Tradition obligation of all clerics (married or unmarried) to be perpetually continent which means to never have sexual relations again.

To receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a true Consecration to God- which means a holy setting apart for the service of God in a participation in Christ’s Bridal Relationship to the Church. Continency is proper to such a relationship as the Divino-Apostolic Tradition attests to.

For more information, see the excellent scholarly works of Fr Christian Cochini’s “The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy”, Fr Stefan Heid’s “Celibacy in the Early Church”, as well as Cardinal Stickers book, “The Case for Clerical Celibacy”, all of which prove that clerical celibacy and continency are in fact Divino-Apostolic Tradition. And thus, clerical continency is unchangeable and indispensable binding Doctrine and Discipline of the Catholic Church- as is the 6th Commandment of the Decalogue.

Here are some excerpts from Stickler’s book:

Here’s an article by a Biblical Scholar who summarizes Cochini and Stickler’s treatment of the matter:

Anonymous said...

Canon 1037 is dealing with unmarried candidates who are obliged to promise to be celibate forever which means to promise to be perpetually unmarried. And thus, Canon 1037 does not refer to already married candidates in that way. And thus married candidates are not mentioned here. Married candidates are not required to promise to be unmarried since they are already married. At the same time, married candidates who wish to be ordained must promise not to marry again if their wife dies. And thus, Canon 1037 could have been written better to make such distinctions clearer.

Regarding Canon 1050 and the need to have the permission of his wife for a married man to pursue Holy Orders, there is no necessity to mention the obligation of continency in Canon 1050, since that obligation is already covered in Canon 277. The mere lack of repeating the obligation of continency in Canon 1050, does not nullify the obligation to continency for all clerics (which includes married clerics) stated in Canon 277.

utubeo said...


As far as reconciling, this is where non-canonists shouldn't be trying to interpret canon law because of the knowledge needed to reconcile different canons according to proper canon law principles. I'm also not a canonist, but I'm not relying on my understanding, but rather noted canonist Ed Peters. See here for starters:
Peters on 277

One of your difficulties is that you're trying to reconcile a canon dealing with the pre-requisites for deaconate ordination (1037) with a canon dealing with post-ordination life. Second, 1037 is only placing a particular obligation on a class of candidates. It does not thereby relieve another class of a universally applicable requirement. Third, as a *candidate* a married candidate is still, obviously, married with the resultant duties to his wife's rights. Unmarried candidates have no such duties.
Again, this is a non-canonist interpretation. I'd flip the obligation back to you to explain why noted canonist Ed Peters is discussing 277 and not being immediately stopped by 1037.

utubeo said...

A more scholarly article by Ed Peters

Note very brief discussion of 1037:

Thus, regardless of the particular order that non-married men are ultimately intending, c. 1037 works in direct support of the two-fold clerical obligations of continence and celibacy set forth in c. 277, §1, expressly in regard to celibacy by directing candidates for orders to undertake that obligation by name, and implicitly with regard to continence, in that Christian men who are not married are, in accord with the moral principles pertaining to their state, necessarily bound by the obligation of continence. No one seriously suggests that celibate clerics are not bound by the obligation of continence and the canon does not restate the obvious.

Boniface said...

Thanks for the comments and explanations everybody!

@John F Kennedy, yes, lol I know the difference between celibacy and continence. I've written multiple essays on the subject re: the discipline of the early Church.

I'm just trying to square this with what (more than one) deacon have told me that bishops do not require them to observe marital continence.

Boniface said...

Also, @Utubeo, thank you in particular. I think your comments got to the heart of what was confusing me.

Boniface said...

And thanks for correcting me, guys! : ) Pray for my ignorance

Marissa said...

"The issue is not with the women, but with an ecclesiastical philosophy that urgently wants to replace the traditional male only priesthood with something—anything—else. "

Would you add "celibate" after "male only"?

Watcher said...

In the 90s,I was involved at a parish that had "deacon couples" listed in their bulletin. After reading your post I checked their website & bulletin;just deacons listed now.