The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

SSPX and married deacons: “completely unlawful”

A reader who is a deacon candidate sent this along to me, and it seems worth some attention.

If anyone is wondering how the SSPX feels about deacons and celibacy, take a look:

In the fall of 1995, the French bishops met at Lourdes in order to confer together over the pastoral problem created by married deacons. What is strange about this, though, is that they forgot to examine the doctrinal problem, which is the essential one, that is to say, the question of the very lawfulness of this ordination. Indeed, it is not a question of a problem, but of a fact: the ordination to the diaconate (as also to the priesthood or episcopacy) of a married man who has not separated from his wife has always been held to be, since the very beginning of the Church, completely unlawful.

This tradition was solemnly proclaimed by the Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council, in 325 AD. Canon no. 3, unanimously approved by the Fathers, made no concession whatsoever. The prohibition imposed thereby on all bishops, priests and deacons against having a wife is considered absolute; and all subsequent councils that have addressed the subject have renewed this interdiction.

In reply to this fact, our objectors affirm that, be that as it may, it was only in force up until Vatican II. They subscribe to the principle that what the Church decreed yesterday, she can abrogate today. But they are wrong. In any case, it would be strange temerity to blot out with the stroke of a pen a custom decreed for 2,000 years to be absolutely obligatory. But there is more to the argument: Ecclesiastical celibacy is not an ecclesiastical institution; it is divine.

If the Church has the right and power to abolish her own decrees, she cannot abolish those which have been indicated to her by Christ and His Apostles. This is what was affirmed by the Council of Carthage in 390 AD when, explaining the inviolability and the universality of the discipline decreed by the Nicean Council, the Fathers stated that celibacy is of Apostolic tradition. For instance, St. Epiphanius, Father of the Church, wrote, “It is the Apostles themselves who decreed this law.” St. Jerome also testified:

Priests and deacons must be either virgins or widowers before being ordained, or at least observe perpetual continence after their ordination….If married men find this difficult to endure, they should not turn against me, but rather against Holy Writ and the entire ecclesiastical order.

Pope St. Innocent I (401-417 AD) wrote in the same vein:

This is not a matter of imposing upon the clergy new and arbitrary obligations, but rather of reminding them of those which the tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers has transmitted to us.

It cannot be more clearly stated. And there is a reason for the tradition. If in fact the foundation of clerical celibacy is doctrinal and not disciplinary, it is because the cleric in major orders, by virtue of his ordination, contracts a marriage with the Church, and he cannot be a bigamist. As our fathers in the Faith still explain it, these clerics are virgins in order to be true disciples and ministers of Christ, a virgin consecrated to His Spouse. St. Jerome, in his treatise, Adversus Jovinianum, bases clerical celibacy on the virginity of Christ.

At this point we can anticipate the objection of certain Catholics who would be quick to cite the example of the Eastern Church, where there are married priests and deacons, not only in the schismatic Orthodox Church, but also in the Eastern Rites of the [Catholic] Church. But the fact is, the Council of Nicea established a universal law that applied, and still applies, to the Eastern Church as well as to that of the West; moreover, in that Council, it was the Greeks who made up the overwhelming majority. Even earlier, the Council of Neo-Caesarea (314 AD) had reminded all clerics of major orders in the East of the inviolability of this law under pain of deposition. In 405 AD, St. Jerome wrote against Vigilantius:

What do the churches of Egypt and the Orient do? They choose clerics who are virgins or continent; and if they have a wife, they cease to be husbands.

St. Jerome states a well-known fact: a married man was not ordained unless the two spouses had mutually consented to a life of perpetual continence.

The Eastern Church began at a late date inexorably to violate the sacrosanct law that their fathers had inculcated. This began with the Quinisext Council of 692.1 This marked one of the ways by which she became schismatic, because the popes refused to endorse the conclusions of the Council in the matter of celibacy. As for the popes who would grant a dispensation to the Orientals remaining Catholic, this was, ad duritiam cordis, because of the hardness of their hearts —in order to keep these clerics from becoming wholly schismatic.

On this subject St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) wrote:

No one can be ignorant of the fact that all the Fathers of the Catholic Church unanimously imposed the inviolable rule of continence on clerics in major orders. The Body of the Lord in the sacrament of the altar is the same as the one carried by the immaculate hands of the Virgin at Bethlehem. To be able to touch It, it is necessary to have pure hands, sanctified by perfect continence.

Nowadays in the Catholic Church we see deacons who step from the conjugal bed to the sanctuary.

These deacons, of course, are in good faith. They do not know that by an imprescriptible law, they have incurred the penalty of major excommunication, from which they cannot be delivered until they either abandon their wives, or agree to be reduced to the lay state.

Well. So it seems I’ve been excommunicated. Go figure.

There’s more, if you can stand it, at the SSPX link.

Comments read comments(37)
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Steve Hayes

posted February 4, 2009 at 11:34 pm

Very interesting. They sound a bit like our Old Calendrists.

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James H

posted February 5, 2009 at 12:17 am

DeaconGod I love your blog and I Link it about every other day but lets get a proper viewpointNo you are not excommnicated and the fact that that SSPX is showing williness to come into the Church and try to reconcile perhaps despite their objections to married Deacons and and other things is a sign of hope.SSPX is not with their 700,000 folks (if that many) is going to change the Church’s view on Deacons. It appears they realize that too.It is time to heal this schism and that means reaching out. I am just a simple Lay person but you are the ordained. THese SSPX people at times well they drive me up the wall. That has been the case for me for many years.I have mixed feelings about this and I know it will be tough. But you as Ordained Clergy and looking at the majority of your post on this subject it seems you have you some severe problems with this group. OK yeah they have quirks.Hey I can understand that. But at the end of the day we are trying to reconcille and bring these people into the Church. THis takes some understanding and dialouge and to be frank ending your post with “Well I guess I am excommunicated” does not helpIf these people are reconciled I will be a full brother of Christ with them in perfect communion and YES you you will be their Clergy.Like I said they can drive me up the wall bit they have some legitmate gripes. I am suggesting Like the Pope and like perhaps Christ himself we pray about his and talk to them.You are the biggest Deacon on the net and perhaps you need to show some leadership in this.If not no skin off my nose but maybe just maybe it would be helpful. It is very easy to mock them and i am tempeted that way too at times. But I dont’ think that is the direction the Holy Father wants us to go in

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posted February 5, 2009 at 1:22 am

Deacon Greg,I’m sorry to hear you’ve been excommunicated– at least by SSPX rationale. I have no words.After reading one of Bishop Williamson’s letters, it seems I shouldn’t be educated in a university or wear trousers. Granted, I never really did use my journalism degree much, but I cannot imagine not furthering my education beyond high school. I like knowing that I can take care of myself, which I owe much of that to my education.

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posted February 5, 2009 at 6:22 am

Are there any dioceses in the United States that do not have permanent deacons? If so, is the reasoning of the Ordinary in these dioceses in any way similar to what is described in the SSPX explanation?

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posted February 5, 2009 at 7:14 am

So, if I read it correctly, it all hinges on whether this is a Discipline of the Church or a Doctrine of the Church. As a potential Diaconal aspirant myself (1.5 years to the next class), as well as being half-Byzantine (early formation and sacraments) I take a great interest in this. Is it possible that you have some other contacts who may be able to address their argument’s salient points and show where their mistakes are and why?

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posted February 5, 2009 at 7:17 am

So I understand, Nicea said “no married clergy” and that can’t be changed… Didn’t Nicea also say that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” and yet all of us in the West (including the folks in the SSPX) CHANGED that to “… and the Son”?I think that the SSPX has to first figure out WHAT they believe and then get a little control on who posts on their website.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted February 5, 2009 at 7:18 am

Scott…There are one or two dioceses that don’t have permanent deacons. (Lincoln, Nebraska, I believe, doesn’t.) Far as I know, it has nothing to do with the SSPX argument — an argument that is, to put it diplomatically, novel. Dcn. G.

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posted February 5, 2009 at 7:57 am

Apparently Lincoln actually has 4 permanent deacons. Despite allowing these four, the bishop doesn’t really like the idea of permanent deacons, but I’ve never heard him articulate why. Supposedly it has something to do with turning more men into priests. I’m not sure I agree with the reasoning, but Lincoln certainly has no priest shortage.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted February 5, 2009 at 8:13 am

Christian…The short answer is that celibacy has always been a discipline of the Church, not dogma. You won’t find it in scripture, or the Creed, and it’s never been infallibly taught. (We’re not talking here about the dual nature of Christ, or the Immaculate Conception.) Though I can’t be certain of it, I suspect the SSPX probably takes a similar hard line on issues like Catholics eating meat on Friday and women wearing veils in church. Dcn. G.

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posted February 5, 2009 at 8:28 am

I like your flippant response Deacon Greg. It is the only appropriate one since SSPX’ explanation is based on a faulty premise…and is irrelevant.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted February 5, 2009 at 8:49 am

Of course, it’s also kind of funny to be branded as “excommunicated” from a group that is, itself, excommunicated.

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Dcn Scott Dodge

posted February 5, 2009 at 9:35 am

“deacons who step from the conjugal bed to the sanctuary.”We’re a saucy, perhaps even a salacious bunch!

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Christopher Milton

posted February 5, 2009 at 9:47 am

This isn’t just a debate by SSPX members. issue discussed here by Dr. Ed Peters (a cannon lawyer), Fr. Brian VanHove, SJ and Rex Pilger is whether current Canon Law (1983) requires married Permanent Deacons to remain continent, not celibate, but continent. Dr. Peters and Fr. Van Hove say yes. Mr Pilger says no.It appears as though it does, but is widely ignored. Which is a problem. I don’t think the debate here includes whether it this is a Tradition or a tradition.

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John C. Hathaway

posted February 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

It’s like Bl. Pius XII’s comment about “You would have me believe that God created six sacraments and a trap.”It bears noting that, while “married” priests and deacons were at one point required to take vows of perpetual continence, married *laity* in those days were also supposed to fast from marital relations before receiving Communion. Both are really disciplinary points, not doctrinal ones. The *reasoning* they cite is rather curious, as it would seem to imply that that women’s ordination would be preferable to male ordination, if the priest is to be considered a cognate to the Virgin.I thought the priest was a cognate to Pontius Pilate.

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Dcn Scott Dodge

posted February 5, 2009 at 10:55 am

What I meant is that anyone who questions either the licitness or validity of permanent deacons who live marriage in a conjugally normal way also either explicitly, or by implication, believes that the Holy Father and their bishop are in error. Sorry for the confusion. I type faster than I think sometimes.

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Dcn Scott Dodge

posted February 5, 2009 at 11:04 am

What Dr. Peters and Fr Van Hove ignore, assuming that the above accurately reflects their considered views, is the decree of the council and the canonical status of a dogmatic constitution, namely Lumen Gentium, and the universal and supreme legistlative authority of the pope as exercised in the motu proprio, Sacrem Diaconatus Ordinem, particularly numbers 2 and 11-13: 2. When asking the Apostolic See for approval, the reasons must be explained which favor the introduction of this new practice in a region as well as the circumstances which give well-founded hope of success. Likewise, the manner will have to be indicated in which the new discipline will be implemented, that is to say, whether it is a matter of conferring the diaconate on ‘suitable young men for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact, or on men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state,’ or on both kinds of candidates.” 11. Older men, whether single or married, can be called to the diaconate. The latter, however, are not to be admitted unless there is certainty not only about the wife’s consent, but also about her blameless Christian life and those qualities which will neither impede nor bring dishonor on the husband’s ministry.12. The older age in this case is reached at the completion of the thirty-fifth year. Nevertheless, the age requirement is to be understood in this sense, namely, that no one can be called to the diaconate unless he has gained the high regard of the clergy and the faithful by a long example of truly Christian life, by his unexceptionable conduct, and by his ready disposition to be of service.13. In the case of married men care must be taken that only those are promoted to the diaconate who while living many years in matrimony have shown that they are ruling well their own household and who have a wife and children leading a truly Christian life and noted for their good reputation. All of this is codified in the CIC.Besides being codified, these documents must inform any interpretation of the canons in the revised code as they were promulgated prior to and are constitutive of the new code. So, anyone who presumes to say that married deacons, who live in the married state in a conjugally normal way, are invalidly or illicitly ordained are clearly in error. Such a one also, either explicitly, or by implication, believes their bishop, the Holy Father, and an ecumenical council to be error.Besides the idea that celibacy is required in order to live in the clerical state is clearly not of apostolic origin, a simple reading of the New Testament will disabuse anyone of that erroneous idea. Besides, look not only at the Orthodox churches, but the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, we validly and licitly ordain married men to the presbyterate.

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posted February 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

Christopher, thanks for the link.I am no canon lawyer, but canon 277 seems pretty clear to me. Also note this is not one of the canons from which permanent deacons are exempted (288).I have heard plenty of reasons why continence should not be required of permanent deacons, but I have yet to hear a convincing argument that this is not in fact what canon law requires.Anyone know if a similar discussion has arisen regarding married priests?

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Mr. Basso

posted February 5, 2009 at 12:21 pm

SCOTT, In my diocese (Indianapolis) we have only had the diaconate for a year or so. Deacon Greg offered wonderful coverage of the historic event when it unfolded.When I was in discernment I had asked our vocation director about the permanent diaconte. He was a very pastoral and kind priest. He told me that the priest council had discussed the issue many times and that (quite contrary to the reasoning put forth by the SSPX or the Bishop of Lincoln) the presbyterate was reluctant to introduce another level of clergy because it would take away the work of the lay ministers and create another level of separation between the priests and the laity. Thanks be to God, the diocese has come to its senses. All that aside, I must admit that I have had vague hints of guilt in the past about going from the “conjugal bed” to serving as an acolyte (instituted) at my parish on Sunday.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted February 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

To all … I’ve reached out to Uber-Deacon Dr. Bill Ditewig, and asked him to share his thoughts on this thorny subject with my readers. He’s happy to do that, and has promised to send me something soon. Stay tuned! Dcn. G.

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posted February 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Mr. Basso,Please ignore this if it is an unwarranted intrusion into your personal life, but why do have guilt about that?

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Thomas Welbers

posted February 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm

So far in these comments nobody has actually looked at canon 3 of the First Council of Nicaea to see that the interpretation of the SSPX is erroneous from the getgo. This is the complete text: “The Great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.” (See: “Subintroducta” specifically is not a wife, but a woman living in the same household with a celibate man or group of men. (See: question of mandatory celibacy of the clergy — or at least total abstinence from sexual intercourse if they already had wives — was introduced at the Council, possibly at the instigation of the few western bishops, under the Spanish Hosius, but was opposed by most eastern bishops. The Spanish Council of Elvira in 306 AD is the first instance of a disciplinary canon (of a local council) requiring absolute sexual abstinence (continence) not only for the ordained but also for “others with a position in the ministry.” It is speculated that Hosius wanted to use the Council of Nicaea to extend this prohibition universally, something the Council specifically refused to do.Interestingly, it was St. Paphnutius, an aged Egyptian monk who had been severely deformed in the persecution under Diocletian, who hobbled to the podium, and in severe language denounced those who would impose such a burden on the clergy. In the words of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, “Paphnutius earnestly entreated his fellow-bishops not to impose this obligation on the orders of the clergy concerned. He proposed, in accordance ‘with the ancient tradition of the Church’, that only those who were celibates at the time of ordination should continue to observe continence, but, on the other hand, that ‘none should be separated from her, to whom, while yet unordained, he had been united’. The great veneration in which he was held, and the well known fact that he had himself observed the strictest chastity all his life, gave weight to his proposal, which was unanimously adopted. The council left it to the discretion of the married clergy to continue or discontinue their marital relations.” It’s interesting to review the other 19 of the disciplinary canons of Nicaea to see how many of them are still relevant, or, as in the case of canons 17 and 20, observed even by the conservative of Catholics.

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Dan Hunter

posted February 5, 2009 at 10:00 pm

course, it’s also kind of funny to be branded as “excommunicated” from a group that is, itself, excommunicated.”Deacon,I am sorry that you have been branded “excommunicated” by some in the FSSPX.That is unfortunate, since under current Canon Law you are a Deacon of the Catholic Church, but when you state that the FSSPX as a “group”, is excommunicated you are wrong.Only Archbishop Lefebvre, and the four Bishops he consecrated were automatically excommunicated in 1988. Not the Society as a group.The Pontifical Commision Ecclesia Dei has officially informed the faithful that,”one may fullfil his Sunday obligation at a chapel of the SSPX without incurring any sin or canonical penalty.”Since the Church teaches that the state of excomunication ceases upons ones death, and Archbishop Lefebvre died in 1991, he is no longer excommunicated, obviously.As of January 21 2009, the Holy Father lifted the excommunications of the four Bishops that were consecrated by Msgr. Lefebvre, thus opening the way to the regularisation of the FSSPX which God willing will soon take place to the greater glory of the Catholic Church, that all may be one.In Jesu Christo et MariaDan

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posted February 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

Again, a note of trivia about the Lincoln diocese. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz actually did excommunicate all members of SSPX in Lincoln in 1996. So at least some of them, as a group, are still excommunicated.

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Mr. Basso

posted February 6, 2009 at 8:39 pm

Eric (an any others who may care) – I suppose my guilt is because when I serve / MC at my parish all of the other guys in the sanctuary are either seminarians (college or theology) or young men. I’m the only one with a Mrs. sitting out in the pews.

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posted February 6, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Did not Peter Damian call the wives of priests “whores” and that the hands of priests should never touch a woman’s genitalia? Did not the Council of Melfi under pope Urban II impose slavery on the wives of priests? PRiests must have been married even in 1048. Wonder what hang-ups these gentlemen had? Envy?

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posted February 6, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I was under the impression that once a Deacon was ordained that they had agreed to sexual continence. I did not think this was from SSPX, but our own canon law. I thought that was why they selected may elderly people for ordination as Deacons. Also it is my impression that if a wife of a Deacon dies, he may not marry again and he now falls under celebacy. From what I am reading here, I guess I was mistaken. I thought I had read the history on all of this from pretty reliable sources.

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Dr. Edward Peters

posted February 16, 2009 at 12:31 am

Hello Dcn. Dodge.I attempted to reach you privately about your post above, but I have been unsuccessful. Anyway, about your statement that I “ignore” Lumen gentium and Sacrum in making my case for diaconal continence, I find it hard to believe that you actually read my Studia article before making that claim. If you had read it, you would know that I expressly address both of these documents, and many more besides, in my article. For an abstract, see: with my interpretation of these documents if you wish, but please do not tell people I overlooked important source materials in making my case. Thank you kindly,Dr. Edward Peters

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Dcn Scott Dodge

posted February 16, 2009 at 11:48 am

Dr Peters: I will contact you via e-mail. I do want to write that I thought I made clear I was responding to your thesis as set forth by another commenter and that I have not read your article. I appreciate your work and expertise very much. I certainly intend to read your article.Sincerely,Scott Dodge

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posted February 16, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I am appalled that readers do not comment on the text of Dr. Peter’s precise and erudite legal writing. Jurisprudence is not a joke. The text of his original article should be read word for word, slowly and probably more than once (for those outside the field), in order for a responsible discussion to take place.Reverend Brian Van Hove, SJ, PhD

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted February 16, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Dr. Ed Peters e-mailed me the following comment to post: Dear Dcn. Dodge. Thanks for your prompt reply. You’ll understand that I am by nature and training wary of folks telling other folks what still other folks did or didn’t say, but especially, when I’m the “folks” that is being described as having said or not said something. I am reminded of the old quip “Half the lies people tell about me aren’t even true.” Seriously, this is a complex point to discuss, and we have to urge people to examine the sources and studies directly, for themselves, as you are doing. I appreciate your interest in the topic. Cordially, Dr. Edward Peters Dcn. Greg

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posted April 30, 2009 at 1:08 pm

“…No you are not excommunicated…”Laypeople making decisions and opinions on the Bride of Christ. Hmmmm… The first sin committed by the devil was that residing in an undue desire to be “like to God,” in that he sought as the ultimate goal of his happiness something to which he could attain by his own natural powers, without having recourse to God, nor wishing to wait, as did the holy angels, for his final perfection through divine grace. – De MaloThere is a new denomination in the world, and it is the direct result of the Freemason infiltration of the Vatican: Roman Protestants.When Protestants hold their ‘church’ meetings, and construct buildings for ‘worship’, what they are doing in fact, is raping the Bride of Christ. When Novus Ordo, Roman Protestant Catholics make pronouncements on whatever are the Church’s teachings and so on, they are wrong in doing so. They are making the same mistake Satan made.” The smoke of Satan has entered the Church” Pope Paul VI. Your conscience bothers you when your Guardian Angel is trying to keep your soul out of Hell.The SSPX was created by an Archbishop who believed elements of Freemasonry were going wild inside the Vatican. Time has proven him correct.I have read the comments in this post, and it is sad to see how far Catholics have fallen.the command of Archbishop Lefebvre: “We have to build, while the others are demolishing. The crumbled citadels have to be rebuilt, the bastions of Faith have to be reconstructed; firstly the holy sacrifice of the Mass of all times, which forms saints; then our chapels, our monasteries, our large families, our enterprises faithful to the social politics of the Church, our politicians determined to make the politics of Jesus Christ – this is a whole tissue of Christian social life, Christian customs, Christian reflexes, which we have to restore.” Those who bash the SSPX need to understand this was truly a Saint Athanasius of our times. May he rest in peace.You guys that are letting your wives lead you around by your noses need to man up.You guys sitting around pontificating need to drop to your knees and start praying the Rosary. Our mother will do the rest. She is the Dispenser of Divine Graces.You guys that have been sucking up the new rules set in place by Freemasons need to get corrected.i.e. Married Deacons, communion in the hands, women distributing communion, blessed water instead of Holy Water, lay ministers and ministrettes, and so on.I am not an SSPXer, but I do recognize the Truth when I see it, and they have the Truth with them, and they are dug in.There are two websites I would like to recommend to you all. Let me know if you are interested.May God our Lord in his infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us his abundant grace, that we may know his most holy will, and entirely fulfill it. pablo

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posted March 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm

When can we expect to hear a somewhat offical word from Deacon Dr. Bill Ditewig? Out here the internet debate with Peters/Van HOve has started a FIERCE reaction…hurt feelings…alienating people…I need some help on this topic. You can email me if you have any ideas, documents, etc, Dcn Greg. THANKS!

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Brian Van Hove SJ

posted August 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

A doctoral dissertation by Father McLaughlin of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas supports the “hermeneutic of continuity” with regard to apostolic continence and canon 277. Herewith is the reference:
“The Obligation of Perfect and Perpetual Continence
And Married Deacons in the Latin Church”
Submitted to the Faculty of the
School of Canon Law
Of The Catholic University of America
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree
Doctor in Canon Law
Anthony K. W. McLaughlin
Washington, D.C.

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posted January 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm

This is well said.

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posted January 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I am a protestant and I really like this.
Continence: the most holy life.

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Firewire 800

posted December 2, 2011 at 11:08 am

First class read!!

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