Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Remarriage and the widowed permanent deacon

Recently I have been asked several times about remarriage and the permanent diaconate. In the present state-of-affairs, which may eventually require changes in canon law (a subject I address in my thesis), permanent deacons follow the discipline of clergy of the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox. This means that if a deacon is to be married, he must marry prior to ordination because, according to canon 1087, "Those in sacred orders invalidly attempt marriage."

In the eventuality that a deacon is widowed, he is not normatively free to remarry under canon law. This seems almost shocking to people. Keep in mind that in the early church being married twice was quite scandalous and frowned upon for anybody! According to canon 1078 §2 1/, a widowed permanent deacon who wishes to remarry must receive a dispensation from the impediment of holy orders. Granting this dispensation is reserved exclusively to the Holy See. It bears noting that requests for this dispensation have not been routinely granted.

In 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the behest of Pope John Paul II, set forth three conditions under which a dispensation from the impediment of holy orders for a widowed permanent deacon to remarry would be considered: "1) the great and proven usefulness of the ministry of deacon to the diocese to which he belongs; 2) the fact that he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care; 3) the fact that he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care" (from New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, pgs. 358-9).

I cannot imagine a permanent deacon who divorces receiving a dispensation to remarry, even after an annulment had been sought and granted, which would certainly be a prerequisite. I suppose a dispensation could be requested in such a situation, but only if any of three conditions listed above applied. However, I am certainly open to expert feedback on this matter.


  1. Your explanation of a deacon who is widowed and wants to remarry is unclear. Are you saying that when a deacon requests a dispensation that he will continue to function as a deacon or would he no longer function as a deacon or be a member of the church. We know that priests have left the priesthood and have married and remain a member of the Catholic Church in good standing. Is this not possible for a deacon?

  2. If a widowed deacon requests a dispensation to remarry, which he can only receive from the Holy See, assuming that he does not marry prior to submitting his request, he may certainly continue to function as a deacon in the meantime, presuming he has faculties and is otherwise in good standing. If the dispensation is granted he may remarry AND continue to function as a deacon.

    A priest may not leave the priesthood and marry without first being laicized and given permission to marry. Otherwise, he does not remain a member of the church in good standing. Similarly were a widowed deacon to remarry without a dispensation, not only would he lose his faculties he would likewise not be a member of the church in good standing. If a single deacon who, like a priest, makes a public vow of celibacy and later wants to be married he cannot do so without also being laicized and given permission. All of these dispensations can only be granted by the Holy See.

    I hope that helps clarify the matter for you.

  3. Can you tell me what the procedure is to possibly get a dispensation to remarry? What documents are needed and where do I begin? Do I have to go through my Ordinary?

  4. Typically, a dispensation only applies when a Catholic wants to marry a non-Catholic in the Church. If you are referring to having a previous annulled or voided, as always, the best place to start is by talking to your pastor.