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. If a widow becomes a deacon, can he remarry?

  5. I will re-answer the question from April 2011 and then answer the most recent one:

    Any dispensation to re-marry after ordination begins locally, but can only be granted by the Holy See. There are only 3 grounds on which the widowed deacon can submit a petition: young children who require a mother, elderly parents who require care, or indispensability to ministry. Even when those conditions are met, I understand the likelihood of a dispensation being granted is low.

    Answer to question of 15 December 2015.

    No. There is no marriage after ordination. My understanding is that once ordained, a man is not free to either marry or re-marry without first being laicized. Unmarried ordinands are supposed to make a public vow of celibacy. In my ordination class there was one widower. Our bishop at the time did not have him make a public vow of celibacy, but a private one. According the Church's ancient tradition, one honored in the East and West, ordination precludes the possibility entering into a new marriage.

    In times past no man could be ordained who had been married twice, even if his second marriage was entered into after he was widowed. This, however, is no longer the case, at least in the Latin Church. In the Latin Church a man who was widowed, or even divorced, presuming that marriage was declared null by the Church, can be ordained a deacon.

  6. Do most deacons that seek dispensation and are denied stay in the diaconate?
    What % of widowed Deacons remain a deacon?

  7. I gather that it is difficult to petition for let alone receive a dispensation. I have no data as to how many dispensations are requested or granted. I no data on how many who are denied a dispensation choose to leave the clerical state.

  8. Thank you for the response. I am a deacon ordained in 2006 and three years ago I lost my wife to Cancer. I have two daughters one married the other daughter with Cerebral Palsy. Because of the attention that she needs my ministry is very limited.
    A fellow deacon and classmate lost his wife the year before to cancer has chose to be laicized. I have been looking for some type of widowers group in the deaconate community but I have not found any so far. I try to look for any posts that broach the topic in hopes of making a further connection and or peace.

  9. I am so sorry to hear about your wife's passing. May perpetual life shine upon her. The interest this post has drawn kind of surprised me. I guess it shouldn't have because it's a real issue. It seems there should be some kind diaconal support for deacons who find themselves in circumstances such as the one your find yourself in.

    Maybe meeting with your diocese's Vicar for Clergy, or even your bishop, might be a wise move. I am pretty sure you'd need their support for any dispensation to re-marry, as well as the assistance of canon lawyer, who may be your Judicial Vicar.

    Prayers and best wishes.
    Deacon Scott

  10. Thank you again for the ear. by the comments and questions I have read it does seem like its a big question. I am surprised that I am having such a difficult time in finding a group of Deacons who are in same or similar situation. If by chance you come across a group I hope you will keep me mind
    Deacon mike

  11. I'll go one better and put up a post on the subject. I will see if I can talk Greg Kandra and Bill Ditewig to do the same. I know them both well enough to ask.

  12. Thank you, I appreciate the help.

  13. I am a Permanent Deacon in the Byzantine Catholic Church residing in NE Pennsylvania. I lost my wife of 35 years this past December because of cancer. Since that time I have been seeking a support group of similar widowed deacons but because of circumstances , I seem to be the only one in my area. If you should be aware of any such group, I would appreciate it if you would contact me at


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