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Canon law, “consensual adult relationships”, and chastity

Clerical homosexual activity is not a violation of celibacy but a violation of the chastity to which all the faithful are called and of the continence to which all clergy are specially called.

Homosexual acts committed by or between clerics—even among those presumably able to consent—are at the root, the very root, of the sexual misconduct and cover-up crisis exposed by the McCarrick scandal. Who on earth does not yet know that yet?

So my jaw dropped—which takes some doing these days—my jaw dropped when Msgr. Thomas Guarino, in an interesting-ish essay at Catholic World Report, while calling for better responses against clergy sexual misconduct, wrote: “I speak here of crimes, not consensual adult relationships which, while sinful infractions against the commandments and the promise of celibacy, can be—and for centuries have been—salutarily treated with confession, penance and spiritual direction.”

My. Jaw. Dropped.

Where to begin?

First, Guarnino’s claim that “consensual adult relationships” (a tired euphemism for gravely sinful conduct, but one sufficient to include homosexual acts by clergy) have not been regarded as canonical crimes for centuries, is flatly wrong. In fact, it has only been in the last 35 years, since the advent of the 1983 Code, that such “consensual adult relationships” among clergy have not been treated as crimes under canon law!

1917 CIC 2359 § 2 stated:

If [clerics] engage in a delict against the sixth precept of the Decalogue with a minor below the age of sixteen, or engage in adultery, debauchery, bestiality, sodomy, pandering, [or] incest with blood-relatives or affines in the first degree, they are suspended, declared infamous, and are deprived of any office, benefice, dignity, responsibility, if they have such, whatsoever, and in more serious cases, they are to be deposed.

Now exactly what part of “debauchery” or “sodomy”, consensual or otherwise, was not a canonical crime per the Canon 2359? And given an hour, moreover, any competent researcher could prove centuries-old roots for Canon 2359 simply by checking Gasparri’s fontes for the canon.

Contrary to Guarino’s claim, then, it was only with the dilution that Canon 2359 suffered when it re-appeared as Canon 1395 of the 1983 Code that the express and long-standing criminalization of homosexual acts by clergy was blurred or lost.

Want another example? Fine.

The Congregation of the Holy Office (now, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), in its instruction Crimen sollicitationis (16 mar 1962), available here, stated:

(71). The term crimen pessimum [“the foulest crime”] is here understood to mean any external obscene act, gravely sinful, perpetrated or attempted by a cleric in any way whatsoever with a person of his own sex. (72). Everything laid down up to this point concerning the crime of solicitation is also valid, with the change only of those things which the nature of the matter necessarily requires, for the crimen pessimum, should some cleric (God forbid) happen to be accused of it before the local Ordinary …. In determining penalties against delinquents of this type, in addition to what has been stated above, Canon 2359  § 2 is also to be taken into consideration.

Again, canon law could not be clearer that homosexual activity by clerics was an ecclesiastical crime. Moreover, as I explained elsewhere—see Edward Peters, “Retrospectives on Benedict XIV’s const. Sacramentum poeniteniae (1741)”, Apollinaris 84 (2011) 581-605—the 1922 and 1962 versions of Crimen rested on penal law foundations laid down by Pope Benedict XIV in the mid 18th century and which in turn drew on canon laws older still!

So, can we please put to rest the utter canard that Church did not, for centuries no less!, regard homosexual acts among clerics, whatever other moral or spiritual offenses they constituted, as crimes against Church order?—a point that the McCarrick disaster proves beyond any doubt.

Oh, and third, I guess we have to say it yet again, clerical homosexual activity is not, repeat not, as Guarino seems to think, a violation of “celibacy” (as if celibacy has anything to do this mess), but is instead a violation of the chastity to which all the faithful are called (CCC 2337-2359) and of the continence to which all clergy are specially called (Canon 277 § 1).

No good lawyer thinks that criminalizing a bad activity makes that bad activity go away. But decriminalizing bad activity hardly makes it either less bad or less common. There are arguments for and against re-criminalizing homosexual acts among clerics, but in either case, consideration of the idea should be carried on by officials aware that they would be debating the re-institution of a centuries-old provision of Church law, not, as Guarino seem to think, the invention of a new one.

(Editor’s note: The headline for this post has been changed as the original headline given by CWR did not accurately the post’s contents. This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site and is reprinted here, with slight formatting changes, by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. Guarino engages in the homosexualist argument that with regard to the Priesthood celibacy and chastity are two different things. They are not. For that reason alone he should be dismissed from the clerical state.

    • I believe he should be fired just for making the statement. When a statement justifying homosexual act between clerics is made by a person of position then those who are inclined to such activities become justified themselves. The Bible says it is abominable and so it is.

  2. It is a relief to see highlighted by inference the distinction between celibacy and chastity. More than a few minds need mine that reality. It could make a great difference in perspectives, enhance reason and generate an appreciation for the all the virtues and the freedom they provide in human existence.
    I can’t remember a homily offered on virtue — necessity, nature and practice. No wonder this is going on. You can’t teach what has not been handed on to you. You won’t practice what you have not been taught.

  3. Has Mr. Peters followed the example of Dr. Sipe with “Bishop” McElroy and written to Pope “Who-Am-I-To-Judge” Bergoglio to inform him that he has a duty under canon law (to leave aside only for these purposes divine law) and deal with all clerical sodomites as prescribed, starting with his Cardinals and Bishops? And if not, I want to know why not.

    • Aug. 12th: I wish people would stop ‘half-quoting’ Pope Francis to serve their own purposes. I may not agree with some of the things Pope Francis has said and done but that quote from the plane is constantly used and deliberately cut short. Yes, he did say: “Who am I to judge..” but he followed that with an explanation that if someone was sincerely trying to change his lifestyle, who should judge him. Please be honest when you quote someone…the mainstream media always does this. Let us not follow their example.

      • Okay, fair enough. But when his exact words were widely used out of context to mean something he did not intend, did he demand corrections, did he clarify his intended meaning?

      • Jorge Bergoglio, prior to his election as pope, denied the Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Matrimony by condoning certain same-sex sexual relationships as long as they were, according to Jorge Bergoglio, private, did not include children, and were not called marriage. A Baptized Catholic who denies that which a Catholic must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith, cannot remain in communion with Christ, and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. (Catholic Canon 750)

        “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected.”
        -Jorge Bergoglio

        Our Call to Holiness, has always been a Call to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds, as we are calld to be “Temples of The Holy Ghost”.

        Catholics recognize there are no “private” relationships; every Catholic is Called to be “A Temple for The Holy Ghost”.
        The erroneous notion that private morality and public morality can serve in opposition to one another and are not complementary, has led to serious error in Faith and morals. Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness, cannot be reconciled with Holiness.

  4. Am I the only one to notice a palpable mean-spiritedness that has been permeating the discussion on the McCarrick story?

    In tomorrow’s reading (Sun., 8/12/18), Paul tells us:

    “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
    must be removed from you, along with all malice.
    And be kind to one another, compassionate,
    forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

    I hope people are listening.
    Can we knock it off with all the nastiness?
    Good grief.

    • By your reckoning then there would never be a malpractice lawsuit filed against an incompetent doctor. The people here are fed up with the incompetent clergy who are guilty of long standing spiritual malpractice.

    • I’m Tired of having our children and seminarians sodomized by Catholic priests.
      So, yes, I’ll get a bit nasty if need be.
      If a few snowflakes can’t handle it … too bad.

    • Can “we” knock off the nastiness. We think we are not responsible for anyone else’s nastiness than we’s own, alone. We think that we should mind one’s own nasty eye-beam first. What does “we” think about that?

  5. Jaw dropper of the month may be the Pope flatly stating homosexual acts by clerics, seminarians et Al are not even crimes but rather “Sins of youth”. Pope Francis’ words are perhaps even more jaw dropping than Msgr Guarino’s. The Pontiff sets the tone Msgr Guarino as Dr Peters like many clergy merely suffers from a sickness, a form moral blindness. It fits the pattern foisted on the Church by the Pontiff and allies such as the notorious Cardinal Kevin Farrell now representing the Dicastery on the Family in Ireland’s upcoming charade on the family. It is a clearly indicated pattern of sanitizing homosexual behavior as a natural form of sexual expression. It belongs as part of the New Paradigm Church that includes the Holy Eucharist for anyone regardless of lack of faith and lack of a holy life. It’s the end of the Church that existed prior to this pontificate. Nonetheless dear brothers and sisters Christ’s Church the Mystical Body is alive and well living among the faithful.

  6. The Monsignor’s article does not merely evince a profound dishonesty. It is utterly contemptuous of the faithful. After all the horrors to which we have been subjected, there is still the clerical reflex to cover everything over, to protect the guilty, to shame and shut up the honest Catholics calling for accountability and justice. Having had a family member molested by a priest, I am utterly disgusted with those who still refuse to name the sin: homosexuality.

  7. Do these clerics really care about celibacy? The real “jaw dropper” was the churches recent admission that 300 Priests from 16 parishes in Pennsylvania. Once this atrocity is investigated the revelation that many Priests were homosexuals. Celibacy anybody?

  8. We know how powerful and persuasive the voice of Satan and the demons can be and obviously, the principalities and powers of darkness our Lord warned us we would have to combat daily if we loved Him, have attacked and it seems, conquered the minds, hearts, and souls of too many Catholics, clerics and laity, up to and including the man considered to the Pope.

    There were very few jaws dropping when those listening to the voice of Satan took it upon themselves to initially destroy the very heart of Catholicism, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, replacing it with a demon-inspired liturgy elevating man above God, and then incrementally and systematically, moved on to attack and will eventually destroy every Catholic teaching, tradition, and practice because that is their plan. Pope St. Pius X in particular revealed their diabolical minds but he could not persuade them to return to serve Christ. Very few jaws dropped when the popes regularly and publicly blasphemed God in idolatry and sacrilege by praying to and worshipping false gods, sinning against God’s First and Second Commandments and instructing Catholics to sin along with them in various ecumenical initiatives which the Church has always and rightly condemned as sinful. Very few jaws dropped with the teaching from these heretics and apostates that the Catholic Church is NOT THE Church of Christ but merely, a subset of various other “churches”, all in union with Christ with paths to salvation.

    No, not even with the decades of revelation that the clergy is filled with homosexual sodomites who have consistently abused and murdered the souls of millions of innocents raises too much concern for many and for others, it isn’t even recognized as a natural result of the loss of faith and love of vice as these servants of Satan can act and react in no other way.

    These evil men cannot be good men while

  9. Any and all violations of continence and chastity should be explicit crimes in Canon Law. Canon Law must be enforced and Cardinals & Bishops should understand the Code is not a list of suggestions. After the “theologian” (Benedict XVI) and “pastoral” popes (JP2 and Francis), it’s well time for a Canonist Pope to remind the hierarchy of this and enforce discipline, especially amongst the cardinals and bishops. Any and all who at any time committed sodomy should be deposed, degraded from offices and involuntarily laicized. Then a clean sweep of the Religious and secular clerics through the appropriate dicasteries. A reinforced Holy Office would be ideal.

  10. My partner and I are living together, for various reasons we don’t want to marry.We are fully committed to each other. We are both in our 70s.
    Are we living in sin

4 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Yes, “consensual adult relationships” among clergy are crimes under canon law -
  2. A Just and Lasting Reform: A Response to Ed Peters – Catholic World Report
  3. Bishops, Homosexual Sins and the Law (Church and Civil) | Defenders of the Catholic Faith | Hosted by Stephen K. Ray
  4. Sacerdote descubierto el año pasado por uso de una aplicación gay de citas, ahora es ascendido a Párroco

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