The term secular clergy refers to deacons and priests who are not monastics or members of a religious institute. They are referred to also as the diocesan priest, or sometimes (in the case of an archdiocese) as archdiocesan clergy.
In the Catholic Church, the secular clergy are ordained ministers, such as deacons and priests, who do not belong to a religious institute. While regular clergy take religious vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and follow the rule of life of the institute to which they belong, secular clergy do not take vows, and they live in the world at large, rather than a religious institute (saeculum). Canon law makes specific demands on clergy, whether regular or secular, quite apart from the obligations consequent to religious vows.
Thus in the Latin Church, among other regulations, clerics other than permanent deacons "are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy" and to carry out the Liturgy of the Hours daily. They are forbidden to "assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power". Depending on which conference of bishops they belong to, deacons may also be required to recite the Divine Office daily. All clerics, once ordained, are forbidden from marrying or remarrying.
The teachings of the Church and some scholars hold that a tradition of clerical continence existed in early Christianity, whereby married men who became priests were expected to abstain from sexual relations with their wives. The Council of Elvira, held in 306, before Constantine had legitimized Christianity, made it an explicit law that bishops and other clergy should not have sexual relations with their wives. Despite consistently upholding the doctrine of clerical celibacy, over the following centuries the Church experienced many difficulties in enforcing it, particularly in rural areas of Europe. Finally, in the 12th century the Western Church declared that Holy Orders were not merely a prohibitive but a diriment canonical impediment to marriage, making marriage by priests invalid and not merely forbidden.
A number of intra-Church conflicts have occurred due to the tensions between regular and secular clergy. The secular clergy, in which the hierarchy essentially resides, always takes precedence over the regular clergy of equal rank; the latter is not essential to the Church nor can it subsist by itself, being dependent on bishops for ordination. One of the roots of the Philippine Revolution was the agitation of native secular priests for parish assignments. The powerful religious orders were given preferential treatment in these assignments and were usually Spaniards who trained in European chapters. The agitation led to the execution of the "Gomburza filibusteros."
In the Orthodox Church, the term "secular clergy" refers to married priests and deacons, as opposed to monastic clergy (hieromonks and hierodeacons). The secular clergy are sometimes referred to as "white clergy", black being the customary color worn by monks.
Traditionally, parish priests are expected to be secular clergy rather than being monastics, as the support of a wife is considered necessary for a priest living "in the world".
- Catholic religious order
- Diocesan priest
- List of Catholic religious institutes
- Religious institute (Catholic)
- Regular clergy
- Secular institute
- Vocational discernment in the Catholic Church
- Code of Canon Law, canon 277 §1
- Code of Canon Law, canon 276 §2, 3
- Code of Canon Law, canon 285 §3
- Roman Cholij, Priestly Celibacy in Patristics and in the History of the Church.
- Cesare Bonivento, Priestly Celibacy — Ecclesiastical Institution or Apostolic Tradition?; Thomas McGovern,Priestly Celibacy Today; Alfons Stickler, The Case for Clerical Celibacy: Its Historical Development and Theological Foundations; Anthony Zimmerman, Celibacy Dates Back to the Apostles
- New Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. 1967, p366
- Herbert Thurston, "Celibacy of the Clergy" in Catholic Encyclopedia 1908
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Secular Clergy Catholic Online