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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 or sometimes (in the case of an archdiocese) as archdiocesan clergy.
In the Catholic Church, the secular clergy are clergy, 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, 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"
In the view of some scholars, 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. In this view, the early Church did not consider legitimate marriage by those who were already priests. 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. The church canons known as the Ecclesiastical Canons of the Holy Apostles, which appear to have been composed in Syria or Egypt slightly earlier have also been interpreted as imposing a similar obligation. In 386, Pope Siricius authoritatively interpreted the Pauline text "a bishop must be the husband of one wife" to mean a cleric must have been married only once and was to live a life of continence after ordination. However, "despite six hundred years of decrees, canons, and increasingly harsh penalties, the Latin clergy still did, more or less illegally, what their Greek counterparts were encouraged to do by law — they lived with their wives and raised families. In practice, ordination was not an impediment to marriage; therefore some priests did marry even after ordination." "The tenth century is claimed to be the high point of clerical marriage in the Latin communion. Most rural priests were married and many urban clergy and bishops had wives and children." Then 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 of 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".