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 diocesan priests 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 (secularity) rather than at a religious institute.
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 Roman Catholic 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. However, others maintain that this is an error, arguing that early Christianity had no category of ministers called "priests", but all Christians are deemed 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. 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.
The secular clergy, in which the hierarchy essentially resides, takes precedence over the regular clergy of equal rank. The episcopal office was the primary source of authority in the Church, and the secular clergy arose to assist the bishop. Only bishops can ordain Catholic clergy.
One of the roots of the Philippine Revolution was the agitation of native secular priests for parish assignments. Priests of 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".
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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 colour 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".