This is a series of essays that will help us to understand the Permanent Diaconate as it comes to life in the Church in Ireland. In order to establish well the Diaconate in Ireland it will be necessary for the whole Church to become familiar with the richness contained in this ministry. Gearóid Dullea’s book provides us with scriptural, historical, liturgical and theological insights into this revitalised ministry in this country.
Donal McKeown is Auxiliary Bishop in Down and Connor. He chairs the Bishop’s Commission on Vocations and Pastoral Outreach to Youth and Third Level Students, and is a member of the Commission for Clergy, Seminaries and Permanent Diaconate.
Diane Corkery lectures in Scripture and is head of the Religious Studies Department at St Patrick’s College, Thurles.
Thomas J. Norris is a priest of the diocese of Ossory. He is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and a member of the International Theological Commission.
Brendan McConvery CSsR is a priest of the Redemptorist order. He is a lecturer in Scripture at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and editor of Scripture in Church.
Pádraig Corkery is a priest of the diocese of Cork and Ross. He is head of the Department of Moral Theology and Dean of the Faculty of Theology in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
Patrick Jones is a priest of the archdiocese of Dublin. He is the Director of the National Centre for Liturgy.
William T. Ditewig is a deacon based in Florida, USA, where he is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St Leo University, Tampa.
Tony Schmitz is a deacon in Scotland. He is Director of Studies on behalf of the Diaconate Commission of the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland and co-editor of the New Diaconal Review.
Gearóid Dullea is a priest of the diocese of Cork and Ross. In 2008 the Irish Episcopal Conference appointed him as coordinator of the Formation Programme for the Permanent Diaconate. He lives in Maynooth, Co. Kildare.
We are conscious of the falling number of priests to serve in our parishes. But this, to my mind, does not mean there has been a falling off of vocations. It is just that the call to serve now takes different forms in the life of the Church and of the community. One of these is the increasing use of deacons to assist the priests in ministry.
This collection of essays, edited by the co-ordinator of the Formation Programme for the Permanent Diaconate, attempts to present parishioners with insights into what the diaconate was historically, and what it will become in future years, as it assumes a greater role in the developing daily life of the parish.
The nine writers, from various backgrounds, cover the roots of the diaconate in scripture, its development, and its nature.
The obvious things, the liturgical aspects of the order are discussed, but so too is the role of the deacon in creating a sense of common purpose, of involvement in social action, and in developing the life of the parish.
There is talk of uniting parishes - and perhaps even dioceses - something the Anglicans in Ireland did many years ago. But is this the answer?
I dread the advent of the larger parish unit. I recall that in the medieval city of London, a very small place in many respects, there were over 100 parish churches, one in nearly every second street. In those little churches, a truer sense of community was created.
In future, we will need deacons, as the contributors to this book rightly emphasis. But we also need to think about the underlying sense of family that should prevail at the basic parish level.
- The Irish Catholic, 3 Jun 2010
One of the key fruits of the Second Vatican Council (1962, 1965) was the recovery of the role of all the baptised within the Church. All the baptised are called to exercise the gifts and duties that arise from their baptism. It is in that context that the Vatican Councils decision to restore the diaconate as a permanent and stable grade of the sacrament of Holy Orders (Lumen Gentium 29) is to be understood. For most people in this country Church ministry has been linked exclusively to priests. The introduction of the Permanent Diaconate in Ireland will require a radical reevaluation of how we talk about and approach ministry in our Church.
With the Permanent Diaconate we are challenged to return to the sources of the lived expression of our faith , particularly sacred scripture and the living tradition of the Church , and appreciate the richness of the Churchs insight into ministry among the people of God. This will become more important for the Church in Ireland as permanent deacons will be ordained in Irish dioceses over the next few years. A deacon is ordained to assist the bishop, and work with his priests, as part of the threefold ancient ministry of the Church. The deacons ministry has a triple focus: (a) of the word , proclaiming, preaching, and teaching; (b) of the altar , in liturgy; and (c) of charity , in the care of the poor and needy, in activating the social teaching of the Church, and in administration. Undoubtedly, as it takes root in the life of our Church, the deacons ministry will adapt to the local particularities of the faith in this country while also learning from the experience of the diaconate in other countries.
As the Irish Church begins to develop an appreciation of the ministry of the permanent deacon, this book gives an introductory appraisal of much that will be useful to comprehend the diaconate and its implications. Its essays explore the scriptural, historical and theological backgrounds to the Permanent Diaconate, as
well as the deacons threefold ministry and the experience of the diaconate abroad. It may be a resource for parish pastoral councils and local presbyterates as they work towards the diaconates introduction here. An enhanced understanding of the Permanent Diaconate will help ensure that its introduction in Ireland can revitalise all ministry in the Church so that the mystery of the One who took , and takes , the form of a servant may inspire ever more deeply all the Churchs service.
National Director of the Permanent Diaconate
Bishop Donal McKeown
The Permanent Diaconate: How Have We Come This Far?
In Ireland, it seems as if the first men to be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate will be taking up their ministry in the year 2012. They entered into their propaedeutic year in 2008 and in autumn 2009 started their three years of formal training leading to ordination. How has the Church in Ireland got to the stage where, for perhaps the first time ever in the countrys Christian history, the decision has been taken to have men ordained to the diaconate, not as a stage towards priesthood but as a ministry in its own right with its own specific theology?
In 1996 there is evidence of the idea of the Permanent Diaconate being discussed at the Irish Episcopal Conference. Deacons have been playing an appreciable role in other countries for nearly forty years. In October 1996 the bishops formally discussed the Permanent Diaconate, and Irish members of the Liaison Committee (between the Episcopal Conferences of the UK and Ireland) were asked to discuss the issue with their colleagues in England, Wales and Scotland. At the March 1997 meeting, a document on the diaconate was circulated to bishops from the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
In March 1998, Monsignor Denis OCallaghan, who had been asked by the Episcopal Commission for Clergy, Vocations and Seminaries to prepare a report on the Permanent Diaconate, made a submission to the Bishops Conference. Further discussions between the Commission, Monsignor OCallaghan, and the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales took place throughout that year.
By March 1999, the bishops had decided that , after Monsignor OCallaghans consultations with bishops in both England and Wales and the USA , they would discuss the matter at length during the non-business meeting to be held in Rosslare in November that year. This discussion took place and the matter was to be further discussed at the March 2000 meeting.
The report of the March 2000 conference meeting suggests that the bishops recognised the need for some decision to be taken on the issue. A paper was circulated from Fr Roland Minnerath and the Commission for Clergy, Vocations and Seminaries was then asked to prepare a memorandum concerning a possible process of selection for candidates and a programme of formation so that a decision could be taken the following June.
At the October 2000 meeting, Bishop Patrick Walsh submitted a memorandum from the Clergy Commission. Following discussion, it was decided that in the light of the pastoral needs of the Church in Ireland, the Episcopal Conference considers it opportune to provide for the ordination of permanent deacons, and that in accordance with the provisions of Lumen Gentium 29b, the Episcopal Conference now seeks the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, John Paul II, for this decision. The Clergy Commission was invited to prepare a memorandum on the proposed role and function of the permanent deacon and a catechesis for priests on the work of permanent deacons. Furthermore, Archbishop Neary would chair a committee to prepare a draft programme of formation.
This committee reported back the following March 2001 with a set of recommendations on selection, age limit, support structures, catechesis, etc. This was referred to the Doctrine Commission who reported back its satisfaction in June 2001. A decision was then taken to set up a new committee to look at the ministry and life of deacons in the country, while the Clergy Commission would prepare guidelines for the assessment of potential candidates.
By September of that year, initial responses from the Apostolic Nuncio and the Holy See were supportive of the idea and they invited the Conference to submit a set of Norms for recognition by Rome. A new committee , mooted the previous June , was then set up with a wider membership. It eventually consisted of eight members plus an Episcopal Chair, and included two lay people. Meanwhile Fr Kevin Doran was asked to co-ordinate the documentation from the Irish Church to ensure that it conformed to Vatican norms.
In June 2002, the draft National Directory on the Permanent Diaconate, prepared by Fr Doran, was examined by the Conferences Department of Catholic Education and Formation and was then discussed at the October meeting where a number of amendments were suggested. Two months later the document , now called The Permanent Diaconate: National Directory and Norms for Ireland , was approved for submission to the Vaticans Congregation for Catholic Education. In December 2004 certain modifications were requested by the Holy See and, with the acceptance of these amendments, the document was finally submitted to the Congregation for Catholic Education for recognitio. This was issued on 18 July 2005 and notified to the Conference at the September 2005 meeting. Ireland now had norms that could be used ad experimentum for a period of six years.
At the March 2006 meeting it was decided by the bishops that a Permanent Diaconate Working Party should be set up to deal with a variety of matters, specifically:
- A national catechesis of clergy and laity regarding the Diaconate;
- Norms for the selection and formation of candidates;
- The implementation of the Directory and Norms.
The relevant Episcopal Commission was also asked to begin discussions with Maynooth in relation to an appropriate programme of formation and academic training.
The Working Group, chaired by Bishop Donal McKeown, met on five occasions over the next number of months. Input to its work came from Fr Ashley Beck, Director of Diaconate Formation in the Archdiocese of Southwark (who addressed the December 2006 Episcopal Conference meeting) and from other members of the Advisory Board of the Commission for Pastoral Renewal and Adult Faith Formation. A straw-poll of the bishops in October 2006 had indicated that about fourteen dioceses were considering the possibility of introducing the diaconate.
The Working Party recommendations were brought to Conference for the March 2007 meeting and proposed:
- That any national catechesis take place in the context of a wider catechesis on ministry. To that purpose, a two-day workshop was organised for early summer 2007;
- Before candidates are selected for formation, that a catechesis should take place at diocesan level, along the lines indicated in Restoring the Permanent Diaconate: Practical Questions to be Addressed in the Irish Context and drawing on National Directory and Norms;
- That particular emphasis be placed on developing an understanding of the Permanent Diaconate among the diocesan clergy, who will be called upon to work closely with the deacons, and who will be primarily responsible for helping the faithful to understand the diaconate, and inviting suitable candidates to come forward;
- That a brochure on the Permanent Diaconate, prepared by the working group, be used to support the catechetical process at diocesan level;
- That the Episcopal Conference appoint a National Director for the Permanent Diaconate;
- As the approval of the National Directory and Norms is for a six-year period, beginning in summer 2005, that the process of evaluation and revision begin by 2009.
The bishops agreed that the working party would prepare job descriptions for any future national director and director of the propaedeutic year. In June 2007 Monsignor Dermot Farrell was appointed as National Director for the Permanent Diaconate.
In October 2007 the programme for the propaedeutic year for candidates was approved and in December 2007 Monsignor Farrell presented to the bishops four documents in relation to various aspects of the diaconal ministry, selection of candidates, and the various dimensions of formation.
When the bishops met in June 2008 they appointed, for a three-year period, Fr Gearóid Dullea as Co-ordinator of the Formation Programme for the Permanent Diaconate. They also decided that local ordinaries should be able to make decisions during the ad experimentum period about whether to accept candidates into formation after they had reached the upper age limit of sixty.
One final piece of the jigsaw remained to be put in place. In March 2009 the Conference meeting established the National Training Authority in accordance with paragraph 52.1 of the National Directory and Norms. Membership would include:
- Bishop Francis Lagan;
- the President and Dean of the Faculty of Theology of St
Patricks College, Maynooth;
- the National Director of the Permanent Diaconate;
- the Co-ordinator of the Formation Programme for the
- the President of Mater Dei Institute of Education;
- Bishop Donal McKeown (Chair).
That body met for the first time on 16 June 2009 to consider submissions for formation of permanent deacons , one from St Patricks College, Maynooth, and one from the Dublin Centre for Formation in Ministry, based at Mater Dei. Subject to some proposed amendments, both of these programmes were accepted as suitable and approved for a period of three years.
And thus the stage was set for the first Permanent Diaconate formation in Ireland. It had taken almost thirteen years from when the idea was first raised at a meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference.
What might be remembered from the process?
- Inspiration for new ideas can come from any part of the People of God. In this instance it came from many quarters, including letters from the faithful, contact with other Episcopal Conferences, and reflections by various thinkers.
- The Permanent Diaconate cannot be seen in isolation but rather in the context of current ecclesiology and theology of ministry.
- Ideas take a period of time to mature. Thus diocesan and national discussions and catechesis are necessary if a new initiative is to be introduced. It is a deficient ecclesiology which assumes that the People of God , and the presbyterate , can simply have something new foisted on them without preparation.
- Much learning can be gained from other neighbouring countries where deacons have been in existence for many years.
- Things happen best when specific people are given either a programme of work to prepare for subsequent meetings or national responsibilities.