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Archbishop Kieran O'Reilly

Married men to fill priest role

MARRIED men could preside over baptisms, weddings, funerals and other Catholic Church ceremonies in Clare in the coming years, after the Bishop of Killaloe opened the door for permanent deacons in the diocese.

Deacons, according to Bishop Kieran O’Reilly, “will be ordained to work alongside priests and lay ministers, not to replace them”.
Married candidates “must be over 35 years old” and have “the formal consent of his wife, who also participates in the formation programme”.

Unmarried men, over the age of 25, may also become deacons but must make “a solemn promise of celibacy”.

The move was described by Bishop O’Reilly, in a pastoral letter read in parishes around the county at the weekend, as a “restoration” of the Permanent Diaconate. He is inviting men, who are involved in “pastoral leadership in the diocese and believe that the Lord is calling them to the ministry of the Permanent Diaconate, to present themselves to the diocese and so begin a process of discernment”.

Women are not being considered for the diaconate, explained Fr Albert McDonnell, chancellor and diocesan director of the Permanent Diaconate programme.

“It is only men. That is the practice of the Church at the moment. It is in the Sacrament of Orders; diaconate, priesthood and bishops are confined to men. That is the situation, as it is now.

“Obviously, there are those who are disappointed that women are not included but that is not a decision the diocese can make. There are men and women who would prefer if it were possible to include women but it is not possible under the current arrangements,” he said.

In his letter, Bishop O’Reilly said, for many centuries, the deacon worked in close collaboration with the bishop, exercising a ministry of charity, assisting at the Eucharist and preaching the Gospel. Over time, the ministry, exercised by the deacon, was absorbed into the work of the priest. For many centuries, the order of deacon was regarded as a stage on the road to priesthood, rather than a separate order in its own right.

As well as visiting sick or bereaved people, deacons could also celebrate Church sacraments, such as baptism and marriages, or preside at funerals and burials.

According to Fr McDonnell, it will be four years before deacons will receive pastoral appointments.

“The process of discernment involves a decision being made by both parties, the person themselves learning a little bit more about what is involved in being a deacon in our diocese and the diocese learning a little bit more about the person. The person can decide if this is something they want and feel they can do and the diocese decides if we feel it is something that person can do, so it is a decision being made by both parties. That is the first year, making a decision. Then, the following three years are preparation,” Fr McDonnell explained.
This training will be part-time, “allowing it to fit in with people’s work and family circumstances”.

Traditionally, the diaconate was made up of men training to be priests but, in recent years, other dioceses in Ireland have allowed lay men to become deacons. Inte“Countries like Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain went for it almost immediately but Ireland has only done so in the last few years, but different countries move at different speeds. The decline in the number of priests is obviously of relevance as well,” Fr McDonnell said.

“Up to this, in our diocese, if you became a deacon, it was just as preparation for becoming a priest, so you weren’t permanent. This is called the Permanent Diaconate because you don’t go on to become a priest,” he added.

The Diocese of Killaloe has just one seminarian at the moment and he is expected to be ordained next year. A lack of vocations to the priesthood has led to changes within the diocese, including the promotion of lay involvement in the Church and the development of parish clusters. The diaconate will be introduced here gradually and, already, Fr McDonnell has received enquiries. He believes the move will be welcomed.

“People will get used to the idea. Like with anything that is new, people, for a while, will be asking what is it and all the rest. I suppose people won’t really get used to the idea until they become aware and see the work deacons might do in parishes, schools, hospitals and other pastoral ministries. Irish people, who have lived in the United States, would be fairly familiar, from Catholic parishes there, about the presence of deacons. Generally, the experience has been positive,” Fr McDonnell stated.

Candidates must be already involved in some aspect of lay ministry or leadership in the community and are encouraged to contact their parish priest for more information on the Permanent Diaconate.

“This is an expansion of ministry and, for the first time in our diocese, though other countries [and dioceses in Ireland] have been doing it for some time, it involves including married men in ministry,” Fr McDonnell stated, something he believes will be “enriching”.

“Typically, it would be married men. You would get men who are widowed and unmarried men can opt to become deacons. Someone who is not married, you would probably explore with them the option of priesthood but there is provision for unmarried men to become deacons too,” he said. Internationally, however, the practice is commonplace and was initially proposed in the 1960s, as part of the Second Vatican Council.“Countries like Italy, Germany, the United States and Britain went for it almost immediately but Ireland has only done so in the last few years, but different countries move at different speeds. The decline in the number of priests is obviously of relevance as well,” Fr McDonnell said.

“Up to this, in our diocese, if you became a deacon, it was just as preparation for becoming a priest, so you weren’t permanent. This is called the Permanent Diaconate because you don’t go on to become a priest,” he added.

The Diocese of Killaloe has just one seminarian at the moment and he is expected to be ordained next year. A lack of vocations to the priesthood has led to changes within the diocese, including the promotion of lay involvement in the Church and the development of parish clusters. The diaconate will be introduced here gradually and, already, Fr McDonnell has received enquiries. He believes the move will be welcomed.

“People will get used to the idea. Like with anything that is new, people, for a while, will be asking what is it and all the rest. I suppose people won’t really get used to the idea until they become aware and see the work deacons might do in parishes, schools, hospitals and other pastoral ministries. Irish people, who have lived in the United States, would be fairly familiar, from Catholic parishes there, about the presence of deacons. Generally, the experience has been positive,” Fr McDonnell stated.

Candidates must be already involved in some aspect of lay ministry or leadership in the community and are encouraged to contact their parish priest for more information on the Permanent Diaconate.

“This is an expansion of ministry and, for the first time in our diocese, though other countries [and dioceses in Ireland] have been doing it for some time, it involves including married men in ministry,” Fr McDonnell stated, something he believes will be “enriching”.

“Typically, it would be married men. You would get men who are widowed and unmarried men can opt to become deacons. Someone who is not married, you would probably explore with them the option of priesthood but there is provision for unmarried men to become deacons too,” he said.

By Nicola Corless

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