Deacons: clericalised laymen?

02/10/2018Print This Post

Down and Connor diocese will very soon have its first group of nine Permanent Deacons and already the process of their being clericalised has begun, in spite of Pope Francis decrying clericalism in the Catholic Church!

One wonders why all the deacons are men. There is now good evidence that the early diaconate had both men and women. Why a long period of discernment and long period of intense training for a role that any lay person can currently perform (except preach during Mass) – and many do, with little or no training? When I was appointed Reader and later an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist absolutely no training was given, no prior explanation was given to the local congregation and no leaflet from the bishop by way of explanation. After such a long period of discernment and training why were these men not ordained as married priests rather than deacons?

Last Sunday a professionally designed and produced leaflet from the bishop was distributed to the congregation which was then read out by the presiding priest in place of the sermon. One of the tasks listed for the new deacon was The Ministry of the Altar, when the deacon would assist the priest at the altar during Mass and distribute Holy Communion, as well as distributing Holy Communion in hospitals and in the homes of the sick, housebound and the dying. Why does he act as a glorified altar server, all dressed up in dalmatic vestments standing next to the priest at the altar as if it was a concelebrated Mass, other than clericalising him in the eyes of the congregation. The wearing of black suits and Roman collars helps reinforce that clericalisation. Why is he distributing Eucharist at Mass, in hospitals and in homes when that is already being done by lay people?

Instead of laicising the clergy the Church now engages in clericalising the laity!

The parish bulletin informed us that a reception was being planned for the new deacon after his first Mass officiating as a permanent deacon. Interestingly, when Readers of the Word and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist are commissioned not a word is said to the congregations and certainly no ‘celebration’ has ever been organised by the parish to welcome them to their new role.

The Deacon: What need is he fulfilling?

None of this diminishes my admiration for the individual Permanent Deacons, for the long time they have spent in discernment and training, for the ongoing support of their wives and families and for the service they have volunteered to offer to their local parish communities. My worry is about increased clericalisation. My query is about how their presence solves the urgent problem of the increasing absence of Sunday Mass due to an ever decreasing number of priests, why the permanent deacons are being clericalised by standing beside the priest at the altar in full diaconate vestments during Mass as if they were concelebrating, why the black suits and Roman collars and why are they distributing Eucharist at Mass when that is already being done by lay people.

The New Testament makes clear that the diaconate was instituted to serve the needs of the poor, a role now performed very adequately in almost all parishes by the lay Society of St. Vincent de Paul. What is badly needed in parishes is a good number of well trained laity to lead programmes of adult catechesis and scriptural spirituality. These programmes will be deeply informed by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and lead to parishioners seeing their baptismal role as being active apostles for Jesus the Christ and the spread of His Kingdom on earth, for which they are fed and strengthened by Eucharist and encouraged by their parish community.

Aidan Hart, Oct 2nd, 2018

Comments

8 Responses to “Deacons: clericalised laymen?”
  1. Martin Murray says:

    I have to stand with you on this one Aidan. Any hesitation to do so stems only from my respect for the deacons themselves. I wish them well and hope they are not treated as cheap labour mopping up the loose ends or less pleasant aspects of parish ministry.

    The danger lies in the fact that we are so desperate for reform in the church that we may be sleepwalking into accepting the introduction of another stratum of clerical ministry as the best or only strategy for the future. There is also the suspicion that it is a way of maintaining the old hierarchical system of authority and control that has outlived it’s usefulness and is unfit for purpose. In other words, business as usual.

    If it does have merit, it probably lies in allowing the punters in the pews to get used to married men in clerical garb leading and preaching. A first step in achieving acceptance for married priests.

    But of course as you point out it does nothing to address the gender issue. On the contrary, by restricting it to males, the introduction of the permanent diaconate may well given both patriarchy and clericalism a shot in the arm.

    Time will tell if this is a positive or negative development.

  2. Martin Murray says:

    One also has to wonder if the disproportionate amount of both training and celebration that you point out serves only to widen the gap between clerics and laity rather than narrow it, giving continuing credibility to the dangerous notion of ontological difference between us.

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    There is no doubt that the creation of the Permanent Diaconate has just given us another level of clericalism with fewer fine garments, mind you. Ironic, isn’t it, just when Pope Francis has warned us of the dangers of the disease of clericalism too!
    Armagh diocese ( ok, archdiocese to be precise) has had two separate PD ordinations so there are now about 10 PDs working in the diocese. Like Martin, I won’t take away from the genuine commitment and sincerity of these men. I know two of them well and they are good men. However I refused to attend the ordinations as the whole idea of another male layer of authority in the Church fills me with anger. The training is very rigorous and I am aware of the cost to the men in terms of work load and stress. The fact that the wives must be totally supportive is an added strain. They must be unquestioning Catholics. Thank God my husband has no such yearning as he would never stand a chance with his non- passive wife!
    I watched some of the ceremony on the cathedral webcam and was perplexed as to why the widower among the five last men to be ordained had to promise the Archbishop before the altar never to remarry. Deep down I wondered at the reasons…. and am reluctant to express my real thinking here. Chauvinistic in the extreme I believe.
    I concur with both Aidan’s and Martin’s misgivings and share their anger at why women are shut out from this ministry. ( never mind those devoted religious sisters who have pledged their lives to serving God ). I watch with astonishment sometimes at how the deacon can appear to take over from the priest on the altar. The deacon must read the Gospel, must give the homily and must dismiss the congregation. I believe that this can cause tensions between some ordained and their deacons and lead to unhealthy feelings. I just cannot support the idea of permanent deacons in its present form and it is yet another snub to the Phoebes in the congregation.

    • Aidan says:

      Mary,women may not only have been cut out of the Permanent Diaconate but, if those deacons take over the running of the Celebration of the Word and Communion on Sundays when a priest is not available to say Mass, they will also be cut out of that ministry. Celebrations of the Word and Communion should be run by the current female and male Ministers of the Word (sometimes called Readers), with a little extra training (a role for the new PD?) and guidance from diocesan-prepared booklets. That would help underline to the congregation the ‘priesthood of all Christians’ and that a Roman collar is not required to lead the parish in proclaiming the scriptural Word of God and leading them in prayer on a Sunday or any other day of the week.
      Here is an example of a service for the Celebration of the Word and Communion, prepared in 2013 by the Bishops Conference for England and Wales, with lay men and women in mind for leading the services;

      https://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/CWC/CWAC.pdf

      It is interesting that the English and Welsh bishops in 2013 allow the lay person leading such a Sunday service to give a reflection (sermon?) on the Sunday Bible readings.

  4. soconaill says:

    Well said, Aidan. Clericalism is essentially a view of the church as a support system for clergy, the ‘stars’ of the ecclesial buildings within which they ‘perform’. It views the ‘merely baptised’ primarily as ‘audience’ for and dependents of clergy, and frowns on them becoming active ‘on stage’. The diaconate will emphasise the clear difference between clergy and people and keep ‘the laity’ in their pews, while preserving the superiority of the truly elect celibate priest.

    Even more tragically it will postpone ‘the field hospital’ – the church’s transformation into an outward-focused community, sensitively compassionate toward the socially powerless and therefore socially transformative also.

    One of the Down and Connor deacons addressed the St Malachy’s (Coleraine) congregation last Sunday to ask for prayers and to assure us that by our baptism we are ALL priests and deacons. What that might qualify and call us to do – apart from just turn up in church to hear this – is to remain a mystery in perpetuity.

    I have had enough of this, and will no longer give financial support to a clerical system that will never rise to the challenge of realising the role of the baptised Christian in the world outside. I belong to the Catholic diaspora now, in search of others equally alienated. The Irish Catholic clerical system will never change so long as it is confirmed in its own complacency and aloofness, rather than allowed to decay as soon as possible to a point of such weakness that it will have no option but to wise up.

    • Aidan Hart says:

      Sean, your struggle applies to all of us. When faced with the moral corruption scandal of so many priests, bishops and Cardinals around the world and clericalism everywhere, emanating mostly from the Vatican and spreading down to most parishes, we are faced with the question – why or how can I still belong to this organisation?
      For myself, I’m rescued by the Old Testament. God physically rescued the Israelites from degrading slavery in Egypt and made them his ‘special’ people to prepare the world for the coming of His Messiah. They hadn’t got to the land God had promised them before they began to rebel against God. Throughout their long history they were constantly misled by the temple priesthood and lay professional prophets who fashioned their religion to suit themselves. The Old Testament is a long story of God’s faithful promise and humanity’s constant ingratitude and unfaithfulness. When you have time read:

      Jeremiah 5:31- 31, 6:13 ff, Jeremiah 6:13, Jeremiah 23:11, Lamentations 4:13, Ezekiel 22:26ff, Hosea 6:9 and Zephaniah 3:3-4. And it was not just the priests and prophets who corrupted their religion but also many of the lay people.

      Jesus repeated the same condemnations and yet talked about the Jerusalem temple being “His Father’s house”.

      There is the dilemma and also the answer, at least for me. I see my Catholic religion as both corrupt and ‘my Father’s house’. I’m not saying that the ‘Father’s house’ is only for Catholics. Jesus has told us that the Father’s House “has many rooms” ( John 14:2), but it is ‘the Father’s house’ for me. It is the part of God’s ‘House’ I was baptised into, am constantly fed by ‘Eucharist’ and Sacred Scripture and the one in which I am called to grow and bear witness to its inner faith in Jesus the Messiah and His Kingdom.

      Grow and bloom where you were planted!

      When the outwardness of religion becomes the end rather than the means and replaces inner faith, trust and love in Jesus the Christ, which it should serve, when privatised and individualised religion replace supportive community and witness to God’s Kingdom, then corruption and clericalism eventually arise, made easy in the absence of open accountability and local synods which include female and male laity.

      Our role as laity is to use the blessing of the ACI website, in its articles and responses and links to other such sites, to fight for the above; in the stark words of Ephesians 5:11-20 “Try to discover what God wants from you, take no part in the futile works of darkness but, on the contrary, show them up for what they are.”

      (My apologies for the length and preachiness of this response but it is from the heart.)

  5. Martin Murray says:

    Neither can I see how the permanent diaconate contributes anything to the move towards the synodal model of church envisaged so long ago by Vatican II and more recently by Pope Francis.

  6. Anthony Neville says:

    The description of the activities of the deacons is indeed worrying. I have not had the experience of seeing one in action. It is pointless if they are just going to take over the functions of the laity. We had no Mass for two weeks recently but had prayer service with Holy Communion each day, conducted mainly by women, without any direction, training or guidance from diocese or clergy.

    For Mary’s information, it was not just the widower who had to promise not to re-marry, I understand married candidates have to promise to remain celibate if their spouse dies.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *