The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

If the Anglicans can do it, why can’t Catholic deacons?

The God Googler Mike Hayes is continuing his googling up in Buffalo, and he’s taken the time to raise a question on many minds these days:

we have welcomed married men who have had differences with us into our priestly ministry, but what about offering permanent deacons the same option?

I certainly want to uphold the ministry of deacon as a distinct calling and if celibacy was optional tomorrow, I would hope that many deacons continue to be deacons and not just become priests. Their distinctiveness is something that we should honor and be joyful for their ministry. However, might some of these Deacons felt called to the priesthood and simply chose the diaconate because they had no other option when it comes to ordained ministry? I would wonder why those who have been long time Catholics not be extended the same welcome?


Might we think about those who might feel this way and offer them an opportunity to re-examine their ministry because after all a Deacon has been a loyal Catholic and perhaps have struggled with this for some time.

While I would think most Deacons wouldn’t take the option, I do think that those that would at least want to examine what their call has manifested itself into and see if they really feel called to the diaconate or if they are only become deacons because they can’t be priests. While formation is supposed to weed out these types, I’m sure there are plenty of people who discover a call to the priesthood post-ordination to the diaconate as well.

Calling all Deacons…what thinkest thou?

Well, it is an interesting question.


One concern I’d have is that the vocation could well end up being diminished. Those who might choose this path would have to return to school for more study — plunging deeper into theology and philosophy and liturgy, among other things. Not every deacon is cut out for that, or has the time for that, and this could end up creating the perception of a kind of clerical caste system. (“Too bad about Deacon Greg. He just wasn’t smart enough to be a priest…”)

It might also re-enforce the notion that a lot of deacons are just priest wannabes. (We have enough of those already in the church — and not all of them are ordained.)

And then there is the theology of the diaconate, which holds that the deacon’s role and calling are both distinctly different from those of the priest.
So I think it’s intriguing — but problematic. Thoughts?

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Deacon Scott

posted October 28, 2009 at 9:44 am

I think the diaconate is a unique vocation. I also think it is diminished by deacons pining away to be priests. Until the diaconate is seen as such, it will never reach its full maturity. I am perfectly content to be a deacon and, given the opportunity, would decline becoming a priest.

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Mike L

posted October 28, 2009 at 10:07 am

Personally I would say give them the choice. I would think that those who were married and called to the priesthood would go through the normal route of the seminary, while those that were called to the diaconate would follow that path.
I think that rules limiting God’s options are a bit on the foolish side, and I assume that one needs a vocation to become a deacon just as one needs one to become a priest, so let God make the choice.
Indeed, I think that there is a vocation to holy orders and a separate one to the single life. Perhaps some day the Church will return to that belief.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 11:29 am

The Episcopal church seems to have a healthy diaconate in spite of having prebyteral ordination open to anyone, likewise in the Orthodox Churches where married men can be ordained to the priesthood. It could be the same in the Catholic Church, as long as we have a clear and well developed understanding of the role of each vocation.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 12:04 pm

I’ve come to the opinion – largely through conversations with my mother who is the wife of a deacon – that there should be a path for married deacons to enter the priesthood .. besides widowerhood that is.
I think it should go something like this: married deacons who have been in ministry for a significant amount of time – say 20 years – who don’t have any financial dependents aside from their wives, and whose retirement is already settled could be *invited* by their bishop to discern the priesthood. They would need to have their formation rounded out in whatever ways necessary .. this could be very uneven based on my experience of deacons who range from more experience and education than some bishops to being unable to spell “diaconate.”
For this to happen, I think that there would first need to develop a better sense of the nature of the diaconate. This arrangement would be vulnerable to reinforcing the idea that the diaconate is just a “priest-in-training” so there is a real need that this sense be dispelled since. I think we might even need to see a re-emergence of the historical sense of the hierarchy being deacon->bishop and priest->bishop rather than deacon->priest->bishop .. a triangle rather than a line. And of course, these married priests would not be able to become bishops.
I think that the new Anglican PO would be a great test-bed for this. It would be a reasonable pastoral outreach to a group that is not used to celibacy being inherently linked to priesthood and an opportunity work out the details before bringing it to the wider Church. The Eastern Churches in America would be another good test-bed since right now they only allow married priests from their ethnic homes; priests from Latin areas must still be celibate.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 12:15 pm

1. The prebyetrate and diaconate are two distinct clerical vocations so if a man is honest with himself, God and the Church, he has become a deacon because he is called to the diaconate, not the presbyterate. BUT I could see a rare but actual circumstance of some deaons discerning a ‘call within a call”.
2. More than allowing deacons into the presbyterate, I would HOPE and PRAY that the first good fruit of the Anglican option regarding its possible effect on the diaconate is that we will be seen, acknowledged and treated as CLERGY. We are CLERGY. We have ben ORDAINED. We are not objectively “less-than” in any way, shape or form. BUT oh how difficult it is to be recognized for what you are, what God has called you to be, what the Church has validated and misisoned you to be.
3. Example: clerical clothing. Now this is a MINOR issue is the bigger picture yet it is such a POWERFUL religious symbol that in day-to-day-living it is NOT so small a thing and it, more than anything I have experienced, reveals a diocese or parish or individual’s attitude towards the deacon as an ordained clergyman of the Catholic Church. I for one feel strongly that the collar should be worn in any ministry carried out as a deacon unless it would somehow be an actual detriment, at any event at which one attends as a deacon AND in other circumstances where the DEACON (i.e., a mature intelligent man who should be able to be trusted in how he shall dress)should decide.
4. I personally believe that the #1 reason our universal canonical right to clerical clothing is so limited or even almost non-existent in some places is the fact that most of us are MARRIED. Think about it. Seminarians who may never even actually become clerics wear the collar at will. Religous Brothers wear a collar in many congrgegations. Does the local bishop forbid this because the laity may confuse them with priests? No. Yet this is what we often are told. A more present and visible married clergy in the USA might just begin to be a catlyst for we deacons being reconized as clergy and allowing us to make such decisions as insignificant as how we dress. Canon Law gives US the exemption to clerical clothing. If read carefully and in context I believe one can see the that local ordinary’s right to lay down regulations for this refers to NOT exempting us rather than defining when, where and how. Reread the canon. I would love to hear a canonists take on this who does not have any anti-diaconal agenda.
5. I think that once we reach the point where we are happily accepted and treated as CLERGY, the desires some have for priesthood would dissipate. I think that some of these deacons really are seeking recognition of their public clerical ministry rather than a move up to the second rank of Orders.
6. Just to clear up any questions: I love the vocation to the diaconate and think it is just about the most beautiful thing a guy can be called to embrace. No wannabe here.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 1:18 pm

This almost makes me pine for ordinations per saltem, where a man could be ordained directly to diaconate or priesthood, without a transition to speak of.
Of course, we could also go to the Orthodox model of deacons and priests as “minor clergy,” married or not, and deal with the political/financial impact that would have in order to support those ministers…and their families.
Either way, there simply hasn’t been enough time for the Universal Church to come to terms with the gifts and needs of a diaconate, and shame on us Americans – who have more than half the deacons on Earth – for thinking the rest of the world hasn’t “caught up” with our understanding of the full and equal order the Diaconate is.
Centuries ago, when a “transitional” nature was introduced to the Diaconate, the order was all but done in – and the Church suffered as a result. Why entertain that “upward mobility” even more when we haven’t had the restored order for 50 years?

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Deacon Marty

posted October 28, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I’m quite happy being permanently permanent

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posted October 28, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I’d have to second Paul’s comment. Do away with the transitional diaconate. It’s a modernist relic that would have eliciting much headscratching in the apostolic and patristic eras.
We have an active diaconate in service to the Church right now. We have transitional deacons that scarcely serve in parishes.

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posted October 28, 2009 at 8:07 pm

The decision will be made for us. When there is a shortage of priests, married deacons will be accepted into the priesthood.
Turning back Deacon Greg because he was not smart enough, however, is not something that would ever happen. He would be made a Bishop on the basis of his humility alone.

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Deacon V

posted October 29, 2009 at 12:02 am

I know by posting my thoughts I risk being totally misunderstood, but that’s the downside of electronic conversation.
I am one of “those guys” I suppose because yes, if the priesthood were an option offered me at this stage in my life, I would explore it. I’ve tried to think about this topic from all angles but still feel those who use the “you were called to the diaconate not the presbyterate” logic are missing a valid point. Would not one be perfectly right then, using that arguement, that “you were called to the Episcapal priesthood,or the Lutheran ministry, not the Roman Catholic priesthood”? It’s the same thing.
Man does not stagnant in his faith and in his understanding. Were that true, I’d still be a spiritually lost 23 year old fool. That I had the vocation to marriage, grew in my faith and love of God with the love and help of my wife to a point where in my 40’s His calling to the vocation of ministry through the diaconate was recognizable, should make it even more acceptable that through the gifts of the Holy Spirit gained in this new ministry and in light of the resulting spiritual growth it would be very possible I could now discern a calling to enter even more deeply into His Mystery.
Were this step offered and I to hear his voice, I would have to do what any male-adult Catholic should do. I would understand that it could very well be an authentic calling from God, my “Samuel” moment if you will. I would be required to listen to that voice and seek the understanding necessary to follow it…or ignore it. Which is worse?

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Deacon Bill Ditewig

posted October 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Actually, this is not a new idea. The Canon Law Society of America, for more than two decades now, has approached Rome with the idea that some permanent deacons may also have vocations as presbyters and that this should be explored.
Their rationale developed out of the promulgation of the Pastoral Provision of 1980 outlining the process by which former Anglican clergy could be received into full communion and then, after some prudential period of time, be considered for ordination as Catholic (transitional) deacons and presbyters. The CLSA reasoned that, since these men were being received into full communion as (often married) lay men (since the Catholic Church no longer recognizes the validity of Anglican orders) who are then ordained to the presbyterate, why not consider married Catholic clergy (permanent deacons) for ordination to the presbyterate?
To date, the Holy See has not responded.

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