Cardinal Schönborn repeatedly expressed the wish that there be an active deacon in every parish
On the Situation of the Permanent Deacons in Austria
The pioneering stage in Austria began on December 21st 1969 with the first ordination and developed until the present time when the number of permanent deacons reached 750. 150 permanent deacons have since died. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, a jubilee year was proclaimed and the “Wiener Neustadt Manifesto” was published. Deacons are, and always have been, almost exclusively living in a civilian profession. Those deacons working exclusively for the Church do so as pastoral assistants or in other Church-related professions. The Austrian Guidelines foresee a four-year qualified initial and continued formation, as well as a sound involvement of deacons’ wives. In each diocese, there is a wives’ representative who takes care of the issues pertaining to deacons’ wives. Each diocese has a person in charge of the formation – in most cases, a deacon or a married couple – as well as a speaker for the deacons’ community.
The autonomy of the deacons in matters of both formation and ministry, as promoted by the Bishops, has encouraged and strengthened the efforts to achieve a profile of the deacon, clearly differentiated from the priestly ministries and created the possibility for the specifically diaconal charisms to be developed. There are constant efforts to update this diaconal profile and a progress report in this respect was published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. On the same occasion, a book was published on the reappraisal of the development, as well as on the experiences made by the deacons so far and on their perspectives. In order to foster a living diaconal community, a national meeting is held every two years, with the participation of all Austrian deacons, to which the wives are also invited. The dioceses strive to achieve a qualified initial and continued formation as well as the development of the community consciousness, e.g. by means of regular diaconal circles, in the competent diocesan bodies. The “Ruf!Zeichen” magazine is an instrument of communication which is published regularly and tries not only to offer information, but also to strengthen mutual solidarity.
The family and professional competences, as well as the closeness to life which the deacons bring into their ministry are a great gift for the pastoral work, they enrich the specifically diaconal aspect in the Church. The fact that the deacons exercise their ministry without being paid ensures financial independence and lends credibility to their role as “listening post” for the poor and the marginalized. In the area of evangelization, the deacon is asked to be, and is recognized as, “the probation officer in faith”. The fact that the deacon assists in the Mass and his bringing of the worries and needs of the people into the prayers of the faithful helps the community in assuming a diaconal responsibility for all. The merger of parishes into ever-bigger units because of the priest shortage shows that the deacon is increasingly asked to assume the task of a “shepherd” who is on the spot and knows the worries and joys of the people.
The fact that the Council did not decide, in its pragmatic approach, on a certain form of the diaconate, but rather left space for diversified and flexible shaping resulting from the form of life, from the very diverse competences and experiences, as well as from the particular social and ecclesial situation of each local Church, was, without doubt, advantageous. Cardinal Schönborn repeatedly expressed the wish that there be an active deacon in every parish. After the pioneering stage of the permanent diaconate in its first 50 years of existence, its opening for women and thereby the doubling of the number of those ordained for service – a vision for the next 50 years – would be our objective.
Franz Ferstl, Speaker of the Austrian Deacons