First Permanent Deacons being ordained in 2012
The Permanent Diaconate in Ireland
In 2008, the plans by the Irish Episcopal Conference were approved and permission was granted for Bishops in Ireland to invite men forward for formation as permanent deacons. Initially two Dioceses (Dublin and Elphin) launched formation programs with the result of the first Permanent Deacons being ordained in 2012. There were eight men in the Archdiocese of Dublin and six men in Diocese of Elphin, a total of fourteen.
Since then eleven more dioceses have launched formation programs and to-date there are ninety-seven ordained deacons throughout the island of Ireland (North and South) and there are a further thirty five men in formation.
Challenges and Opportunities
The introduction of the Permanent Diaconate has been a major development for the Church in Ireland. Deacons are providing a much needed addition to ministry at various levels and have been well accepted by the vast majority of Clergy and Laity. There are both challenges and opportunities for the church in Ireland with regard to the development of the permanent diaconate. Some of these being:
Formation and on-going formation
There is an opportunity now to review and enhance the various selection and formation programs across the diocese and to look at the possibilities for on-going formation of ordained deacons. Outside of the need for on-going formation, there is little opportunity for deacons to formally meet together at a Diocesan or National level to share experience of their ministry and strengthen their sense of diaconal fraternity.
With the decline in vocations to priesthood and the increasing shortage of priests, there is a danger that the increased use of a Deacon as minister of Word and Altar would overshadow his ministry of Charity. This is further challenged by current public health restrictions introduced by the Government to combat the COVID-19 pandemic which curtails priests over the age of seventy from being in public ministry. There is a danger that the Deacon’s time will be consumed into liturgical roles and he will not have sufficient time to devote to his service to those in need. There is an opportunity here for the church to involve laity to a greater degree in the liturgical life of the parish and develop a real collaborative model of ministry.
Women & The Diaconate
It would be remiss of me not to mention, or to try to hide the reality that there a growing number of voices calling for the inclusion of women in the diaconate. It is possibly a reason why a number of Bishops in Ireland have not yet moved to establish the permanent diaconate in their diocese?
In summary I would say that the establishment of the permanent diaconate in Ireland has been very well received in the dioceses that have done so. We are living right now in a very dynamic time in the life of the church. We have had the damage caused by the abuse scandals, coupled with a decline in faith and religious practice, particularly in our youth and young parents due to secularisation and materialism. Perhaps now with the life changing impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic, people will take stock of what is important in their lives, and in response to this the Church will emerge with a more authentic and collaborative model of ministry to address the faith needs of our generation.
A number of the point that I have made in this short article are gleaned from a more comprehensive article in The Furrow, Nov 2017, by Fr. Michael Duignan, the National Director for the Permanent Diaconate in Ireland. He is now the Bishop of Clonfert since 2019.
Deacon Eric Cooney