Q. Can women be ordained as deacons?
A. No, at this time according to the universal church women are not ordained to the diaconate.
Theologians' research is clear that deaconesses were present, particularly in the Eastern rites, for several centuries. Some were commissioned by a rite of institution, some were ordained. Their ministry appears to have been exercised amongst the women in the communities. The International Theological Commission, in its research document on the diaconate (2003), noted that "The deaconesses ... were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons; ... The Unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, ... is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, ... it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question."
Q. After all these centuries, what led the Second Vatican Council to restore the diaconate as a permanent order of ministry?
A. The idea to renew the diaconate came from many parts of the world during the preparation periods. The bishops at the Council did not see it as a solution to a shortage of priests, but as a way to show clearly the fullness of the ordained ministry which exists to represent Christ and to serve the life of the Church . A major impetus was the realization that the horrors of the Second World War called for a renewal of the Church’s mission, a renewal that must include the ordained ministry. Despite objections that the restoration of the married diaconate would lead to a diminished appreciation of the charism of celibacy for the clergy, the decision was taken to restore the full set of permanent grades or degrees in the Sacrament of Order.
Q. Can deacons help with the shortage of priests?
A. While there are many things that deacons may do that can assist in the pastoral care of the church, they are not substitutes for priests. The policy in our Archdiocese is that a priest will be the canonically appointed leader of every parish.
Q. How does someone know if he has a vocation to be a deacon?
A. There is a maxim that says, “Grace builds on nature”. In many cases, a person’s diaconal qualities have been observed and experienced by friends, family and members of his parish community; in these cases, it is often some of these people, or the local priest, who suggest to a man that he ought to consider the possibility of the diaconate. Perhaps a man has become interested in the diaconate because of his own experience with deacons or through something he has read. In every case, this vocation is a share in the evangelization for which the bishop is responsible. He calls the deacon, confers the Spirit upon him in diaconal ordination, and appoints him to the canonical office where he will serve.
Q. How does a deacon balance family, job and ordained ministry?
A. Very carefully! Most married people already understand the importance of balance in their own family and work relationships. Becoming a deacon adds another set of relationships into the equation. It is never a question of one set of relationships being more important than another is. All of them are critical, and sometimes one relationship takes precedence over another.
Q.Does a deacon receive a stipend?
A. The National Guidelines for the Permanent Deaconate in Australia envisage that some deacons would be in a full-time ministry that would be stipendiary with the usual provisions for superannuation. A part-time ministry would enjoy similar benefits as a lay person engaged in similar pastoral work. The guidelines indicate that older deacons in early retirement would provide for themselves and their families from their superannuation. In the Archdiocese of Melbourne, a deacon could be employed by a church agency, though the majority would be part-time ministers funded from their superannuation.
Q. What is expected of a deacon’s family?
A. No married man may be ordained without the freely given consent of his wife and, naturally, the parents would take into account the welfare of their children.
Q. If there is no priest present, may a deacon preside at the Eucharist?
A. No, a deacon is not ordained to the priesthood. In the absence of a priest the deacon may preside over the community’s prayer; in fact the deacon is the logical person to do so.
Q. Can a parish have more than one deacon?
A. Yes, a parish can have more than one.
This article and the brochure produced with information sourced from:
1. John N. Collins Are All Christians Ministers? Sydney: E.J. Dwyer, 1992.
2. John N. Collins Deacons and the Church Leomister: Gracewing, 2002.
3. Documentation on Permanent Diaconate kindly provided by the Diocese of Broken Bay.
4. Website: http://www.ausdeacons.org/
5. William T. Ditewig 101 Questions and Answers on Deacons New York: Paulist Press, 2004.
6. Permanent Diaconate Working Group in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
7. Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons (Sacred Congregations for Catholic Education and for the Clergy)
8. Guidelines for the Permanent Diaconate in the Catholic Church in Australia