Auto-Demolition in the UK

A Permanent Diaconate for an Evolving Church?

Martin Blackshaw

Archbishop Conti

(Posted 08/04/09  Following my report on the recent closure of Scotland’s last seminary (The Remnant, June 25), I can reveal that Glasgow’s Archbishop Mario Conti has since taken Catholicism in the country another step closer to Protestantism by ordaining twelve men to the permanent diaconate.

Of the twelve, only four meet the preferred criteria expressed by the Popes since Paul VI, which is that permanent deacons should ideally be young, single men who embrace celibacy.

Eight of the men ordained by Archbishop Conti have wives, children and, in some cases, grandchildren. They also have professional careers. We may well ask why His Grace has chosen to apply his own preferred criteria over that of the Popes in this case, but then I think we already know the answer to that question.

It is said that the Fathers of Trent discussed the possibility of restoring the permanent diaconate, although nothing came of their deliberations. It is also said that Pius XII was in favour of its restoration, but felt the time was not right.

If true, I think it fair to state that in both cases the matter under consideration would not have been remotely similar in terms of numbers and application to the present diffusion of married clerics throughout the universal Church.

I understand that in the U.S. alone there are in excess of 15000 permanent deacons. Imagine the number worldwide! How many are married is unknown to me, but I am prepared to hazard a guess that the majority are in the ‘have your cake and eat it’ category, e.g., conjugal freedom and a wee ministry to boot.

Ok, we know that permanent deacons are not priests. They have neither the faculties to celebrate Mass nor hear confessions. Nevertheless, they are a part of the ecclesiastical structure and a great boon for those who agitate for a married clergy.

A permanent deacon can officiate at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He can distribute Holy Communion (although any Tom, Dick or Brenda can do that these days!) It is also within his remit to preach the homily at Mass and read out the Sacred Scriptures. Other duties include officiating at non-Mass weddings and funerals, taking communion to the sick and teaching Catechism.

Michael Davies (RIP) wrote at great length on the similarity between the New Mass and its Anglican equivalent. Dare I suggest that these permanent deacons are the prototype in some minds for a future clergy based on the Anglican model? They are on the increase, after all, while priestly vocations are continuing to decline.

The history of the permanent diaconate is that it existed for around the first five centuries or so of the early Church, during which time some great saintly deacons lived and were martyred such as St. Stephen and St. Lawrence.

One can fully understand why, before the Church was universally established, such men and their particular vocations existed. One can also gauge from sacred history that a majority of deacons lived celibate lives. It was an altogether different era, an era of far greater sanctity and holy zeal.

Even so, by around the fifth century deacons had all but disappeared and the diaconate became a step towards the celibate priesthood. It seems providential, for then the Church was established and the priesthood sufficient in numbers so that deacon assistants were no longer necessary.

Is it, therefore, a sign of the decline of the priesthood in our own time that has raised again in the minds of the Conciliar Popes this apparent need to re-introduce the permanent diaconate? Perhaps the present Holy Father should consider that Paul VI’ 1967 restoration of this office was less a positive sign of the ‘New Pentecost’ than a foreshadowing of a gradual return of Catholicism to the Catacombs. 

At any rate, I fear this resurrection of the permanent diaconate on such a scale as we see today could well fall under the condemnation of antiquarianism as thus expressed by Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei: "One would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Church; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the Divine Redeemer's Body shows no trace of his cruel sufferings."

There is obviously a serious problem with married men at any clerical level in the Church, particularly when it involves resurrecting a 1500-year redundant office in the name of a much misinterpreted pastoral Council (Vatican II). I see liberalism at work here.

Archbishop Conti is reported to have fulfilled a personal ambition by bringing the permanent diaconate to Glasgow. Hence if one’s Catholic conscience had been previously disturbed about the agenda behind the re-institution of this clerical office, it leapt to Def Con One at this disturbing development. For this is certainly an arch-liberal prelate with no discernable soft spot for sacred tradition.

What does it tell us when Churchmen claim that it is impossible for the Church to return to where it was just fifty years ago, yet are quite content to strip our holy religion right back to its infant state of Apostolic times? They hack down the great tree of tradition in favour of a supposed replanting of the mustard seed. Go figure, as they say!