The Synod, the crisis, and a question: What about deacons?

The Synod, the crisis, and a question: What about deacons? October 9, 2018

Over the summer, as the news broke about the Grand Jury report from Pennsylvania and the deepening crisis surrounding then-Cardinal McCarrick, I began hearing from deacons around the country, asking the persistent question: what about us?

As the weeks have gone on, more have been wondering why there has been no discussion about involving the diaconate in helping to reform, to heal, to accompany the Church and Her members more closely during this troubled time.

Deacons, after all, have a unique role: we live and work closely with the laity, yet also serve alongside the priests and bishops in liturgy and in ministry.  We straddle two worlds.

The National Directory notes:

By ordination, deacons are members of the clergy. The vast majority of deacons in the United States, married or celibate, have secular employment and do not engage exclusively in specific church-related ministries. This combination of an ordained minister with a secular occupation and personal and family obligations can be a great strength, opportunity, and witness to the laity on how they too might integrate their baptismal call and state in life in living their Christian faith in society.

…In collaboration with his bishop and the priests of his diocese, the deacon has a special role to promote communion and to counter the strong emphasis on individualism prevalent in the United States. Set aside for service, the deacon links together the individual and diverse segments of the community of believers. In his works of charity, the deacon guides and witnesses to the Church “the love of Christ for all men instead of personal interests and ideologies which are injurious to the universality of salvation. . . the diakonia of charity necessarily leads to a growth of communion within the particular Churches since charity is the very soul of ecclesial communion.”

It continues:

The majority of deacons in the United States are married. These men bring to the Sacrament of Holy Orders the gifts already received and still being nurtured through their participation in the Sacrament of Matrimony. This sacrament sanctifies the love of husbands and wives, making that love an efficacious sign of the love of Christ for his Church. Marriage requires an “interpersonal giving of self, a mutual fidelity, a source of [and openness to] new life, [and] a support in times of joy and sorrow.” Lived in faith, this ministry within the domestic Church is a sign to the entire Church of the love of Christ. It forms the basis of the married deacon’s unique gift within the Church.

…A deacon and his wife, both as a spiritual man and woman and as a couple, have much to share with the bishop and his priests about the Sacrament of Matrimony. A diaconal family also brings a unique presence and understanding of the domestic family. “By facing in a spirit of faith the challenges of married life and the demands of daily living, [the married deacon and his family] strengthen the family life not only of the Church community but of the whole of society.”

So we have to ask: what about deacons?

As husbands, fathers, grandfathers and workers in the secular vineyard, deacons have much to offer, and much to contribute, during this urgent moment in the history of the Church. Yet, thus far there has been little effort to include deacons or their families in the ongoing discussions about how to address the sex abuse crisis now roiling the faithful. Perhaps even more surprising: there has been no mention of any deacons involved in the Synod presently taking place in Rome. Some of my readers have wondered: are any deacons even there?

Recently, I had a discussion with my pastor on this subject. “People will say things to me that they won’t say to you,” I told him. “Let me tell you what I’m hearing.”  I shared with him the anxieties and anger of some of the people in the pews — and the spoken desire of so many who have told me they want the Church to listen, to respond, to be accountable. They want their voices heard. I’m sure there are more deacons out there who could offer similar witness — and even, perhaps, help find us a way forward.

And then there is the deacon’s special relationship to the priesthood. Deacons work closely with their pastors and priests, bound together by the unity of Holy Orders. Now, more than ever, our priests need us. Many priests are in crisis right now. They need our support, our prayers, our fellowship, our fraternity; they need to be reminded, more often than not, of the joy intrinsic to the diaconal spirit — the great privilege of serving the people of God! At the convocation for deacons in my diocese, Brooklyn, a few months back, Bishop Frank Caggiano spoke of his years as director of diaconate formation in the diocese and described, movingly, how this ministry had helped him rediscover the joy of his priesthood.  It’s a joy we all share, and want to pass on.

So, the question remains, for all those leading the Church right now: what about deacons?

We’re here to help. We’re here to listen. We’re here. 

What can we do?


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