Killaloe Forum on the Diaconate: Tony Flannery

Since I got involved in the reform movement in the Church with the ACP some five years ago I have attended many meetings and gatherings on various aspects of reform. Last night’s meeting in Clare, organised by the Killaloe Forum on the Diaconate, was probably the most hopeful of them all.
First some background: Two years ago the diocese organised a listening process. By all accounts this was both extensive and very well done, and resulted in the drawing up of a Diocesan Pastoral Plan, which was launched about a year ago. This document gave a clear sense of direction for the diocese into the future, and was based on the ideas of equality and participation of all the believers. Then, out of the blue, Bishop Kieran O’Reilly announced last month that he was planning to introduce the Permanent Diaconate, and invited people to come forward for this new role, but that it was only open to men. This had not been part of the pastoral plan.
The reaction from some women in the diocese was swift and strong. A number who were already very involved in pastoral work at parish and diocesan level got on local media to express their objection to this development. This quickly gained momentum, and a public meeting was called for Monday, Sept. 15th.
To be fair to Bishop Kieran, he took note of what was happening, and a letter from him was read out at all masses in the diocese last weekend saying that the proposal had been put on hold for the present, while discussion continued.
Last night’s meeting was attended by close on two hundred people, most of them women. The four women who spoke all described themselves as ordinary women. This was true in the sense that none of them had put their heads above the parapet before, and were not publicly known, though all had a long record of involvement at parish and diocesan level. But in every other way Martina, Kathleen, Rita and Mary were anything but ordinary. All of them were excellent communicators, and made their points clearly and effectively. They spoke without rancour or bitterness, and showed no sign of having any ‘agenda’ or ‘chip on their shoulder’ except their objection to the present proposal. They spoke persuasively about the sense of hurt and rejection they felt when they heard of the bishop’s plan. They said that most of the work that would be done by these deacons was already being done at local level by women, and that a great deal more was possible, even within the present laws of the Church, and was happening in other countries. Why now, they wondered, did the Church want to push them aside and replace them by a ‘further layer of clericalism’ open only to men.
The discussion from the floor was lively and almost totally supportive. Other women also spoke of their hurt, and reminded us males present that it was difficult, if not impossible, for us to realise what it was like to be a woman in the Catholic Church. I was pleased to see a large number of the priests of the diocese present, and those who spoke, with one exception, were very supportive of the women.
A couple of things were clear to me at the end of the night. The first is the enormous power that women have in our Church, if they can only exercise it. Most parishes are almost totally dependent on women for their existence. Secondly, all the work put into education in the faith is paying off, because both the four speakers and many who spoke from the floor were able to express themselves in simple, but erudite, ways that was most impressive. (One priest who spoke from the floor suggested they they were not properly ‘catechised’; he was seriously off the mark!) Clearly we now have an educated membership in our Church who can no longer be ordered about by authoritarian bishops and priests who refuse to listen.
I think it can safely be said that any notion of a Permanent Diaconate in Killaloe diocese is off the agenda for many a day. And I suspect that any other bishop who may be thinking of introducing it will have second thoughts. I also hope that in other places, like Dublin, where it is already introduced the women will now find their voice, and will make it heard in as organised and effective a manner as the women of Clare.
Yes, there is a new dawn coming in our Church.

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  1. Thank you Tony for your hope-filled report on last night’s meeting in Clare. Well done to the team of committed and courageous women who organized the event! May it be the first of many such meetings. It is so good to read the reports of the Gathering in today’s Irish Times. The fact that Kieran O’Reilly has put the proposal on hold and is willing to engage in further discussion and dialogue around the concerns being expressed is heartening.

  2. More spiritual power to the ladies of Killaloe! We have had a permanent diaconate for males only, in Edmonton, Alberta for quite some time. I haven’t any evaluative comment as I am not associated with a parish that avails of the ministry. I wouldn’t imagine, I would call these deacons, the movers and shakers of the Church! It would seem to be quite a sublime service, but, is probably vital for those churches that want it. The permanent diaconate for males only would not support the women’s cause. Good on the women of Killaloe!

  3. Not all women in the Killaloe Diocese share this view. It is unfair and wrong to deny men who may feel called to this vocation which is their right as baptised Catholic Christians. Where is the equality for them. Why should men in my Diocese be excluded when there are already many Deacons now serving in other Dioceses. Where are the voices of those men who wish to serve in our Church ? Women have to explore their way of service in the Church but please do not deny men their right to a vocation which is available in the Church at this time. And no the issue is not closed as women who wish to see the Diaconate go ahead need their voices heard also.

  4. Well said Anne.It is very unfair for men who feel called to this ministry within Killaloe to be excluded. I agree totally. Maybe I will be accused of being biased since I am a male !!!!!

  5. Fr. Kieren says:

    I must admit that I am part of a Diocese that does not have permenant Deacons. I think that there is justified questions being asked concerning clericalism, and perhaps the danger of seeing such Deacons as some form of substitute priest. In fact one could argue that there is little that a deacon does that members of the laity cannot.
    However, it is important to note that the ministry of the Permenant Diaconate was promoted and encouraged by Vatican II, the question therefore must be asked whether we really do accept the teaching of the Council in full or only the bits we personally like or those bits that fit into our agenda.
    For my own part, I’m not sure where I stand regarding the permenant diaconate as I am yet to meet anyone who feels they have a distinctive vocation to that ministry.

  6. Mary Vallely says:

    We had five men ordained into the Permanent Diaconate here in Armagh last Sunday. I know one personally and he will make a great deacon, no doubt at all about it. I am sure they are all good men of faith and I have huge respect for the commitment they’ve made as the training was long and rigorous with regular, stringent interviews along the way AND their spouses had to be TOTALLY supportive. That said, I find much to alarm me in the choosing and training of these deacons.
    I applaud the women of Killaloe. There must be something in the air there that stirs their spirits! I can also see how those who would yearn to be deacons feel frustrated at this door being (temporarily?) shut to them. What is so wrong with opening up the P.D. to both men and women?? THAT is what most of us do not understand.
    There is a photograph taken of the five new deacons standing on Armagh’s cathedral steps with our new Primate and supported by dozens of priests from the archdiocese, clad in beautifully crisp and clean flowing chasubles (who sewed and laundered them, I wonder?) and it just looks so anachronistic in this day and age. Unnatural even. Not a woman about. Maybe I should head to Killaloe to get some of what those women have. Chutzpah? Good on their Bishop, by the way, for listening to them and being open to dialogue. 🙂

  7. Just to say I am glad that there is a discussion on this issue. The spokesperson on the news on Tuesday lunch time news was a breath of fresh air. She was measured and respectfull and she has made it possible to have a measured and mature debate on this issue. We need more discussion in areas that affect the future of the church. I commend Bishop Reilly on his honest responce to the issue. I hope the we as a church will be open to the holy spirt on this issue and we can move on with purpose and hope for a bright new dawn.

  8. Peter Clifton says:

    Like Michael @ 4, well said Anne @ 3. In many dioceses in England and Wales the service of deacons is now highly valued. I can think of at least three benefits which these men bring in their ministry. (1) Liturgical, in enhancing the principal Sunday Mass by carrying out the diaconal function in the liturgy. (2) Relieving the load on the parish priest by conducting baptisms, marriage services, and funerals (as to the last two, there are now many, many cases in which a couple or bereaved family would not want, or understand the desirability of having, a Mass). (3) Most important of all, the ministry of friendship or charity, visiting the elderly, sick and housebound. Far better to have this male-restricted ministry than not at all.

  9. Denis Moroney says:

    To Anne3 and Michael4
    How can you possibly lament about men being now excluded from the diaconate?
    That doesn’t make sense at all… It’s the women that have been excluded from the start. Don’t you get it?
    This vocation should have been offered to men (of course!) AND ALSO WOMEN.

  10. Paddy Ferry says:

    I agree completely with Denis @9. I had been meaning to make the same point myself.

  11. Equality, Inclusion, Mutuality come under one heading, Justice. Why would anyone not want to support the Women in Clare in their quest for Justice?

  12. No, I don’t agree with you Denis. This is an ordained ministry in the Church open only to men as is the Priesthood. These women in Co. Clare who so hastily organised a meeting did not consult many women and men on the Parish Councils throughout the Diocese beforehand. One days notice on a Parish bulletin is not enough time to give to those who have to travel further afield. These women in Co. Clare are not only interested in the Diaconate, they also want to be Priests. I don’t agree with them and also there are many women in the Killaloe Diocese who feel the same as myself. We want to be part of the Catholic Church as it is. If I don’t agree with the Teachings of the Catholic Church, I will go elsewhere. Nobody would stop me. These women talk about inclusiveness and yet they left out the majority of the Diocese and also those men who wish to serve Christ as Permanent Deacons in His Church. It is wrong to stop Vocations which is rightly theirs as Baptised Catholic Christians. It is very wrong and it is hurting us and the whole Body of Christ. Jesus was completely obedient to the Father to the point where He was crucified for our sins. Rebellion in the Church is re-crucifying Christ all over again. I personally don’t like the kind of Church you want, which is divisive, rebellious and which bears no fruit. Every religious order that goes against the Church’s teaching is dying out in Ireland. Just look at them. Most of them have abandoned their charisms, they engage in all sorts of other philosophies which are anti Christian and then expect Vocations. What young person in their right mind would join a Religious Order that is so divided and without any form of identity. How many active women’s religious orders are flourishing in Ireland. Absolutely none. That says it all. The Orders that do flourish and where Vocations to the Priesthood flourish are in those Communities where they are obedient to Christ and the Teachings of the Church. That is the reason today why there are so few men in the Seminary. Disobedience bears only bad fruit in the Church. To deliberately take away the Vocation of any man who wishes to serve Christ in the Church is absolutely unbelievable. How dare anyone do such a thing before the Lord ?

  13. I imagine that the Deaconate is only open to men for insurance sake. The sixth step of the process of priesthood is called the Deaconate, and so, should the Church, ever decide to have Deacons celebrate the Eucharist, then, they want to guarantee, they are only men. I’m assuming. I am of the opinion that woman deacons is not foreign to the tradition of the Church, but, I know that is, heavily debated. Ideally, our laity ought to be called forth to do the ministries that are ascribed to a deacon, another heavily debated issue. Anne, I hear your frustration. Justice needs fair application! Unfortunately, on the issue of rebellion, well, a scriptural source that I always go to, on this subject, is from the Old Testament. The place where it is said, “Do Not Harden Your Hearts, As They Did At Meribah”. The consequence for being stiff-necked and hardening one’s heart, is that one does not enter into the Lord’s rest. Being Stiff-necked and hard-hearted is the problem. Unfortunately, we cannot know for sure, who the truly rebellious are in the RC Church today, what with the presence of both pre-Vatican II adherents and post-Vatican II adherents. On the issue of whether or not women ought to be priests, it’s not clear, who is right….those who oppose it, or those who support it. Yes, I agree, spiritual rebellion is a problem…but, who, absolutely, positively, are the rebellious?
    Since, we really cannot identify this, then, we have to examine the issue with knowledge, patience, open-ness, wisdom, honesty, clarity, and CHARITY. No injustice to male or female in this regard, is God’s doing.

  14. Further to my above comment…. I did not use the word, “obedient” in the list of attributes to examine the issue of whether the deaconate ought to be open to men and women. Our first obedience is to Christ and his Word. As Catholics, it has been drummed into us, that the Official Teaching of the Church, is God’s Word and Way. That may or may not be true, and for many of the contemporary pastoral issues of the Church today, it is extremely necessary and responsible to keep looking and hearing for Christ. The Church’s teaching has not always been just and correct, especially in the light of God’s truth.

  15. Mary Vallely says:

    “Rebellion in the Church is re-crucifying Christ all over again.” Harsh words, Anne @12, harsh words and unjust though I can feel and understand the anger and emotion behind them.
    There is nothing whatsoever wrong with wanting women to be treated in the same way as men. To me it’s the most natural, normal thing in the world. The Jesus of the Gospels did not see any difference in gender or the status quo of the time.
    Priests who left to get married and who have been dismissed in an appallingly unchristian fashion is another injustice. Do we stay silent on these matters or try to draw attention to them?
    We are ALL church and we need to listen to the voices of the hurt. I hear yours and I hope you hear ours. It is good to debate these issues, all the same, and fair play to you for coming on here to write in such an honest fashion. Discussing differences in the open is such a new concept in our church and we’re all still learning how to do that in a respectful manner. Let’s keep this debate going.

  16. Darlene @ 13, Pope St. JP II said no to women’s priests. There is clarity on this point. The Church has taught definitively on this matter. There is no ambiguity.

  17. Joe Reilly says:

    This is one of the most important steps taken by any group in the church in recent times.
    Standing up and speaking out for what is right is not easy but if the church is to have any future then groups like this one in Killaloe have to find their voice.
    So many dioceses (like theirs) have been through ‘listening processes’ with conclusions presented which had no resemblance to anything that was said at the meetings. But this is the first time lay people spoke up and said this is not good enough. It is disrespectful to all those who give time and commitment to such meetings and it is disheartening and no longer acceptable.
    I commend their Bishop for his willingness to acknowledge the hurt his actions caused and his humility in correcting his mistake. I hope this is the first such group who find their voice.
    It may be ironic but in the times we are living through lay people, rather than the clergy, have a much greater chance to get Bishops to listen to them – especially women. Let’s encourage them to find their voice more and more. I believe it truly is the way of the future.

  18. Shaun, Joe Reilly inadvertently provides you with a timely, astute, and appropriate response. I defer to him.

  19. I think the good ladies of the Diocese of Killaloe have turned the spotlight on the elephant in the room that our hierarchy have tried to pretend doesn’t exist – the ordination of females to the diaconate.
    Whether or not female deacons in ancient times were technically “ordained” remains a subject of great debate but in the early 1970s, Pope Paul commissioned a study into whether females could be ordained to the diaconate. The report was suppressed but was leaked exactly 40 years ago in the influential scholarly journal Orientalia Christiana Periodica; that verdict was that “theologically, in virtue of the use of the Byzantine Church, it appears that women can receive diaconal ordination.”
    In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued Inter Insigniores, the declaration on the admissibility of women to the priesthood which provided the foundation for the (in)famous Ordinatio Sacerdotalis by Pope John Paul II. When the CDF issued their declaration, they waved their hands in the air about female deacons saying “it is a question which must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas.”
    I get the distinct impression that the bishops in Ireland, England and Wales in their usual “keep your head below the parapet” mien are prepared to let parishes suffer a lack of pastoral service rather than risk getting embroiled in any controversy over female deacons. What really frustrates me is that I am sure that the vast majority of them, on an individual basis, would have no particular problem with female deacons but they haven’t the guts to come out and say so.

  20. Jackie Minnock says:

    There is a history of women deacons in the Church – the facts are there if looked for. I am soul-weary of the injustice of this particular topic – and many others in our Church. I refuse to be told to go elsewhere because of what I believe. If we didn’t go elsewhere after the scandal of child abuse in our Church – for we believe the message and want to work through our faults and failings – why should be heading for the hills now? This topic is not a scandal – its not a crime against humanity-it is an act of injustice against women in the Church. The Deacons from Armagh will be of service to the Church – but it could have been a combined and multifaceted service had women been included.

  21. The Elephant in the Church, A Woman’s Tract For Our Times, was launched last week. In it Mary T Malone traces the historical place of women in the Church.
    Mary T traces the history of women in the Church from the time of Jesus of Nazareth. She shows in her book that women have a Tradition in the Church. The Tradition of women in the Church is carried on and lived below the parapet, under the rule and thumb of a patriarchal and hierarchical institution.
    Mary T demonstrates the authenticity of the equality of women living in the Church, but the all male hierarchy and their misogynistic beliefs quelled women’s equality. This they did based on the insidious teaching ‘For Adam was formed first, then Eve; And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.’ (first Letter to Timothy ( 2:11-15) Eve was formed second and sinned first.
    I’m reading The Elephant in the Church for the second time. The more I absorb what Mary T has written in her book the more I say to myself,’How can any man in the twenty first century be part of an organisation that excludes women, half of the human race?
    I am now officially a disciple of Mary T Malone, who I believe is a modern day mystic. Along with the women of the Gospels, she is a follower of Jesus of Nazareth and she is part of the Tradition of Women Christians who have always been there.

  22. Deacon Phoebe of Cenchrae says:

    There is more information on this particular elephant in the church in the work of Phyllis Zagano on Women and the Diaconate.
    And by the way,every Irish bishop was given a copy of her latest book,so at least they have the information at their fingertips.
    One last point about elephants: they are gentle animals…until provoked!…

  23. Perhaps the men in Armagh who have been newly ordained to the Permanent Diaconate should put their new male-only ministry on hold in solidarity with the women and men in Clare?

  24. Mary Vallely says:

    You cannot change a mindset overnight, Nuala @23. I have the greatest respect for these new deacons and I believe that we need to try to persuade those who do not think it the most natural thing in the world that, regardless of gender, charisms should be available to be used for the good of all, to think again. That will take time, effort and prayer. We’re planting ‘thinking/reflecting/questioning’ seeds here and it will take time for them to grow but grow they will. 🙂

  25. I fully agree Mary @24, the Church is on a two thousand year learning curve. But there are also times in the Church’s history when old ways are abandoned for new ways such as the radical decision to set aside circumcision to allow for the inclusion of the gentile Christians into the fledgling Church. As Jackie above @20 points out this topic is not a scandal, it is not a crime against humanity, it is an act of injustice against women in the Church. Justice delayed is justice denied.

  26. Dear Onlooker?
    The unavoidable reality as scripture tells us…..”His thoughts are not our thoughts….and His ways are not our ways…therefore….there is enormous room for great discrepancies between what we say is correct and true, and what God says is correct and true…just the way it is…however, the more a person journeys deeper into Christ….the greater, the ability to align with God’s thinking and doing. It is not evident to me that there are many such persons leading the Church today.

  27. In the link provided by Deacon Phoebe of Cenchrae @22 above, Dr Phyllis Zagano says,
    ‘…Portions of the document hint at the iconic argument that I mentioned earlier, arguing that, even if women could function as deacons, they could not actually be persons who were in persona Christi servi – in the person of Christ the servant – because, the document argues, the deacon is more than a functionary: a deacon images Christ and women are incapable of so imaging Christ…’
    I wonder was I better off before the writings of Mary T Malone woke me out of my blissfully ignorant slumber. No man can imagine how wounding it is to be treated as a lesser human being because of one’s gender.
    Having worked together for the last thirty five years raising our kids and getting them through college, I look across the kitchen table at my husband and I know that I am his equal and he looks back at me and knows that I am his equal. Nobody tells us this. We know it because what we have achieved we achieved together.
    I could never again be part of an institution that thinks I am a lesser human being. So I will continue to bake, break and bless bread and share it with whoever gathers around my table.

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