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Church needs more deacons

Opinion

Vocations to the permanent diaconate are growing faster than any other vocation in the Church.

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In Australia the number of deacons is still small but it’s growing quickly. It could double or treble in the next 10 years.

Records show there were 94 deacons in Australia in 2009-2010 and now there are 217 – however the real growth has been in only a handful of dioceses, namely Adelaide, Sydney, Parramatta, Melbourne and Perth.

Some Australian dioceses have no deacons, some have only one or two. Some dioceses with deacons do little to promote vocations to the diaconate.

Last year the National Association of Deacons (NAD) prepared a draft submission on the diaconate in Australia for the Plenary Council. The submission was sent for consultation to every deacon who could be contacted and many of their comments were included as an addendum to the final submission.

In the submission the Association appealed to the bishops in every diocese to make a deep commitment to the permanent diaconate and to the promotion of vocations to the diaconate.

“Many Australian Catholics still know little about deacons and our ministry,” the submission said.

“If there were a solid commitment to the diaconate and to the promotion of the diaconate and to vocations to the diaconate, the number of deacons in Australia could double or treble within the next 10 years.

“We share Pope Francis’ vision for diaconal ministry and a diaconal Church. We believe that deacons can do a great deal for evangelisation and renewal in our Church.

“We wonder why every diocese is not enthusiastically embracing the diaconate and promoting vocations to the diaconate.”

All deacons are based in a parish or Eucharistic community, but for many their primary ministry is in some area of poverty or other human need. This, of course, includes spiritual poverty.

Many deacons are chaplains in areas including hospitals, prisons and schools, and around the world deacons work with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Pope Francis has called deacons “the guardians of service in the Church: service to the Word, service to the altar, service to the poor”.

All dioceses have dedicated people doing diaconal work – in chaplaincy, pastoral care, evangelisation, social welfare ministries – that demonstrate Christ’s love to the world. The NAD believes many of them could be encouraged to discern whether or not Jesus Christ is calling them to express that love through the diaconate, saying it’s impossible to overestimate the value of the grace of ordination.

The Association believes the small number of deacons is hindering the ministry of the Church.

Pope Francis, in his message to the 50th anniversary conference of the International Diaconate Centre in Rome called deacons ambassadors of Christ, “ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death”.

A large part of the deacon’s role is to work to encourage other ministries, and the Association said some people seem to see the diaconate as a threat to lay ministry. A deacon who isn’t stimulating lay ministry is failing in his own ministry.

The Association believes with so few deacons the ministry of the Australian Church is hampered. The Australian Church has a powerful tool for evangelising and ministry waiting to be used fully in the way the Vatican Council intended. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit that is failing to be used to the full.

The Association hopes in the future there could be a rich harvest of men in ordained ministry to serve Jesus Christ and his people and to be a witness to Christian family life in every diocese in Australia.

Deacon Nick Kerr, of the Adelaide Cathedral Parish, is chair of the National Association of Deacons and a member of the leadership team of the International Diaconate Centre.

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