Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am happy to announce today that, in line with the discipline of the Universal Church, the ministry of the Permanent Diaconate will be introduced in the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
An entire website (catholicdeacon.org.au) has been dedicated to providing information on this new ministry in Melbourne.
This has been on the boiler for some time now, and its final announcement is a matter for rejoicing. The first aspirants will begin their preparation in 2008. For most, this will be the start of a four year preparation for ministry.
Melbourne is the last diocese of Australia to introduce the Permanent Diaconate, although there is some “history” here. As Bishop Hilton Deakin said at the retreat in January for Aspirants to the Diaconate:
The experiment with deacon formation in the 1970’s resulted in disappointment. Today, our situation has changed significantly with the service of so many pastoral associates, most of whom are women. Recruitment and formation of deacons will allow for the reality of service in the archdiocese.
The time taken for reflection and consideration has been beneficial, because it has given Melbourne a chance to observe and learn from the experiences of others. In particular there is a clear preference in terms of the theology of the diaconate to embrace the “minister of the gospel” rather than “servant of justice” model of diaconate (that is, to follow the John Collins understanding of the NT term “diakonia”: see “Servants or Evangelisers?”). There is also to be no confusion on the matter of what sort of beast the deacon is: he is not “half priest/half pastoral associate”, but a holder of a specific canonical, clerical office. At the same retreat, Deacon Paul Russell from Perth made the comment:
There appears to be more than enough need for as many deacons and as many pastoral associates as a diocese can call and form for service. If we envisage a scenario where there is competition between these two forms of service, that would indicate a church that is dying out.
For myself, I am hopeful that the restoration of the Permanent diaconate and the specific understanding of the Deacon as “Evangeliser”/”Minister of the Gospel” will add extra fire to the evangelising mission of the Church in Melbourne.
Expressions of interest are now being called for (speak to your parish priest), but you may be interested to know that an unofficial group of “aspirants” has already been meeting for some years together. This group holds meetings at the Pallotti Centre in Kew fortnightly on Tuesday nights for evening prayer and discussion. Contact me if you want more information.