Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Who stood up for Stephen?: Deacons as Evangelists

Since I am a deacon and my blog is Καθολικός διάκονος, I think it appropriate to note the following from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, released to great fanfare today: "How good it is when priests, deacons and the laity gather periodically to discover resources which can make preaching more attractive!" (Evangelii Gaudium, par 159). I cite this because it is the sole mention of deacons in the entire document. It would be disingenuous of me to insist that I don't find this a bit disappointing because the nature of the restored and renewed diaconate is nothing if not evangelical (see here). Of course, this omission does nothing to dampen my own evangelical fervor.

St. Stephen in glory, by Giacomo Cavedone, 1601

Since Pope Francis' "exhortation" is the post-synodal exhortation for last Fall's Synod on the New Evangelization, convened by Pope Benedict XVI, it is necessary to point out that deacons didn't receive much consideration during the Synod. Hence, it is hardly surprising deacons don't receive much of a mention in the Holy Father's post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation.

It also bears noting, again, as I did at time of last Fall's Synod, that it was the Anglican Bishop of Sheffield, England, Dr. Steven Croft, who mentioned deacons during his brief intervention, during which he said, "Finally, who will be the new evangelisers? I commend further reflection on diakonia and the ministry of deacons." A commendation that largely seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Deacons were mentioned in the Propositions submitted to the Holy Father at the end of the Synod's deliberations, towards the end of Proposition 49 to be exact: "The Synod recognizes and encourages the work of deacons whose ministry provides the Church great service. Ongoing formation programs within the diocese should also be available for deacons."

Looking at the Lineamenta, or, preparatory document, for the Synod on the New Evangelization, there are 30 questions posed in section 22. Number thirty is: "How has the ministry of the permanent deaconate (sic) been included in the Church's mandate to evangelize?" This is the only place where deacons or the diaconate is mentioned. It's not an open question. Deacons, by the very nature of the ministry of our order, are evangelists!


  1. Hi Scott,
    I too have been pouring over Evangelii Gaudium. As you know at the heart of the diaconate is being a "herald of the Gospel" as each of us was told at our ordination. I also keep hoping Francis would perhaps mention deacons specifically in his talks and writings.

    Of course, his greatest witness to the diaconate is how he is living out his own diaconate in his outreach to the poor and marginalized and in his attempts to simplify his life. He bears witness to all of us deacons in this way.

    I ask myself, though, "Would it be too much to ask if Francis were to nod to us a bit in his words as well as his works?"

  2. Yes, Bob. Not sour grapes, but one hopes for more. Sometimes the silence grows a bit deafening, especially in light of all the work that deacons on the ground.

    I have opined before that perhaps Francis' silence on the diaconate may arise, at least in part, from the fact that as of 2012, at least according to Catholic Hierarchy, there are only 11 permanent deacons in the diocese of Buenos Aires. This was challenged by someone (the same person who insisted, wrongly, that Ireland had permanent deacons prior to the relatively recent ordinations), but he never produced anything apart from his own doubt.

    We'll see as things unfold.

    1. I was talking to the former director of the diaconate for my diocese and he and I both commented that the bishops from South America probably have had little opportunity to integrate the permanent diaconate into their diocesan pastoral plans. Having said that, there are about 40K (if I recall correctly) permanent deacons worldwide, not an insubstantial number. I have wondered what ministries permanent deacons have in the diocese of Rome, as there are 114 of them as of 2011.

    2. I feel certain that at some point he will meet with his Roman deacons. Even though we're at the low end of the hierarchy, it would be nice to have some representation at higher levels of the Church, even in dioceses. When you think about the vast array of skills across many disciplines that deacons bring, it seems that very few of these are effectively leveraged.