Permanent diacaonte program may be turned over to bishops’ conferences

 Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals is considering removing the permanent diaconate program from the Congregation for the Clergy and turning it over to local bishops’ conferences.

The idea was brought up in the Council’s June 12-14 meeting. According to Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, the cardinals talked about specific ways to decentralize authority in the Catholic Church, proposing in particular that more responsibility for permanent deacons could move from Rome to local bishops’ conferences.

As noted in the National Catholic Reporter (June 14, 2017), Burke stated that transferring authority to bishops’ conferences could include the possibility of allowing a deacon who has become a widower to remarry.

At the moment a deacon who has become a widower after his ordination and wishes to marry again must petition Rome for permission. Some deacons have said in the past that such petitions are answered very slowly and are rarely answered in the affirmative.

Other decentralization matters discussed included the process by which bishops are chosen in the Catholic church, noting in particular a desire to find “a more systematic way” to give lay people and members of religious orders a “fuller consultation” when a bishop candidate is being considered.

They also spoke about the functioning of several Vatican offices including the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue, for the Eastern Churches, and for Legislative Texts; and the three Vatican tribunals.

In a related story posted on the National Catholic Reporter (June 16, 2017) website, Vatican correspondent Joshua McElwee reports in an interview with Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias, a member of the pope’s Council of Cardinals, that the Council is considering whether to advise Pope Francis to make it mandatory for Vatican ambassadors to consult with laypeople before making recommendations for possible new bishops in the Catholic Church.

In McElwee’s report of the June 15 interview, Cardinal Gracias states, “This is a central matter for the church. The bishop is a central figure and the choice of a good bishop is very important for every church. If you choose the wrong person, things can be set back by years in the pastoral life of the church.”

The pending recommendation from the Council of Cardinals could mark a significant shift for the church and for the role of Vatican ambassadors, known as apostolic nuncios.

For the NCR report, click here.

For the report of the interview with Cardinal Gracias, click here.