Dear Editor, Dr Phyllis Zagano’s article on the female diaconate (IC 4/4/2019) invites some very serious questions, not just about the prospect of ordaining women as deacons but about the purpose of male deacons.
If we are honest about this, it seems indisputable that there were indeed women deacons in the early Church, with confusion mainly being around the nature and role of their ministry. So far there seems to be no consensus on these issues, with opponents of the women deacons tending to focus less on the question of whether women were ever ordained as deacons than on the question of whether the Church needs women deacons.
According to this argument, women were deacons because women Christians needed women to tend to them in their seriously segregated world, and because people then were baptised naked, so female catechumens needed women deacons to protect their modesty. Baptismal practice has changed, so the line goes, and so women and girls do not specifically need other women to tend to them.
Women deacons would have had other charitable roles, but there’s no particular reason why any woman nowadays would need to be ordained to serve the Church in this way. Times have changed, in other words, and if there was a female diaconate in the past, it is no longer necessary and should be left in the past.
Well, maybe. But couldn’t similar arguments be rolled out against the male deacons that we have nowadays? After all, when the male permanent diaconate was revived, there was no need for such a position, since there was nothing deacons could do ordinary laymen couldn’t have been empowered to do. It would have been easy to say the ministry should be left in the past.
That’s not to say that there aren’t arguments against women deacons, but let’s be honest: we shouldn’t dismiss this idea on the basis that “times have changed”.
Seminarians need professional knowledge too
Dear Editor, Your correspondent Greg Daly (IC 21 and 28/3/2019) reports on the suggestion that the formation of priests should be based in the parish rather than the seminary. Most people would agree that real experience of where students will be working when they have completed their training is vital. However, there is a body of professional knowledge which seminarians need to acquire if they are going to be effective as priests.
In Ireland in the coming years the role of the priest as teacher of the faith is going to become increasingly important, especially in the area of parish-based adult education. So, as well as practical experience, there is also a need for study and for this to be done properly, there needs to be time and space to concentrate on it. Experience shows that this is best done in a college setting, which for students for the priesthood is a seminary.
Since Vatican II all seminaries, including St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, have developed pastoral programmes as part of an integrated formation process which includes spiritual, intellectual and human formation as well as pastoral formation. The task is to balance these elements in the best way possible. There is no perfect system and all programmes of formation need to be reviewed and improved on an ongoing basis.
Maynooth has served the Irish Church well for over 200 years. My impression, going on what I know of its recent alumni, is that it is still doing a good job. Seminarians are not cut off from the reality of modern life as they study alongside their contemporaries.
They also have parish experience in their own dioceses.
Rev. Dr Edmond Cullinan, Adm.,
Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity,
Waterford, Co. Waterford.
Archbishop must be clear
Dear Editor, The present Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has a tendency to use ambiguous language in his speeches. His latest gem is to label – “cultural warriors of certainty” – those who do not meet his exacting standards.
But the archbishop needs to ‘man up’ (he might consider that offensive; maybe better to ‘person up’), stop hiding behind his ambiguities, and tell us exactly the individuals or groups he has in mind.
Only then can they mend their ways and behave as nice compliant Catholics, in the archbishop’s mould. Failing clarification, it’s obvious that the archbishop’s preferred type are “cultural warriors of ambiguity”.
Navan, Co. Meath.
Refer to Ratio Fundamentalis for priests’ training
Dear Editor, Recent discussion of the possibility of a more parish-based formation for the priesthood seems to be missing an important key. The Congregation for the Clergy, acting on Pope Francis’ behalf, issued a new Ratio Fundamentalis, the guiding document for priestly formation, in 2016. The drawing up of the new programme for the formation of priests in Ireland is meant to be based on this document which represents distilled wisdom from around the world, while applying it to the Irish context.
The Ratio Fundamentalis envisions an integral formation of which the seminary is still a part. Its thought echoes the words of Pope Francis at a gathering for seminarians in July 2013: “I always think of this: the worst seminary is better than no seminary! Why? Because this community life is essential.”
Pope Francis is pushing for good seminaries, but his colourful phrase leaves no doubt that he wants seminaries to have a role in priestly formation. In any case, surely there is a neccessity in formation for a period like the Apostles time with Jesus before being sent out. (e.g. Mk 3:13-15) As priests live at the heart of parish communities, seminarians still need a time of being stretched and tested in community life.
The Ratio Fundamentalis charts various stages of formation. It sees a role for parish-based formation in what it calls the pastoral stage, between ordination to diaconate and ordination to priesthood (74-79), and also envisages an essential pastoral dimension to seminary formation (119-124) and pastoral placements during the other seminary years (124).
The Ratio Fundamentalis should be at the centre of discussion about the future of priestly formation. If the national programme will do a good job of implementing and contextualising the Ratio, then it will have the potential to make our seminaries high-quality places of formation, cooperating with the other agents of formation in forming priests in the pastoral charity of Jesus Christ.
Fr Hugh Clifford,