More than a hundred permanent deacons in Austria have called for women deacons and married priests.

Driving the news

The deacons issued the call in a manifesto they gave to the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, with a request that these in turn hand it on to Pope Francis.

The occasion for the statement was the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the first permanent deacon in Austria.

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The big picture

Permanent deacons are men ordained to the diaconate, one of the Church’s holy orders, who do not go on to be ordained priests.

Their ministry is particularly to the poor, sick and otherwise marginalised, and since they usually work at the same time in professional employment, they often don’t get paid for their service.

A custom of the early Church, the permanent diaconate was restored by Pope Paul VI in 1967 with the motu proprio Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem.

That papal document was the fruit of the great modernising Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium (29) recommended that the ancient diaconal “ministry of service… be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy” open to married men “of more mature age”.

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Go deeper

The 133 deacons who signed the Austrian deacons’ manifesto, some with their wives, praised precisely the “courage to experiment” made manifest at Vatican II.

They added that the Council and Paul VI proved that the diaconate can be adapted to the needs of the age.

The deacons suggested Pope Francis might likewise be open to a similarly urgent renewal of the ministry, perhaps first on a local or regional level.

There are currently 746 permanent deacons serving in Austria, often as “substitute priests”, the Austrian deacons denounced.

That means in one out of every four parishes there’s a man serving in this ministry, “almost exclusively on a voluntary basis and more than 90 percent as a married person”, they set out in their manifesto.

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Why it matters

The permanent deacons urged their bishops, and Pope Francis, “to take the first steps” towards “a change in the conditions of admission to the ministries of the Church”.

Fifty years of the restoration of the permanent diaconate show that having married people with families in ministry is a “great blessing” for the Church, the permanent deacons said.

The deacons added that opening the door of the diaconate to women is an “indispensable necessity”, not to mention a Gospel mandate.

“If the Church, after the example of Jesus, wants to be, and remain, a service-oriented fellowship of human beings, then she must not exclude half of her people from this vital ministry of the Church only because of their gender”, the deacons insisted.

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