The Catholic Church’s rules on celibacy are to be relaxed next month, when Ireland’s first group of married deacons are ordained.
Eight men, who have spent the past four years training to be clergymen, are to be made permanent deacons at a ceremony in Dublin conducted by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
The initiative, which was first given the green light by Irish bishops in 2001, is likely to be followed in 15 other dioceses across the country in a move which is hoped will ease the growing workload on the ever-diminishing number of elderly priests.
It means the sight of married clergymen baptising children or officiating at funerals and weddings will become ever more commonplace across Ireland in the coming years.
Up to now a deacon, which means ‘servant’, was seen as the first major step to joining the priesthood.
However, next month, newly ordained permanent deacons will be expected to retain their posts as understudies to full-time priests for life.
The same strict celibacy rules that apply to those joining the priesthood will also apply to permanent deacons if they are unmarried when ordained. However, those who are married must commit themselves to a life of celibacy should their wife die before them.
According to The Irish Catholic, married men often served as deacons in the early Church, before the practice was discontinued and later restored again following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
The Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Elphin are in the process of completing the necessary formation for their candidate permanent deacons.
Other dioceses which are currently running training courses — which follow similar academic, pastoral, and spiritual courses to those studying for the priesthood — include the dioceses of Armagh, Dromore, and Waterford and Lismore.
The paper adds: “In all, 15 Irish dioceses have said they intend to reintroduce the permanent diaconate while the remaining 11 dioceses have not made a commitment to do so.
“According to Church law, candidates... must be at least 25 years old, if unmarried, and at least 35 years old, if married. A married man also needs the consent of his wife before he can be ordained.”
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