'HE Italian hierarchy last week decided to restore the Permanent Order of Deacons in the Italian Church. And according to Bishop Bettazzi of Ivrea who promoted the plan in last week's bishops' meeting in Rome, almost 400 men have already applied to study for the diaconate. In Reggio Emilia there are already over 100 students in a special diaconate college.
The first deacons will begin their ministry in two or three years' time. Their duties will include administering Baptism and the Sacrament of the Sick, distributing Holy Communion, officiating at weddings. reading the Gospel at Mass, preaching and conducting funeral services.
Although their duties will include administrative work, they will be involved mainly in the pastoral work of the Church. This is in contrast with the practice of the early Church, where, except for preaching, the deacon was usually the bishop's administrator and sometimes succeeded him.
At present, only those who are already married and who are "mature" will be allowed to continue in the married state. Young men who are single and want to become deacons will have to remain celibate. No previous academic qualifications will be required of candidates, although education will obviously be considered when the ordained deacons are appointed.
The deacons are expected to work in areas traditionally regarded as inaccessible to the priest, in remote country areas, in the shanty-towns and in industry, especially where the deacons already hold industrial jobs.