As you have given some prominence (November 5) to the recent London conference on "Ministry and the Permanent Diaconate," may I, as a "permanent" deacon of more than three years' standing, be allowed to make a correction?
You refer to ", . . ten lay deacons in Britain, all of whom work part-time and in particular parishes." This is not true of four of the ten.
One has retired and works full-time as a deacon in the parish; another lives as a member of a religious community and divides his time between cloister and parish; another, retired from teaching, works as deacon in the parish but has considerable diocesan duties and also runs a charitable institution with international contacts; while another — myself — was particularly excused from parish commitment as I continue as before to work full-time as an appeals organiser for a Catholic charity, adding to my former duties that of preaching the appeals myself in any one of the parishes in four dioceses.
The little pastoral work I do• in addition to this specialised "ministry of the word" is centred on a school which serves several parishes. On the rare Sunday when I am at home I assist at Mass in a parish in which I do not live.
The very diverse way in which the diaconate has developed in England according to local needs has been dealt with, at greater length than is possible in a letter, in an article, I was asked to write for the Clergy Review, which appeared in the September issue.
May I make a gentle protest against your use of the selfcontradictory term "lay deacon'?" A deacon is a cleric and cannot be a layman. Indeed, the three of us who were ordained in 1971 ceased to be laymen when we received the tonsure, followed, in my case, immediately by the minor orders.
Can anyone seriously suggest that a deacon is of a lesser breed because his vocation is to remain a deacon for life without taking a further step up the hierarchical ladder'? Is a man only a "real" deacon if his diaconate, given, as it were, by rule of thumb, as a transitory thing of a few months' standing on the way to the priesthood, is so soon almost forgotten?
A priest is not a second-rate priest if he does not proceed to become a bishop: why should a deacon be regarded as secondrate because he does not go on to be a priest?
Neither is his diaconate minimised because he is usually a married man. In those Churches, Catholic as well as dissident, where the diaconate is not being restored because it has never been abandoned, the deacon and the priest are both normally married men, unless they are monks.
And the parish deacon in the Eastern Rites, unless he is attached to the bishop's household, not unusually combines his diaconal work with some secular profession.
If there is some reason why we should not just be called deacons, then "permanent deacons" seems the best term, without necessarily suggesting that the priests' diaconate (and that of the bishop) is any the less permanent.
(Rev) Hubert Grant Scarfe District Ortaniser,' Converts' Aid Society. 28 Webster Close, Maidenhead, Berkshire.