BY MURRAY WHITE
SOME WIVES AND children of permanent deacons have voiced concern that their husbands are so busy after ordination that the family spends less time together.
Fr Michael Evans, a theologian at St John's Seminary, Wonersh, highlighted the concerns during a keynote speech to an international conference of Permanent Deacons held in Britain this week. The priority of deacons is to balance their parish commitments with those to their families, he said.
But despite such problems, Fr Evans gave a warm endorsement to the increasingly popular ministry of the Permanent Deacon: "I would like to see them in all dioce ses; there is something missing if there are no deacons to complement the ministries of bishop and priest."
Permanent deacons, who number almost 400 in England and Wales, "bridge the married secular life and the ordained ministry, having a foot in both camps, which is valuable," said Fr Evans.
Around 220 delegates from 18 countries attended the two-day international gathering held in Liverpool. Deacons came from as far afield as the US, the Czech republic, Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain, most of them bringing their wives for the first time.
Mgr Austin Hunt, Chairman of the English and Welsh Directors of the Permanent Diaconate,said that the notion held by some Catholics that deacons are little more than "substitute clergy" was one that should be consigned to the waste bin.
Mgr Hunt said that British deacons found valuable potential role models in their overseas counterparts. In particular, German delegates spoke of how deacons in some areas of clergy shortage are now supporting priests to run groundbreaking "cluster parishes" of about three or four churches. Such cluster parishes are this year appearing in English dioceses for the first time.
In Germany, while the priest looks after the spiritual and sacramental needs of parishioners, the married deacon takes on the pastoral and administrative jobs of the parish.