At the meeting of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland at Scotus College in Glasgow today (6.11.01), the bishops approved a comprehensive programme for the study, formation and ordination of Permanent Deacons.
In 1998 the Vatican issued a document on the formation of permanent deacons, aimed at unifying the approach taken around the world, to this ministry. Since 1989, the Diocese of Aberdeen has run courses lasting three years aimed at preparing candidates for the permanent diaconate. Following the 1998 document, the Scottish Bishops established a committee charged with setting a common standard for, eligibility, administration and formation.
Speaking after the meeting, Bishop Mario Conti, said "I am delighted that Aberdeen's initiative has borne fruit, not only in a supply of deacons for the diocese of Aberdeen, but for other Scottish diocese too. The standard of preparation now available should ensure, that deacons feel confident that they will be well equipped for their ministry."
Deacons are ordained ministers who can assist in baptism and marriages, distribution of the Eucharist, preside at the rites of burial as well as being able to preach and teach.
Potential deacons can be married men, aged 35 or older (25 if unmarried), who, after obtaining authorisation from their diocesan bishop enter a period of discernment lasting a year during which time discussions and interviews take place and references are obtained and in the case of married men, wives are interviewed and their consent sought. This period is followed by a four year distance learning course, estimated to involve 15 hours study per week in each ten month period, with one week and three weekend residential sessions at the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham. The course will be validated by the Open University and result in the award of a Diploma in Higher Education when completed.
Deacon John Woodside of the Diocese of Aberdeen who was appointed National Director of Diaconal Formation, welcomed the Bishops' decision. He explained that permanent deacons were not intended in any way to prejudice the ministerial priesthood but instead to assist and augment the work of parish priests. He added, "a deacon is a facillitator, who allows a priest to concentrate on his sacramental role, while acting as a bridge between the clergy and the laity"
Deacon John who is married with two grown up children was ordained in 1994 and currently has the pastoral care of St. Mary's, Blairs is one of four permanent deacons in the Diocese of Aberdeen. It is expected that at least 12 candidates will embark on the new course which begins next September.
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