Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Deacon asks where are the Deacons vis-a-vis the Synod on Synodality

 Where Are the Deacons — Again?

by Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D.

When the 2023 General Assembly of the Synod on Synodality convened, many observers noted the absence of deacons and priests. In the case of deacons, for example, one (“permanent”) deacon was in attendance, along with another deacon soon to be ordained to the presbyterate. Now, the Synod Secretariat has announced an extraordinary 5-day gathering of some 300 priests convening in late April 2024. This assembly is being held, according to the Secretariat, to respond to the desire of the Synod participants to “develop ways for a more active involvement of deacons, priests, and bishops in the synodal process during the coming year. A synodal Church cannot do without their voices, their experiences, and their contribution.” The announced gathering is therefore good news. But once again the same question recurs: Where are the deacons?

            If the participants desired “more active involvement” of deacons, where are they? Perhaps more important, why is the participation of deacons so problematic? The words of the announcement and the Synthesis Report are clear enough but, yet again, the actions – or inaction – belie those words. When you tell someone that they are valued and that “their voices, their experiences, and their contribution” are vital, and then do nothing to open the door to those voices, why should the nice words be believed?

  Having little to no substantive participation by deacons at the 2023 Assembly could be explained as a painful oversight. Once this lacuna is pointed out, however, to be excluded from the process yet again is deliberately hurtful and dismissive, conveying clearly that deacons simply have no voice worth hearing, no experience worth sharing, and no insights to give or to receive. In short, when every other possible group of participants and theological experts are literally at the table of the synod, the absence of deacons sends the clear message that deacons are unnecessary, with nothing to contribute. How glaringly different from our history! Those deacons were the “eyes and ears, heart and soul” of the bishop, with one source (the mid-3rd Century Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum) proclaiming, “Let let the deacon be the hearing of the bishop, and his mouth and his heart and his soul; for when you are both of one mind, through your agreement there will be peace in the Church”.

    Although the Second Vatican Council, in renewing a diaconate to be permanently exercised, said that the ministries of the deacon are “so very necessary to the life of the Church,” it would seem this statement is no longer to be valued.

            Perhaps the more important question is not “Where are the deacons?” but rather, “Why, just why, are deacons not part of the vision of the Synod?”

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