The Good Shepherd (IV): The problem of the permanent diaconate

4. The problem of the permanent diaconate

One of the main weapons used by the modernist heresy to destroy the Church is the indiscriminate spreading of confusion by successfully resorting to all kinds of figures of speech suitable for this purpose, such as ambiguity, amphibology, and double-meaning in everything that concerns the doctrine and worship of the Church, as well as her very institutions. This heresy uses the same words and terms understood by Christians since ancient times, but changes them, emptying them of their traditional meaning and filling them with a disparate and purely human content.

This is the case of the new institution of the permanent diaconate.

This institution has given rise to no small number of problems which usually no one addresses. Likewise, nobody mentions the possible intentions of those who pushed for the creation of this new institution; intentions which, if any, apparently had to do with eliminating priestly celibacy. We will deal at length with this issue later.

We have said new institution because, although it is true that there have always been permanent deacons in the Church, and more frequently in the primitive community, the permanent diaconate had a different content and meaning from its modern counterpart. The former were considered consecrated clergy with the intent of living a life of permanent celibacy that had little to do with the life of a layman. The modern permanent diaconate, on the contrary, mostly made up of married men who continue to fulfill their professional and family duties, does not exclude the possibility of reaching the priesthood while maintaining its marital status. This has turned the modern permanent diaconate into a new institution, different from the one the Church has traditionally admitted. Moreover, this possibility of having easy access to the priesthood, without abandoning a marital relationship, is an important detail that must be taken into account.

This is not the place for telling the story of the duties of permanent deacons in the early Church. Suffice it to say, in summary, that they mainly involved social, charitable, and administrative responsibilities, as shown by the words of Saint Peter at the institution of the first deacons: It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.[1] Saint Lawrence, for example, a deacon of the Church of Rome (martyred in 258), was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church and the distribution of alms to the poor.

The extraordinary shortage of priests was the main reason given for the institution of the new permanent diaconate. There are, indeed, vast regions (as in Brazil) that hardly ever see a priest. In many other parts of the world there are but a few priests overwhelmed by the demands of their ministry. Nobody can deny that this is an evident problem that affects the whole Church.

We leave aside the serious issue that the true causes leading to this problem were never addressed and that the remedies which would have solved or at least mitigated it were never applied. The study of such a delicate matter would occupy too much time and space and does not belong to this essay.

Be that as it may, in the face of this urgent and serious need, numerous men, usually obligated to marital and family duties as well as to professional responsibilities, responded to the call of the Church and were generously willing to receive the diaconate. They were men of good will with the loftiest intentions, for the most part. Generally speaking, they have fulfilled their task with dignity and sometimes even with commendable zeal, somehow solving distressing situations.

But it is often the case that institutions that emerge in the Church by disciplinary provisions soon present difficulties that must be considered. Good things are not always free from drawbacks. First of all, it should be noted that it is not easy to define the theological or legal entity of these new deacons, given the peculiar nature of the permanent diaconate. On the one hand, they are clerics because they have received the sacrament of Holy Orders (in its lowest degree) and are obligated to pray the Divine Office. On the other hand, for all intents and purposes they live as laymen, performing their family and professional duties; so much so that the average faithful would hardly classify them among the clergy. This seemingly unimportant element has inevitably contributed to diluting in the mind of the faithful the nature of the priesthood and the role of the priest.

Another drawback that has emerged in some places as a consequence of the lack, or shortage, of priests is that the celebration of the Holy Mass has become difficult or impossible; hence the introduction of the Liturgy of the Word. Permanent deacons wearing sacred ornaments celebrate a liturgy where they read the readings of the Mass, hold some ceremonies unrelated to the essence of the Holy Sacrifice, and preach the Word. This Liturgy thus become a kind of ersatz or substitute for the Holy Mass, a pious consolation for the faithful who have nothing better available to them.

Unfortunately, remedies are not always practical and may even cause problems. In fact the average faithful, usually lacking religious education, grow accustomed to the Liturgy of the Word, confusing it with the Mass; it is not uncommon to hear ordinary people say that they have attended a Mass without consecration. Consequently, the belief that one needs to attend the Holy Sacrifice and take advantage of the treasures it contains disappears; the credence that the Holy Mass is irreplaceable as the center of Christian Worship is thus diluted. Yet removing the Mass, regardless of the reasons or motives for it, given the transcendental importance of the Mass and that it cannot be replaced by anything, necessarily implies the disappearance of Catholicism where this substitution has taken place.

There also are other more serious problems; for example, the abuse of the right of permanent deacons topreach, which precludes a clear intention to reduce the importance of the ministry and the representative figure of the priest.

This has been made possible because of a twisted interpretation of the Rite of Ordination of Deacons which says that preaching is the office of the deacon. The meaning of these words has been manipulated into meaning something like this: preaching is an office which belongs exclusively to the deacon; a gross falsehood which intentionally forgets that the three orders of the sacrament of Holy Orders (diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate, from lowest to highest degrees) are inclusive and not at all exclusive. This means that the priest, in addition to his own powers, does not lose those he received as deacon. Likewise, the Bishop does not lose the powers he acquired in the diaconate and the priesthood when he acquires his own at his consecration.

As a consequence, many priests have been forced to remain seated during religious ceremonies while the deacon preaches, often believing that he has more right to that function than the presbyter who is celebrating the Mass. All this has resulted in yet another way to depreciate the nature and the role of the ministerial priesthood.[2]

To this we must add another no less serious circumstance: the office of preaching has been entrusted to men seasoned in the secular life, whose kindness and good faith cannot be questioned in most cases, but who are lacking in the training required for such a delicate task; which has led to the discrediting of the sacred function of transmitting the Word of God to the Christian people. On the other hand, arguing –reasonably—that the preaching of priests has declined a great deal is not a serious objection. In effect, it is regrettable that an institution may not work because ofexternal or circumstantial impeding obstacles; but this is different than an institution not fulfilling its duty because of its very nature. The fact that modern priesthood is in a state of lamentable decline and gradual degradation is not due to the nature of the ministry (there are causes that explain this phenomenon, as the influence of the modernist heresy and surrender to the world it has motivated). But the permanent deacon, even if his proper office is preaching, always lacks the necessary preparation for sacred preaching; which is a function that cannot be acquired in a cursory program –which is about the highest formation received by permanent deacons; it requires years of study, in addition to an intense practice and experience in interior life and prayer, for it is impossible to speak to men about God if one has not leaned first to speak to God about men.

In addition to what has been said, we must point out that the true reasons that led to the institution of the permanent diaconate are the most serious problem posed by this institution in its present form; a problem about which nobody usually speaks and which is jealously hidden. There is enough evidence to suspect that those reasons have to do with the elimination of priestly celibacy from the Priesthood of the Catholic Church. Yet celibacy is a veritable supernatural treasure that for centuries adorned the sacred ministry and were a constant source of sanctification for both those priests who lived it and the souls assigned to them.

Naturally, this statement cannot be proven with documentary evidence. But there are sufficiently reasonable arguments for anyone thinking dispassionately which lead to this conclusion.

First, because everybody knows about the fierce campaign waged against clerical celibacy from the time the modernist wave broke into the Church. If one wants to be more specific about dates, once again the early sixties of the last century must be mentioned, when the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the rise of progressive doctrines took place.

The arguments then offered by the liberals against celibacy were numerous and are still used today to disorient the faithful who have been the victims of a long period of indoctrination that has lasted over fifty years. The shortage of priests and the alleged need for the priest to empathize better with the secular world and not look like a strange entity separated from the world are the main reasons given for spreading the idea of the need to abolish the obligation of celibacy; actually, they are merely a pretext.

But it is clear that long and persistent campaigns to spread an idea, indiscriminately using all available means and without opposition, within the scope of any human society always indicate clearly defined and never overtly confessed purposes.

True, Pope John Paul II insisted strongly on the need of ecclesiastical celibacy in his Letter to all the Priests on the Occasion of Holy Thursday 1979. The emphasis with which the Pope expressed himself on this subject in the most important part of the Document thrilled traditionalist groups who went so far as to claim that the Pontiff had spokenex cathedra. But because of the ensuing uproar, the Pope himself quickly denied that claim,stating that he did not have any intention of speaking with infallibility.

One of the most important and effective maneuvers carried out in the post-conciliar Church, with the clear intention of promoting the advantages of abolishing clerical celibacy was the indiscriminate mass admission of groups of converts from Anglicanism, shepherds (married, of course) as well as simple faithful. The conditions for their admission within Catholicism, allowing them to keep their personal rites and customs, were sufficiently lax as to doubt whether there ever was in fact a true conversion. Given that the Anglican clergy is not true clergy because it had lost the apostolic succession, as Pope Leo XIII declared in his Bull Apostolicæ Curæ (1896), they quickly proceeded to ordain the corresponding converted Anglican Pastors and Bishops to the priesthood.

It is difficult to find reasons for such haste in ordaining to the priesthood ministers who obviously lacked sufficient training in Catholic Doctrine. The explanations provided concerning ecumenism, pastoral approach, understanding, being sympathetic, etc., clearly lacked any seriousness for taking into account the importance of a situation that so seriously compromised the salvation of the souls of both the Anglicans and those faithful Catholics induced to confusion. The married status of these pastors, now priests, also helped to effectively disseminate and legitimize within the Christian community the existence of sacred ministers living a marital status. One could ask whether there was any deeper reason which justified the strange acceleration of these processes.

Naturally, in a matter of such vital importance as the one we are discussing here, everyone is free to hold the view that seems appropriate to him. However, when this issue is framed within the context of the strong campaign organized in support of the abolition of priestly celibacy, it does not seem an unreasonable guess that the intentions clearly point in one direction.

However, the strongest argument in favor of what we are saying is the announcement already made, although not officially, of the topic to be discussed at the Episcopal Synod of the year 2016: namely the convenience of maintaining in the Church the obligation of priestly celibacy. And we already know the result of the deliberationsheld in these Synods, as has been demonstrated by the experience of the Synods conducted so far. In effect, whatever the outcome of the discussions, the final decisions always coincide with the purpose for which the Synod was convened; in a nutshell, the end result of a campaign persistently conducted throughout sixty years.

In this issue, as with many others that today’s Church is rethinking, several factors concur which ordinarily are not noticed.

First, there is the undeniable fact that Modernism is active in the Church and using two important tools: one of them is time, wisely and patiently measured out; the other is the lie, always shrouded in false language and with alleged good intentions (ecumenism, charitable understanding, mercy, achieving a Christianity more adapted to the world, etc.).

Then, evidently it is urgent for Modernism to do away with the Catholic Priesthood; a previous, important, and necessary step to achieve this purpose was to suppress priestly celibacy. It was necessary then –taking into account the whole of Modernism’s purposes—to fabricate a web of totally new institutions and customs by emptying or discrediting the former ones, spreading among the faithful the belief that is was necessary to adapt Christianity to new ambitions, diluting the Faith in Tradition, discrediting the Hierarchy, etc.

No wonder, therefore, that in this highly artificially created environment many men of good faith and with the best imaginable good will generously volunteered to be part of an institution as good as you want it to be, but whose purposes, after all, are not very clear.

It should be noted, however, that naiveté and good faith do not suffice for justifying the acceptance of a wrong situation or the pretense that something wrong is good. The Christian has an obligation imposed on him at all times: to discern and distinguish right from wrong and good from bad. Not everything that apparently falls from the sky is good (sometimes we are struck by lightning or hail); and not everything you hear is true. The Christian should know that there have always been in the Church good Shepherds as well as mercenary Shepherds (as Jesus Christ explained), that the entire New Testament is filled with warnings and caveats about false Shepherds and false Teachers, Pastors who will abound especially in the End Times and will deceive many. Given the abundance of deception and falsehoods that reign in the world, Jesus Christ Himself warned about the need to know and distinguish men by their fruits, not merely by their words. The truth is that barely anybody has given any thought to the effects caused by the ease with which married deacons will be admitted to the priesthood. These effects will contribute to blurring among the faithful the idea of ​​the necessity and the appropriateness of priestly celibacy.

Those who are easily led by their impulses without caring about discerning what is appropriate from what is false or about seriously seeking the truth should take into account the urgent warning given by the Apostle Saint Paul in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 2: 11-12). In that warning Saint Paul tell us that God sends a seductive spirit so that those who did not believe the truth would end up believing a lie and finally be condemned for having taken their pleasure in wickedness even when it sometimes presented itself with the label of goodness. Hence,being mistaken in good faith in as significant an issue as that of salvation does not suffice in any way to save anyone from the path to eternal perdition.

(To be continued)

Fr. Alfonso Gálvez

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[1] Acts 6: 3-4.

[2] The Traditional Solemn Masses were celebrated by the Bishop who usually sat down on the throne while another minister preached in his name; which was always preceded by a brief ceremony before the bishop in which he deputized the preacher to preach the Word by the Bishop’s mandate; hierarchical order of the functions proper to one’s office have always been kept and respected in the Church.

Padre Alfonso Gálvez
Padre Alfonso Gálvez
Nació en 1932. Licenciado en Derecho. Se ordenó de sacerdote en Murcia en 1956. Entre otros destinos ha estado en Cuenca (Ecuador), Barquisimeto (Venezuela) y Murcia. Es Fundador de la Sociedad de Jesucristo Sacerdote, aprobada en 1980. Desde 1982 reside en El Pedregal (Mazarrón-Murcia). A lo largo de su vida ha alternado las labores pastorales con un importante trabajo redaccional. Ha publicado Comentarios al Cantar de los Cantares (dos volúmenes), La Fiesta del hombre y la Fiesta de Dios, La oración, El Amigo Inoportuno, Apuntes sobre la espiritualidad de la Sociedad de Jesucristo Sacerdote, Esperando a Don Quijote, Homilías, Siete Cartas a Siete Obispos, El Invierno Eclesial, Los Cantos Perdidos y El Misterio de la Oración. Para información adicional visite su web

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