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Philippine bishops to design own deacon formation program

Filipinos have the prerogative to design the diaconate a bit differently, says bishops' conference chief
A Catholic priest distributes Holy Eucharist during a Mass in a church in the Philippines in in this undated image. The Vatican has approved permanent deacons for the Philippine Church amid a shortage of priests.

A Catholic priest distributes Holy Eucharist during a Mass in a church in the Philippines in in this undated image. The Vatican has approved permanent deacons for the Philippine Church amid a shortage of priests. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 27, 2023 08:46 AM GMT
Updated: October 27, 2023 09:09 AM GMT

Catholic bishops in the Philippines will design their own program to train married men as permanent deacons, a ministry recently approved by Pope Francis, the head of the national bishops’ conference said.

The formation needs to be unique as candidates for permanent deacon, who could be married, won’t have to be confined in the seminary and live apart from their families, said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

“What makes it particularly exciting for us Filipinos is the fact that we have the prerogative to design the diaconate a bit differently,” David said on the sidelines of the Oct. 4-29 Synod on Synodality in Rome, bishops' news website reported on Oct. 24.

“There’s a tendency for the diaconate to be sort of ceremonial. The deacon is like the priest’s sidekick. But if you look up in the scriptures the role of the diaconate, it’s a special kind of ministry that attends to the most disadvantaged sectors of society, the poorest of the poor, the widows and the orphans,” he told CBCP News.

“They are those special ordained ministers of the Church who will assist the bishops in making sure that the Church has a preferential option for the poor [that] is made more concrete,” he added.

The approval for a permanent diaconate came through a letter dated Aug. 17 and issued by Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra, Substitute for General Affairs of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

It came in response to a request from Filipino bishops seeking permission to have permanent deacons who could be married or celibate, to address a major socio-pastoral need due to a shortage of priests.

Archbishop Romeo Lazo, chairman of the bishops’ Commission on Clergy earlier told UCA News most of the bishops voted in favor of a permanent diaconate during their plenary meeting in July.

Bishop David received the Vatican approval letter on Sept. 12, CBCP News reported.

More than 90 percent of the over 108 million people in the Philippines are Catholic, according to the 2020 national census.

However, a shortage of priests has become a major issue for the Church in recent times.

Church statistics show one Catholic priest currently serves some 9,500 Catholics on average, nearly three times higher than the ratio of one priest for 3,373 Catholics across the world.

The priest-catholic ratio in the Philippines is also the worst in Asia, according to statistics published by the Vatican this year.

On average there is one priest for 2,137 Catholics in Asia, while the ratio is 1:5,534 in America and 1:5,101 in Africa.

In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry, followed by priests and bishops.

The permanent diaconate is different from a transitional diaconate. It allows ordaining married men to enable them to offer pastoral services. Permanent deacons can independently administer two of the seven sacraments — baptism and matrimony.

While the transitional diaconate is part of the preparation for the priesthood, the permanent diaconate accepts single or married men after specific theological formation. They will not be ordained priests.

Most permanent deacons are married men as unmarried single men have the option of being transitional deacons and ordained as priests later.

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