Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has given the go-ahead for Westminster to have permanent deacons. Ordained after a year's discernment process and three year's part-time training at Wonersh, deacons will be able to preach, perform baptisms and preside at weddings and funerals. Some may already be employed by the church, but most will have full-time jobs elsewhere - perhaps as teachers, policemen, trade unionists. Director of the permanent diaconate, Fr Robert Plourde, said: "We will begin with very few at first. Most will be married. They must be aged between 35 and 60. The youngest child must be over primary school age. Single men will have to be celibate, and if a deacon's wife dies he is not expected to remarry. "It is important that a deacon's wife is a practicing Christian (not necessarily Catholic) and that the family is in good standing with the parish." Responding to the concerns of some that the diaconate might take away ministries from lay people, Fr Robert said: "No, on the contrary, it will be increasing the work of evangelisation, bringing the church out into the world more. It is a parochial ministry of service." Fr Robert said: "The diaconate is not a poor man's priesthood. It is very much a vocation on its own. We see the role of the deacon as complementing the work of the priest - creating a Christian presence in the workplace. A deacon is a person someone might go to in the office when they have a problem or need advice." St Stephen the Martyr was the first deacon Fr Robert explained. Originally seven were chosen by the Apostles for service to the poor, to free them to evangelise. Up to the 7th century they presided over different parts of Rome. The Second Vatican Council called for the re-introduction of the permanent diaconate and each diocese was called to submit a plan to Rome for developing the ministry. At present there are none in Ireland, Menevia or Salford. Liverpool has 93, Southwark has 70 and Arundel and Brighton has 20, Westminster has only four. Fr Robert said Cardinal Hume had been reluctant to introduce them as he felt lay people were already burdened a large number of with many ministries - from being readers, to Eucharistic ministers. However, he said, Cardinal Cormac had worked with deacons in Arundel and Brighton and found them to be an asset to the diocese. Fr Robert advised that anyone interested in applying for the diaconate should see their parish priest first.
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