Members of the laity have accused the Diocese of Killaloe of a “breach of trust” over the ministry of permanent deacons which remains on hold in the west of Ireland diocese.
Plans to train laymen for the ministry were paused in 2014 by the then Bishop of Killaloe, Kieran O’Reilly, following protests by a group known as the Women of Killaloe.
They argued that the role of the permanent deacon is unnecessary as most of its functions can be carried out by a layperson. They also believe that if it is introduced, it should be open to women and men, as it was in the early Church.
Bishop Fintan Monahan succeeded O’Reilly, now Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, in 2016.
However, despite the pause on recruiting permanent deacons in Killaloe, it subsequently emerged that one man from the diocese had already begun training for the diaconate before the reintroduction of the ministry was halted.
The Tablet has learned that a number of lay people in Killaloe are now concerned that this permanent deacon, who was ordained for the Diocese of Cloyne, is ministering publicly in Killaloe, including at liturgies in the cathedral in Ennis, undermining the agreement reached between the diocese and its people.
Speaking anonymously, one parishioner said: “The present situation is very confusing and lacks transparency. People understood that the bishop was not continuing with the introduction of the permanent diaconate. This was publicly announced at the time and very much welcomed in the diocese. However, what was not disclosed is that a candidate from the diocese had been in formation for this ministry.
“We had hoped that the Church had listened to the voices of women in the diocese. We are left wondering if in reality the permanent diaconate is being introduced by stealth.”
The parishioner added: “All of this is happening at a time when Pope Francis is trying to move the Church towards being more synodal, more open, more transparent.”
Another parishioner said: “The stance being taken in the diocese goes against the whole synodal process. It shows complete disdain for the wider community of clergy and lay people, who were promised that the permanent diaconate would not be instituted in the diocese.”
In 2015, a spokesman for Killaloe, Fr Brendan Quinlivan told The Tablet that one candidate had begun the process of discernment for the permanent diaconate before the pause on recruitment was announced.
He added: “As the candidate is a committed and active member of his faith community, it is hoped that his participation in this theology course will equip him to be an effective participant in the lay leadership that is at the heart of the Killaloe diocesan pastoral plan.”
In 2001 the Irish Bishops received permission from the Vatican to proceed with the restoration of the permanent diaconate in Ireland. The first 14 permanent deacons were ordained in Dublin and in Elphin in 2012. There are now more than 100 permanent deacons serving in the Irish Church and nearly all of the Irish Church’s 26 dioceses have embraced the ministry.