Diaconate discernment announced at Administration Day

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

SASKATOON — After a diocesan-wide discernment about whether or not to ordain permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, Bishop Donald Bolen is accepting the recommendation of a 12-member committee to move ahead with a permanent diaconate program, grounded in service and outreach.

The bishop outlined the committee’s recommendations and possible next steps at an Administration Day for parish representatives and ministry leaders from across the diocese held Sept. 10 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

The diaconate discernment committee has recommended “that the diocese move forward in discerning the permanent diaconate with those who feel called to serve those on the peripheries of church and society, and that their formation be primarily, but not necessarily exclusively, facilitated within the diocese.”

The committee recommends a broad approach, focused on ministry to the marginalized, the suffering or those most in need. Their first recommendation calls for the establishment of a one-year program of ministry formation in the diocese, open to both women and men, which would be focused on ministry “to the peripheries.”

“This program could be an optional third year in the Lay Formation program, open to all Lay Formation alumni,” notes the report. It should also be “an integral part of the discernment for and formation of permanent deacons within the diocese.”

The committee also recommends that the diaconal ministry be focused on active outreach and service, with “the liturgical ministry of deacons (being) a celebration and expression of their active ministry of service in the community.”

During his presentation at Administration Day, Bolen reviewed the background and history of the discernment process and the work of the diocesan committee, which was established by the bishop in the spring of 2013 after Archbishop Daniel Bohan of Regina invited other bishops in the province to consider ordaining permanent deacons in their dioceses.

“I tested the waters in a few places on this question, and had a fairly good sense that this would be a highly contested issue here in the Diocese of Saskatoon, with strong feelings on opposing ends. In prayer I knew we had to broaden the discussion, seeking out options that would move us past a decision that would polarize, and letting the Spirit assist us in finding a way forward,” Bolen said.

The discernment process included in-depth discussion, research and prayer by the committee that was first formed in the spring of 2013, representing a broad range of experience and opinion on the issue of ordaining men as permanent deacons. Chaired first by Glenn Hilton and then by Leah Perrault, the committee also included Rev. Iheanyi Enwerem, OP; Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU; Linda Labelle; Katherine O’Gorman; Agnes Pelletier; Myron Rogal; Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers; Rev. David Tumback and Deacon Bob Williston, in addition to the bishop.

The committee subsequently broadened the discernment to include the diocese at large, through vocation-focused presentations and prayer at Congress Day in the deaneries, held at three locations early in 2014. Discernment sessions were also held with clergy, with women religious, and with lay leaders and employees.

Bolen said the diocesan discernment was characterized by dialogue and was “full of grace,” and proved to be a “coming together of minds and hearts,” despite a range of opinions and ways of thinking.

Bolen announced that in the coming weeks he will call together three committees to further reflect upon and take forward report recommendations.

The first committee will include Lay Formation leadership and those involved in justice and peace ministries, including representation from the Aboriginal community, said the bishop. They will be asked to come up with a more detailed proposal about the idea of a year of formation for lay ministry and service on the peripheries.

“The second committee will include those acquainted with diaconal formation and its requirements, with skills in pedagogy and human formation, and familiar with pertinent academic and formation programs in the region,” said Bolen.

Finally, a third committee will assess the financial and human resources required for the new initiatives, and “reflect on how the program could develop stably and effectively without being a financial drain to existing programming and services,” Bolen said.

There are still many questions, with much work to do and decisions to make before the formation of permanent deacons might actually begin in the diocese. “I anticipate that September of 2016 would be the earliest potential start date for diaconal candidates, as well as any lay programming coming out of the committee’s recommendations,” the bishop said.

“It is my profound hope that over the next two years as a diocese, we will be able to give shape to a formation program and vision for a permanent diaconate that is strongly rooted in service and integrated into a collaborative approach to ministry between ordained, lay, and religious; and that the preparation for such ministry will be integrated with the development of a year-long lay formation program for outreach to the peripheries, with both initiatives developing in the spirit of where Pope Francis is calling the church to be.”

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