Killaloe Forum on the Diaconate

Since I got involved in the reform movement in the Church with the ACP some five years ago I have attended many meetings and gatherings on various aspects of reform. Last night’s meeting in Clare, organised by the Killaloe Forum on the Diaconate, was probably the most hopeful of them all.
First some background:
Two years ago the diocese organised a listening process. By all accounts this was both extensive and very well done, and resulted in the drawing up of a Diocesan Pastoral Plan, which was launched about a year ago. This document gave a clear sense of direction for the diocese into the future, and was based on the ideas of equality and participation of all the believers.
Then, out of the blue, Bishop Kieran O’Reilly announced last month that he was planning to introduce the Permanent Diaconate, and invited people to come forward for this new role, but that it was only open to men. This had not been part of the pastoral plan.
The reaction from some women in the diocese was swift and strong. A number who were already very involved in pastoral work at parish and diocesan level got on local media to express their objection to this development. This quickly gained momentum, and a public meeting was called for Monday, Sept. 15th. To be fair to Bishop Kieran, he took note of what was happening, and a letter from him was read out at all masses in the diocese last weekend saying that the proposal had been put on hold for the present, while discussion continued.
Last night’s meeting was attended by close on two hundred people, most of them women. The four women who spoke all described themselves as ordinary women. This was true in the sense that none of them had put their heads above the parapet before, and were not publicly known, though all had a long record of involvement at parish and diocesan level. But in every other way Martina, Kathleen, Rita and Mary were anything but ordinary. All of them were excellent communicators, and made their points clearly and effectively. They spoke without rancour or bitterness, and showed no sign of having any ‘agenda’ or ‘chip on their shoulder’ except their objection to the present proposal.
They spoke persuasively about the sense of hurt and rejection they felt when they heard of the bishop’s plan. They said that most of the work that would be done by these deacons was already being done at local level by women, and that a great deal more was possible, even within the present laws of the Church, and was happening in other countries. Why now, they wondered, did the Church want to push them aside and replace them by a ‘further layer of clericalism’ open only to men.
The discussion from the floor was lively and almost totally supportive. Other women also spoke of their hurt, and reminded us males present that it was difficult, if not impossible, for us to realise what it was like to be a woman in the Catholic Church.
I was pleased to see a large number of the priests of the diocese present, and those who spoke, with one exception, very supportive of the women.
A couple of things were clear to me at the end of the night. The first is the enormous power that women have in our Church, if they can only exercise it. Most parishes are almost totally dependent on women for their existence. Secondly, all the work put into education in the faith is paying off, because both the four speakers and many who spoke from the floor were able to express themselves in simple, but erudite, ways that was most impressive. (One priest who spoke from the floor suggested they they were not properly ‘catechised’; he was seriously off the mark!) Clearly we now have an educated membership in our Church who can no longer be ordered about by authoritarian bishops and priests who refuse to listen.
I think it can safely be said that any notion of a Permanent Diaconate in Killaloe diocese is off the agenda for many a day. And I suspect that any other bishop who may be thinking of introducing it will have second thoughts. I also hope that in other places, like Dublin, where it is already introduced the women will now find their voice, and will make it heard in as organised and effective a manner as the women of Clare.
Yes, there is a new dawn coming in our Church.