Lay deacons for Derry Diocese

Monsignor Eamon Martin.
Monsignor Eamon Martin.

Derry could soon have its very own lay deacons who preside at funerals, celebrate Baptism and officiate at marriages.

Derry could soon have its very own lay deacons who preside at funerals, celebrate Baptism and officiate at marriages.

Monsignor Eamon Martin, Derry’s Diocesan Administrator, says he is “open” to such a move which, the ‘Journal’ understands, would have to be approved by a new Bishop of Derry.

Last weekend, a teacher, a bakery manager and a tool designer were among six men ordained as permanent deacons in Sligo.

The new deacons, all married and in permanent employment, were ordained at Sligo Cathedral by the Bishop of Elphin, Christopher Jones.

The move ends a 1,500-year ban on non-priests officiating at church ceremonies.

Monsignor Martin says that, like many priests and lay people across the Derry Diocese, he is “certainly open to such an initiative”.

The ‘Journal’ understands that any such initiative in the Diocese of Derry would have to be approved by the new Bishop.

“Such an important innovation could not be undertaken while the See of Derry is vacant,” one church source said.

Derry has been without a Bishop since Dr Seamus Hegarty’s decision to stand down on health grounds in November 2011.

At that time, church sources suggested it could be up to two years before a new appointment.

Mgr. Martinthis week acknowledged that “these are changing times for the Church in Derry and all around Ireland.”

“I would certainly encourage our new Bishop to consult widely among the lay people and priests of the Diocese of Derry about the possible introduction of the permanent diaconate here,” he said.

“I would, however, like to see such an innovation as part of a wider Diocesan plan for handing on the faith and alongside initiatives for wider involvement of lay men and women in the life of the Church.

“In recent years, we have been encouraging lay people to become more actively involved in Parish Pastoral Councils. Perhaps, in years to come, some of these Council members will consider the permanent diaconate,” he said.

Fr Michael Duignan, director of the permanent diaconate in the Diocese of Sligo, said that responding to a shortage of priests was not the primary reason for the revival of the permanent deacon, but he agreed that it would be “very helpful”.

The initiative comes as the number of priests in active ministry in Derry looks set to plummet in the next ten to fifteen years.

The church locally has warned that, in just over a decade, more than twelve parishes in the Derry Diocese may have no resident priest.

Last weekend’s Sligo ceremony follows the ordination of eight deacons in the Archdiocese of Dublin.