Monday, March 19, 2012

Permanent Deacons and Politics

     In a forthcoming column for a national magazine intended for Catholic priests, I discuss the participation of deacons (and in particular, those commonly referred to as "permanent" deacons) in politics, based on the provisions of canon (universal) and particular law.  This question is made especially important given the growing presence of deacons and priests in the blogosphere and in other social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.  So, I thought I would put the substance of what I wrote here as well.

      As the political primary season continues, nothing could be more current than a review of the rather unique situation of the deacon in the political life of a nation, with a particular view of the deacon in American politics.  This seems especially appropriate since increasingly deacons are joining millions of other Americans in their use of social media and are blogging, tweeting, writing, speaking and teaching at every conceivable level, and even venues formerly considered more informal, such as Facebook, have become sources of public discourse on the political process.  It is important to reflect on our own participation in such exchanges in light of our responsibilities as clergy.  It is often not what we say, or don’t say, from the pulpit that can influence others, but our casual “status update” on Facebook, a blog entry or even a tweet can have far-reaching effects.
Canon 285 directs that “clerics are to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming to their state, according to the prescripts of particular law.”  The canon continues in §3: “Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power,” and §4 forbids clerics from “secular offices which entail an obligation of rendering accounts. . . .”  Canon 287, §1 reminds all clerics that “most especially, [they] are always to foster the peace and harmony based on justice which are to be observed among people,” and §2 directs that “they are not to have an active part in political parties and in governing labor unions unless, in the judgment of competent ecclesiastical authority, the protection of the rights of the Church or the promotion of the common good requires it.”

However, c. 288 specifically relieves permanent deacons (transitional deacons would still bound) of a number of the prior canons, including cc. 285 §§3 and 4, and 287 §2, “unless particular law establishes otherwise.”  Particular law in this instance is provided by the National Directory on the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, which states at #91: “A permanent deacon may not present his name for election to any public office or in any other general election, or accept a nomination or an appointment to public office, without the prior written permission of the diocesan bishop.  A permanent deacon may not actively and publicly participate in another’s political campaign without the prior written permission of the diocesan bishop.”  The diocesan bishop may also create particular law within his own diocese on such matters.  In one case, a diocesan bishop notified his clergy that if anyone could even infer, through their speech, manner or demeanor, which political party or candidate the cleric was supporting, then that cleric had gone too far.  While we are each entitled to form our own political decisions for ourselves, we must always be aware of the political lines we must not cross.

Let’s put this all together.  Deacons, although clerics, may participate in political life to a degree not permitted other clerics under the law.  However, they are required by particular law in the United States to obtain the prior written permission of their diocesan bishop to do so.  I find that two other aspects of this matter are too often overlooked.  First, is the requirement under the law that all clerics (and, most significantly, permanent deacons are not relieved of this obligation) are bound by c. 287 always “to foster peace and harmony based on justice.”  This is such a critical point for reflection for all clerics: How do my actions, words, and insinuations foster such peace and harmony, or are my actions serving to sow discord and disharmony?  Since permanent deacons may become more engaged in the political sphere than presbyters (with the permission of their bishop), this will take on particular relevance for deacons.  Second is the whole area of participation in political campaigns.  Deacons may only participate in their own or someone else’s political campaign with the prior written permission of their bishop.  Today, when political support is often reflected through the social media, all of us might well reflect on how our opinions stated via these media constitute active participation in someone’s political campaign.  

All of us, lay and cleric, are obliged to participate appropriately in the political process.  However, as clerics – and in a particularly challenging way, deacons – we must walk a fine moral tightrope in doing so.

The Institute of St. Lawrence of Rome

As I reported in my last post, I have recently been to Rome for meetings at the Vatican.  A new graduate studies institute is being created, with the formal approval of the Holy See, which will focus on all matters related to diakonia and the renewed diaconate in the Catholic Church.  The Institute of St. Lawrence has been founded by three deacon-professors: Deacon Dr. Enzo Petrolino of Italy, Deacon Rob Mascini of the Netherlands, and myself.

The new Institute will be headquartered at the Lateran University in Rome, with courses being taught at several of the other so-called "Pontifical" universities as well, such as the Biblicum, the Angelicum, the Augustinianum (or Patristicum), and so on.  The courses will all be taught for graduate credit, and are not designed for those in formation for ordination, unless those candidates already have significant theological background and are pursuing either a Master's or Doctorate.  In short, any person who is eligible for graduate education in Theology is welcome.  The goals of the Institute are quite simple: to provide an opportunity for advanced research on the diaconate, and to create an archive of such research to support future scholarship.

Students will be able to proceed in one of two ways.  They may either take all of the courses offered over a three-year summer program and obtain a Master's degree in diaconal study from the Lateran, or they may take courses to be applied to an existing program at another accredited institution.  For example, if one of our graduate students at Santa Clara University wishes to take a couple of the courses and apply those credits to their program here at Santa Clara, that will be perfectly fine.  All of the Institute's courses are fully accredited.

Each course will consist of significant work (background reading, research) prior to coming to Rome for a one week intensive seminar; normally, there will be lectures in the mornings, with afternoons free for research, group study, and other activities related to the course.  Then, after students leave Rome, they prepare a major research paper or project.  We intend to offer three of these one-week sessions each summer for a three year cycle.  So, if a student simply wants one of the three courses, that's fine; if they wish to do all three (!) then in theory they could stay for the whole three weeks.

The Institute will be launched in June 2013 when we begin our first courses.  Once the dates and other course information is finalized in a month or so, I will be publishing the information extensively through the USCCB, Deacon Digest, and a variety of other sources.

This is an exciting project and I ask for your prayers for its success.

Oh, and while I was walking down the street one day in Rome, this white golf cart pulled up. . . .

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Preghiamo, tutti!

As I write this, I'm at JFK International.  I just finished giving a couple of talks at a Deacon Convocation nearby, and now I'm preparing for a flight to Rome later this afternoon.  I ask for your prayers as my colleagues and I finalize some details for a new graduate Institute of Advanced Studies on the Diaconate in Rome.

The Institute will bring together scholars from all over the world who will teach graduate courses on every aspect of diakonia and diaconate.  Archeologists, theologians of every specialization, canon lawyers, and so on are all welcome.  Each course will involve extensive preparatory work, often online, before coming to Rome for a one-week long intensive seminar.  Each student will then prepare a research paper after Rome.  The opportunity in Rome will include lectures offered at the appropriate pontifical university (for example, courses on the spirituality of diakonia would be offered at the Teresianum), the opportunity for fellowship and social interaction with students from around the world, and access to significant research materials available in Rome and the Vatican.

The three "founders" of the Institute include a deacon-professor from Italy, another from the Netherlands, and myself.  The Institute has already been granted an official "recognitio" from the Holy See, so the courses will be offered for credit either through the professor's home university, or through the Lateranum.

I'll post as I can over the next week, but for now I simply ask for your prayers!