National Catholic Confrence of Bishops ( NCCB)
II. National Catholic Conference of Bishops (NCCB)
The Bishops of the United States petitioned the Holy See on May 2, 1968 to restore the diaconate in this country. In their letter of May 2, 1968, they offered the following as the reasons for their request:
- to enrich and strengthen the many and various diaconal ministries at work in this country with the sacramental grace of the diaconate;
- to enlist a new group of devout and competent men in the active ministry of the Church;
- to aid in extending needed liturgical and charitable services to the faithful in both large urban and small rural communities;
- to provide an official and sacramental presence of the Church in many areas of secular life, as well as in communities within large cities and sparsely settled regions where few or no priests are available;
- to provide an impetus and source for creative adaptations of diaconal ministries to the rapidly changing needs of our society.
On August 30, 1968, an Apostolic Delegate informed the United States Bishops that Pope Paul VI had acceded to their request. The following November the Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate was established.
By the spring of 1971 thirteen programs were in operation, with a total of 430 candidates. The first group of ordinations to the permanent diaconate took place in May and June of 1971.
Late in 1971 the Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate issued a document entitled, Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry. These guidelines drew upon the experience and knowledge gained in the initial programs and served the American Church well, as it began to assimilate the new ministry of the deacons.
The 1971 guidelines were produced from a wish to assist the establishment of the diaconate in this country, but could not reflect actual experience, since they were written before any permanent deacons were ordained. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, motivated by the concern of diocesan bishops that existing formation and ministerial efforts be corrected, improved and updated in light of increased theological understanding and ecclesial practice, used the 1981 survey, A National Study of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States, to prepare an updated version of the 1971 guidelines.
After two revisions and consultation with bishops, supervisors, deacons, and the wives of deacons, the 1984 Guidelines were approved by the Committee on the Permanent Diaconate and forwarded to the NCCB Administrative Committee on June 20, 1984 to present to the general membership of the NCCB for action and publication. They are presently used across the United States as the norm for the establishment of a permanent diaconate formation program.
In 1986, the Bishops= Committee on the Permanent Diaconate was authorized by the general membership of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to prepare a series of monographs as part of a structured catechesis on the permanent diaconate. The first monograph was issued by the Bishops= Committee on the Liturgy entitled, The Deacon, Minister of Word and Sacrament: Study Text VI. The second monograph in the series, Service Ministry of the Deacon, was approved by Bishop Skylstad, chairman of the BCD, and written by Reverend Timothy Shugrue. The third document in the series, Foundations for the Renewal of the Diaconate, was approved by Bishop Melczek, chairman of the BCD, and Deacon Samuel Taub, executive director of Secretariat of the BCD. These documents provide an aspirant and candidate with important diaconal concepts and historical, pastoral, and liturgical understandings which help form the potential deacon.
In June 2000 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved and submitted its final draft of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States. This document was the product of two national committees that had been convened to revise previous formation guidelines and to create a new directory that would reconcile the various formation programs in the United States with the recently issued documents from the Congregation of Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy in 1998.
The National Directory is prescribed for the use of the diocesan bishop and those responsible for its implementation. After more than thirty years of experience with the re-established diaconate, the National Directory is expected to guide and harmonize the various formation programs that at times vary greatly from one to another.