Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Concerning diaconal ordinations celebrated in the Diocese of San Cristobál de Las Casas, Mexico, with appended declaration, 20 July 2000.
Prot. No. 159/00
As you know the Secretariat of State on February 22, 2000, prot. no. 469-345, charged the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America to examine the massive ordination of permanent indigenous deacons celebrated in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas on January 18 of this year by your predecessor Bishop Samuel Ruis García and his coadjutor Bishop Raúl Vera López.
This event caused surprise for various motives, among which is the fact that in the last forty years only eight priests were ordained for the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas compared to some four hundred permanent deacons.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments gathered in this matter sufficient information, beginning with the response of Bishop Ruis García to the request of the Congregation, followed by other trustworthy documents, among which is a video of the mentioned ordination. We have not received, in spite of requesting it, any information from his former coadjutor Bishop Raúl Vera López. All the information collected was communicated in successive remittances to the dicasteries involved.
On the eighteenth of this month there was an interdicasterial meeting at the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments participating were … The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship presided over the meeting whose purpose was to evaluate the last massive ordination of permanent deacons, without omitting the consideration of other aspects connected with it.
The prelate superiors who participated in the interdicasterial meeting are conscious of the grave difficulties that you face in the pastoral governance of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and express their support and desire to give you all the help necessary for the positive carrying out of your sacred ministry as bishop of this particular Church.
We know that your task is not easy and will require tact, firmness, and perseverance. We assure you of prayers.
Having examined thoroughly all the documents, the interdicasterial meeting, with the intention of collaborating with you in your work, by a common agreement considered it opportune to communicate to you some concerns and suggestions which they seem to lead to, and charged the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to bring them to your attention, which it does with this letter.
I. Doctrinal Aspect
— Concerning this aspect it is necessary to underline that there is not a duality between the ecclesiology of the dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium and the decree Ad gentes of Vatican II, and that consequently these conciliar documents cannot be employed to serve as a base for allegedly distinct “ecclesiological models.”
— It is also necessary to the clarify the meaning of the expression “indigenous church,” in such a way that it is not presented as a different “model,” but as the natural result of the Church being inserted in a determined social milieu in such a way that, in at least in a significant part, it has in it its roots and obtains from its own faithful the vocations and necessary resources to accomplish its mission — all this in strict communion with the bishop of Rome and all the Churches in peace and hierarchical communion with it.
It is not possible to construct a model of particular church that is predominantly diaconal; this would not be in conformity with the hierarchical constitution of the Church.
II. Formation of the Clergy
The limited number of priests originating in San Cristóbal de Las Casas ordained in the last forty years makes it advisable to strengthen the pastoral plan for vocations and for the establishment of a new seminary in the diocese.
Moreover, the interdicasterial meeting strongly recommends to the new bishop of San Cristóbal de Las Casas to “open” the diocesan reality to all the components of the Church so that the diocese does not remain “locked” in the exclusive preceding typology. Therefore, in this perspective, Your Excellency could request the help of priests, male and female religious, who can cooperate in the complete insertion of this particular Church in the fabric of the pilgrim Church in Mexico.
III. Permanent Indigenous Deacons
— Given the large number of indigenous permanent deacons already ordained, it is suggested that Your Excellency suspend for an extended period such ordinations in order to consolidate what already exists.
The implementation of some initiatives of continued formation for the deacons already ordained is suggested since what has happened raises concern for the solidity and balance of their formation. One must ask if the deacons already ordained have a clear concept about the nature of ordained ministry in general, and the identity of diaconal ministry in particular. In this work of formation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church must occupy an important place.
The term “indigenous permanent deacon” (diácono indígena permanente), which seems to place the diaconate of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in a different typology should be avoided, by using, in its place, “permanent deacon” (indigenous), to indicate its total harmony with the unique ministry of the universal Church. Likewise the term “pre-deacons” must be avoided, since it does not belong to the vocabulary that is ordinarily used, and leads to confusion since it said at times that they are “ordained,” which is not the case. They can be called “candidates” once they have received the rite of admission foreseen in canon 1034 §1 of the _Code of Canon Law._
It is necessary to make a public declaration that the wives of the permanent deacons did not receive sacramental ordination and are not, for that reason, “deaconesses.” Their role is to assist the ministry of their husbands and to exercise apostolic tasks which the bishop or the pastor assigns them, and can be done by other lay persons.
We recommend a complete revision of the formation programs for the permanent indigenous deacons, taking into account the Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons, and the Directory for the Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons published by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Congregation for the Clergy in 1988.
It seems that it is necessary that there be a public declaration that the permanent indigenous deacons already ordained do not constitute a step with view toward eventual ordination of them as married priests; they were ordained as permanent deacons and not with the expectation of priestly ordination.
With reference to the ordinations celebrated on January 18 of this year in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the following points are noted:
a. that the ordaining bishops did not wear a chasuble, as the liturgical norms require;
b. that the candidates were presented by persons who were not priests;
c. that in the ordination of deacons the bishop who is principal celebrant, and he alone, imposes hands;
d. that there was an abuse of the imposition of hands on the heads of the wives of the deacons, which thus created confusion and ambiguity, as if they were ordained;
e. that in the rite of diaconal ordination the bishop imposes both hands, and not just one, on the head of each ordinand;
f. that another rite or dialogue must not be superimposed on the imposition of hands;
g. that is opportune to analyze other “signs” used to make see whether or not they contain syncretistic elements.
If any of the permanent indigenous deacons does not consider himself fit to perform diaconal ministry and decides to seek transfer to the lay state,
he can request it with the recommendation of his diocesan bishop from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.
At the interdicasterial meeting, it was said that there appears to be no foundation for doubting the validity of the ordinations of permanent indigenous deacons celebrated by Bishops Samuel Ruiz García and Raúl Vera López.
If Your Excellency judges that it would be easier for the Congregation itself to make the declarations mentioned in paragraphs III, nos. 4 and 6, it will be sufficient for you to inform us and we will do it.
I take this occasion to extend to Your Excellency my greetings and to assure you of our sincere desire to give you all collaboration possible, your affectionate brother bishop.
Jorge A. Card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ
Franceso Pio TAMBURRINO
Rome, October 11, 2000
Prot. N. 159/00
DeclarationThe Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in reference to the ordinations of indigenes promoting them to the permanent diaconate in the diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, declares that:
— the wives of the mentioned permanent deacons did not receive sacramental ordination and are not for that reason “deaconesses.” As everyone knows the sacrament of orders is reserved to men (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1577). The role of the wife of a permanent deacon is to assist her husband in his ministry and to exercise apostolic tasks which the bishop or the pastor assigns to her.
— the mentioned permanent deacons were not ordained as such in view of an eventual ordination as married priests, and it is clear that for that
reason their ordination as permanent deacons does not constitute a hope to receive priestly ordination later.
Jorge A. Card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ
Franceso Pio TAMBURRINO
Letter, Prot. no. 159/00, 20 July 2000, accompanied by a declaration, 11 October 2000, W.H. Woestman, The Sacrament of Orders and the Clerical State: A Commentary on the Code of Canon Law_ (Ottawa: Saint Paul University, Faculty of Canon Law, 2004): 438-441.