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Is There a "Lay Diaconate"?

In one sense, the Permanent Diaconate is one of the oldest institutions in the church, dating to Apostolic Times (Acts 6). With the rise of the presbyterate it became ever more common for those ordained to the diaconate to move on to the priesthood. By the 8th century the practice of ordaining "permanent" deacons, that is, men who would remain deacons without moving on to the priesthood, had virtually disappeared.

The Council of Trent called for a restoration of a Permanent Diaconate that would be open also to men who were already married. The Council did not intend to "reduce" the diaconate to a kind of "lay order"--there is no ontological impediment to Holy Orders if a man is married, only a disciplinary one. Indeed, married priests (though not bishops) are not uncommon in the Eastern Churches, and the Latin Rite also has married priests in some areas.

As it happens this desire of the Council was not immediately met. It was not until the Second Vatican …

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