Northern Ireland news

Two high-profile barristers among nine deacons for Down and Connor diocese

Prominent barrister Brett Lockhart is among nine men who will be ordained as deacons in the diocese of Down and Connor. File picture by Cliff Donaldson

TWO prominent barristers are among nine men who will be ordained as deacons in Belfast later this month.

Brett Lockhart, who represented the Omagh bombing families, and Gregory McGuigan, who has taken part in several high-profile cases, will be ordained at St Peter's Cathedral on October 14.

The nine men will be the first deacons to be ordained in the Down and Connor diocese since the diaconate was re-introduced by Vatican II.

The men include Brendan Dowd, a religious education teacher at St Malachy's College in Belfast; Patrick MacNeill, a retired teacher, and Martin Whyte, principal of St Oliver Plunkett's Primary School in Toomebridge, Co Derry.

The other deacons are: Joseph Baxter; Terence Butcher; James McAllister and Kevin Webb.

The men can celebrate weddings and funerals but are not permitted to say Mass or hear confessions.

Following their ordination, the deacons will take up pastoral work. However, their exact roles will not be decided until after they are ordained.

Nine deacons will be ordained at St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast on October 14. Picture by Philip Walsh

Mr Lockhart, a married father-of-four, was born into a Presbyterian family in Belfast. In the 1980s, he joined an ecumenical celibate brotherhood, The Servants of the Word, and studied with them in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

He later returned to Belfast and married his wife Aine, a trained GP who is a distant relative of former bishop of Down and Connor, Dr Daniel Mageean.

He was a member of the Presbyterian church for many years and served as an elder.

Mr Lockhart became a Catholic in 2002. Earlier this year, he was appointed as the chairman of an independent inquiry into how the Belfast trust handled complaints about neurology consultant Dr Michael Watt.

He also sits on the board of the recently-established northern arm of the socially conservative Iona Institute.

Mr Lockhart will be based as a deacon in St Brigid's parish in south Belfast. It is understood he will remain as a full-time barrister following his ordination. A spokesman for the diocese said deacons do not receive a stipend.

Irish News columnist Martin O'Brien

Irish News columnist Martin O'Brien said deacons have been a common feature in the Catholic Church in the US for several decades.

"It's an historic moment for Down and Connor and it will be welcomed," he said.

"Many members of the faithful would feel that the Irish church has been slow in recognising the giftedness of the ministry that is the permanent diaconate."

Mr O'Brien said Pope Francis is considering the findings of a report he commissioned into whether women should be admitted to the diaconate.

"Clearly the good news of this development will be acknowledged but alongside that there will be many people who are wondering what Pope Francis will decide in relation to the admission of women to the diaconate," he said.

In June, father-of-two Martin Donnelly, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, was ordained as the first permanent deacon in the Diocese of Clogher since Vatican II.

Adoration sisters Elaine Kelly and Martina Purdy. Picture by Hugh Russell

Mr Lockhart and Mr McGuigan are not the first lawyers to have become closely involved in Church life.

In 2014, ex-barrister Elaine Kelly gave up a 23-year legal career to join the Adoration Sisters on the Falls Road in west Belfast. Former BBC political journalist Martina Purdy also joined the same order.

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