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In the Catholic Church, Can.374 §2 of the Code of Canon Law grants to bishops the possibility to join together several neighbouring parishes into special groups, such as vicariates forane, or deaneries.
Each deanery is headed by a vicar forane, also called a dean or archpriest, who is—according to the definition provided in canon 553—a priest appointed by the bishop after consultation with the priests exercising ministry in the deanery. Canon 555 defines the duties of a dean as:
- promotion and coordination of the common pastoral activity within the deanery;
- seeing that the clerics of the deanery lead a life in harmony with their state in life and perform their duties with diligence;
- seeing that religious functions follow Church norms;
- seeing that the good appearance of churches and sacred furnishings are maintained;
- seeing that parish books are correctly managed;
- seeing that the parish rectory is well maintained;
- seeing that clerics, following the norms of the diocese and the norms of Canon 272, attend theological lectures, meetings, or conferences;
- making sure that the priests of the deanery have access to spiritual helps and aid in difficult pastoral circumstances; and
- making sure that pastors in his deanery are well cared for when they are sick or dying.
Additionally, the dean must follow the particular norms of the diocese. Canon 555 also particularly mentions that a dean must visit the parishes of the district in accord with the regulations made by the diocesan bishop.
In the Church of England and many other Anglican churches a deanery is a group of parishes forming a district within an archdeaconry. The more formal term, rural deanery, is less often used, though the superintendent of a deanery is the Rural Dean. Rural Deans are customarily one of the senior incumbents within that deanery and will arrange for clergy to cover interregnums in one of the parishes and preside at ruridecanal chapters. Rural deaneries are very ancient and originally corresponded with the hundreds. The title "dean" (Latin decanus) may derive from the custom of dividing a hundred into ten tithings. In medieval times rural deans acted as officers of the diocesan bishop and prepared business for the archdeacons to determine at their visitations. Archdeacons gradually took over most of the duties of rural deans and the office was allowed to become a sinecure by the 16th century. The office was revived in 1836 and the role of rural deans became more significant during the late 19th century. Modifications to deanery boundaries may be made according to the provisions of the Archdeaconries and Rural Deaneries Act of 1874 (37 & 38 Vict., cap. 63).
The deanery synod has a membership of all clergy who are licensed to a parish within the deanery, plus elected lay members from every parish. They were established in the 1970s.
The term is also often used to refer to the house, or official residence, of the dean of a cathedral. The term is also used to apply to the ecclesiastical districts of Jersey and Guernsey, which are Royal Peculiars and whose deans hold a status more nearly equivalent to an Archdeacon than a rural dean.
In the Episcopal Church, deaneries are synonymous with convocations and are headed by deans.
- Particular Churches and the Authority Established in Them (Cann. 368 - 430) from the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the website of the Holy See
- Vicars Forane (Cann. 553 - 555) from the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the website of the Holy See
- Cross, F. L., ed. (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press; p. 1188.
- Cutts, E. L. (1895) A Dictionary of the Church of England; 3rd ed. London: S. P. C. K.; pp. 532-33
- "The Channel Islands". Diocese of Winchester. Retrieved 4 Dec 2012.
- MacMorran K. M. & Briden T. A Handbook for Churchwardens and Parochial Church Councillors, Continuum (2001) ISBN 0-8264-6308-8 (Anglican)