In the Code of Canon Law we read that several neighbouring parishes may be joined together in special groups in order to foster pastoral care by means of common action. One such group is the Vicariate Forane which is more commonly known in our part of the world as a Deanery.
The Vicar Forane, or the Dean, is the priest who is placed over the Deanery. The Dean is appointed by the diocesan bishop after he has heard the opinion of the priests who exercise ministry in the Deanery in question. In our diocese this consultation usually takes the form of an election held in the Deanery.
The office of Dean is not tied to the office of pastor of a particular parish. For the office of Dean, the bishop is to select a priest whom he considers suitable after taking into consideration the circumstances and demands of the deanery and the present activities of the diocese. He then appoints the Dean for a particular period of time. The diocesan bishop can freely remove a Dean from office for a just cause in accord with his own prudent judgment.
In addition to the faculties legitimately given to him by particular law of the diocese, the Dean has the duty and right of promoting and coordinating common pastoral activity in the vicariate.
The Dean also must have a special concern for the ecclesial life within his deanery. He should be aware of the need of the clergy in his district to live a life in keeping with their state and to perform their priestly duties diligently. If problems arise which negatively affect the life of the Church in his district, then it would be his duty to bring these to the Diocesan Bishop.
The Dean should also be aware of the ways in which the religious functions are celebrated in his deanery. It would be in harmony with his duties to organize workshops and gatherings to help parishes celebrate the rites of the Church according to the prescripts of the sacred liturgy.
He should be aware that the beauty and elegance of churches and sacred furnishings need to be maintained carefully, especially in the Eucharistic celebration and custody of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He should help the pastors and parish ministers to understand the importance of seeing to it that the parochial registers are inscribed correctly and protected appropriately, that ecclesiastical goods are administered carefully, and finally that the rectory is cared for with proper diligence.
For the sake of prudence and respect for the priests of his deanery, the Dean would work in collaboration with the bishop when dealing with the matters touched on above. The Dean should not be burdened with the role of policeman but rather have a responsibility to assist the priests to foster care and awareness of the specialness of priestly life and of the sacred liturgy of the Church within his deanery.
In the deanery entrusted to him, the Dean is to encourage the clerics in his deanery to attend lectures, theological meetings, or conferences that the diocese sponsors for them. These events are important in fostering the strength of the presbyterium. It would be especially important for the Dean to show encouragement by his own attendance at all and any such events.
The Dean would find it within his responsibilities to take care that spiritual supports are available to the presbyters of his district, and likewise to be concerned especially for those who find themselves in more difficult circumstances or are beset by problems.
The Dean is to take care that the pastors of his district whom he knows to be gravely ill do not lack spiritual and material aids.
When a pastor in his deanery dies, the Dean is to take special care to see that the funeral rites are celebrated worthily. The funeral for a priest is always to be a diocesan celebration and its planning is to be done in conjunction with the Archdiocesan Liturgical Committee.
The Dean is also to make provision so that, on the occasion of illness or death, the registers, documents, sacred furnishings, and other things which belong to the Church are not lost or removed.
It would be most appropriate for the Dean to be in regular contact with the parishes of his district and to take occasions to visit them.