The term is a relatively new term that is often used in certain dioceses around the world.
On occasion Catholics might hear or see the term “deanery” or “dean” talked about in the parish bulletin or during Sunday announcements.
What does it mean?
In the most recent Code of Canon Law, bishops were given the authority to assemble parishes into smaller geographical groups. These groups of parishes within a diocese were then put under the care of a “dean” and called “deaneries.”
The word “dean” is derived from the Latin decanus, originally referring to a leader in charge of ten people.
The purpose of this arrangement is to assist the bishop in his administration of the diocese. Often a diocese is a large geographical region and in order to govern the diocese effectively, the bishop needs deans to help oversee the parishes and ensure they are functioning properly.
In some cases when the bishop is not able to physically be present for an important ecclesial event, the dean will be appointed as his representative. For example, often a dean will install a priest as the new “pastor” of a parish.
While deans do not have much official authority to enact legislation in parishes, they are the local representatives of the bishop. If there is an issue with a parish or priest, lay people are instructed to consult the local dean first. Then, if the issue is not resolved, the dean is supposed to present the problem to the bishop.
In areas where there are many Catholics stretched over a large area, deaneries are an effective tool that help the bishop maintain unity among his flock.