"Women Deacons: Questions and Answers"

That’s the title of a talk that Dr. Phyllis Zagano will be giving out in Long Island this week.

A lot of readers will remember the lively discussion she sparked some weeks back with an open letter to the pope on the subject of women deacons.  Those who are in the area are invited to pop by to see what all the fuss is about.


Where: Tabor Center, 60 Anchor Avenue, Oceanside, NY (click the link for directions).

When: Friday evening July 8 at 7:30 pm.

Or you can contact the Tabor Center at:  taborretreats@juno.com

"I think I would have been happier had the CDF handled the nuns the way ..."

Vatican challenges “interpretation” of cardinal’s remarks ..."
"Blaming "Islamics" for this is like blaming the Pope for the Holocaust Denial of Hutton ..."

One killed, 44 injured in Catholic ..."
"It smacks to me of hyper-sensitivity, a veiled spiritual and intellectual pride, with regards to ..."

Pope Francis: “A Christian who complains, ..."
"Oh, no, we never change our mind, and we always agree, even on points of ..."

Vatican challenges “interpretation” of cardinal’s remarks ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

56 responses to “"Women Deacons: Questions and Answers"”

  1. Deacon Kandra, who is your bishop? What would he think of your promoting this event on women deacons? Have you ever asked his opinion on this, or are you freelancing here?

  2. Chris,

    I do not know what my bishop’s opinion of women deacons is, but I do know the Church’s position. Nothing that I’ve read of Dr. Zagano’s work contradicts that. I anticipate her talk will cover a lot of the same territory that she covers in her upcoming book, “Women Deacons: Past, Present and Future,” written in collaboration with Deacon Bill Ditewig and Gary Macy.

    Dcn. G.

  3. You know, just because Bishops have made pronouncements on a subject, be it theological, moral or related to Church law, does not mean those subjects cannot be discussed or explored. Indeed, they should be discuss and explored. We need to know why the Church teaches what she does. And the standards are so high, we can never reach them if we don’t understand them.

  4. I don’t have citations at hand, but I do not believe Phyllis Zagano’s work is totally in agreement with that of the Church. Since you advertise yourself as “deacon” here — claiming a certain teaching authority with that title — why not ask your bishop and find out his feelings about your promoting this event? Honestly, the way you pitched it, about all the discussion and the open letter to the pope — it seems you’re more interested in the controversy and getting a spirited discussion going. I suspect you’re going at this as a journalist, but is a Catholic deacon a journalist or a teacher of the truth, first and foremost? (I’d be willing to bet your bishop does not share your enthusiasm for the event.)

  5. Chris,

    You state: “I don’t have citations at hand, but I do not believe Phyllis Zagano’s work is totally in agreement with that of the Church.” and “(I’d be willing to bet your bishop does not share your enthusiasm for the event.)”

    If you do come up with a “citation” I would dearly like to see it. I began my work on women deacons at the request of John Cardinal O’Connor, and the validity and liceity of that work was affirmed to me personally by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. There is nothing I have written that is against the Magisterium.

    For your convenience, there is a list of my publications at http://people.hofstra.edu/Phyllis_Zagano/

    If you are coming by Friday evening, please make your reservation by telephoning Tabor Retreat Center at 516-536-3004.

  6. Chris…

    Unless I’m missing something, I’m not advocating or promoting anything that goes against the teaching of the Church. Zagano herself once asked then-Cardinal Ratzinger if the church might one day ordain women as deacons and he replied, “It is under study.” That’s still the official word.

    I admire Zagano’s scholarship and respect the company she keeps — Bill Ditewig is a good friend of mine –so I take what she has to say on this subject seriously, whether one agrees with her conclusions or not.

    And yes: getting a spirited discussion going — and listening to other points of view — is part of what this (and every) blog is about.

    Dcn. G.

  7. Ms. Zagano may be a good theologian doing valuable work, however, I don’t appreciate the sarcastic and arrogant tone many of her articles take. I would be more open to hearing her opinion if she would lose this attitude.

    I apologize Deacon Greg, I don’t want to offend anyone…but I think this needs to be said…

  8. Since I’m proud to be a co-author with Dr. Zagano and Dr. Macy on our forthcoming book on “Women Deacons,” I just want to add my own two cents on all of this.

    I can reassure all here that we do NOT disagree at any point with the magisterium of the Church on this question. In fact, in my essay in the book, I examine ALL of the church’s official documents on this and related questions, and my conclusions are derived completely from them. As then-Cardinal Ratzinger said, and the actions he took repeatedly with regard to this question, the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons is a completely legitimate and necessary one. It is a question quite distinct from any other question, such as that of ordaining women as presbyters, and the official teaching of the Church has consistently maintained that distinction.

    God bless,

    Deacon Dr. Bill

  9. Deacon Bill:

    Well, given Dr. Macy’s laughably biased book, The Banquet’s Wisdom, I wouldn’t want to be associated with him in a book. Heck, I wouldn’t collaborate in crossing a street with him until he publicly professed his belief in the Tridentine dogmatic teaching on the Eucharist.

    If you want a soundbite, how about this from p. 121 from that book: “Wyclif was not just upset by the philosophical absurdity of transubstantiation, however.” So who thinks it is a philosophical absurdity: Wyclif or Macy or both? The text itself never clears up this and lots of other comments.

    His sneering dismissal of the Church while at USD had one unintended side effect: his seminarian students earned a real-world education in progressive “Professional Catholic” duplicity. Happily enough, a good number of moderate middle-of-the-road seminarians became solid conservatives once exposed to his bad example.

    I understand his new project is seeking a return to the “diversity” of early Christianity. I suppose what he means by this is the happy days of Arianism, Gnosticism, and other heretical sects.

  10. Dear FrMichael,

    You’re entitled to your opinion, of course.

    However, I’ve known Dr. Macy since we were high school seminarians together a LONG time ago, and I can assure you that your characterization of him is completely off-base.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  11. For those of us playing at home, is it possible to get a timeline of Dr. Zagano’s exploration on the subject? I’m curious to learn more about the requests from Cardinal O’Connor and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, and how the research/discussions made their way to the ITC and the Orthodox/Oriental Orthodox dialogs.

  12. Dear Paul,

    I’m sure that Dr. Zagano, if she’s playing along here, will give you that timeline. Vis-a-vis Cardinal O’Connor’s involvement, you may read about that at the beginning of her book, “Holy Saturday,” which contains much of her earlier research on the question.

    Then-Cardinal Ratzinger gave the question to two successive five-year agendas of the ITC. The first five-year process issued no written report on the matter; the second five-year attempt yielded a report which has yet to be acted on in any way by the current Prefect of the CDF (for whom the ITC “works”) or the current Holy Father. The ITC report simply states that the magisterium as never taught definitively on the subject of ordaining women to the diaconate and that it may so teach if it wishes. Not very much for ten years’ work. Even so, the document itself from the ITC needs to be understood as a useful document, but not as one carrying significant magisterial weight. Now, if the Prefect or the Holy Father take the results of that report and themselves act upon it, that will be a different story. So far, they have not, and it does not appear that anything is in the works. In short, the matter remains completely open for discussion, debate and development.

    I’ll leave the question about the Orthodox (I’m not sure what your distinction between “Orthodox” and “Oriental Orthodox” means) to Dr. Zagano, who has explored these issues at length.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  13. I just shot an email to my pastor asking fro an update on the status of Dr. Phyllis Zagano’s status in our diocese. For some reason, the word “banned” comes to mind.

    As far as the use of phrases like “explored these issues at length” are concerned, I know many fundamentalists that have studied and “explored” other issues at length. I’ve been studying this issue over the past 5 years now. So far the results of my research indicate that women were given titles, like deaconess, but were never ordained, because this is impossible. Only men can validly receive the sacrament of holy orders. Further studies reveals that the early Church fathers also openly stated that attempting to ordain women is not possible. Simply put. The subject is not about whether we will accept, but rather that it is actually impossible. A man has just as much ability to bear children as a woman has to be ordained.

    Don’t see why anyone would waste time being misdirected.

  14. Re: Mark #13.

    “Don’t see why anyone would waste time being misdirected.”

    Unfortunately, I will be no where near Dr. Zagano’s presentation on Friday July 8.

    At that very moment (allowing for a three time zones difference) I will be doing Evening Prayer while on a retreat of sorts out in the high country of California — two thousand miles away. I certainly will be praying for the success of this event — and the upcoming book.

    Deacon Bill’s insight (Comment #12) indicated that this topic had been under active discussion for some time. A whisper of the original ITC meetings did surface here in the Midwest back sometime around 2002 but — as Deacon Bill mentioned — nothing substantial was settled at that time.

    I first became aware of Pope Benedict’s direct involvement in the work of the ITC on this topic in late 2009 when he published that moto propio on the subject of the diaconate. The theology of the diaconate that he developed in that document (a moto propio is like an “executive order” — it is the Pope’s own words carefully crafted by his own hand) while extremely subtle, did lay some important groundwork on this very topic.

    On a slightly different front: ever since Vatican II, our Roman/Latin Catholic Christianity’s attitude toward Eastern/Byzantine Catholic Christianity has undergone a significant change. Prior to VII, Rome tended to restrict Eastern theologies to the Eastern Church’s care. As a result, Rome/Latin Christianity simultaneously developed, over many centuries, the idea that they/themselves were the only game in town.

    Pope John XXIII took the initiative here and started to change that rather arrogant attitude. Both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI also believe firmly in that new focus. What that meant was that we as Roman/Latin Catholic Christians became more aware of our universality and started asking questions about why two very different theologies and polities and even rituals had become so polarized.

    For instance, I am seeing more Roman/Latin priests/deacons/laity using a profound bow instead of a genuflection. I am seeing more Roman/Latin laity accepting that the fact that Eastern/Byzantine Christianity never lost the charism of married priesthood or the charism of the married diaconate. On top of that, we are just now beginning to recognize and accept that Eastern/Byzantine Catholic Christianity never lost the idea of “deaconesses” either.

    Only the very best of blessings to all involved in these discussions!

  15. Deacon Kendra,

    I asked about the position of your bishop because you operate as a deacon under his authority. Why not ask him? Although Phyllis Zagano’s work may have had a happy beginning, it is nagging at me that it has gone off the rails. Indeed, I seem to recall spirited discussions of the sort on Fr. Z’s blog, which draws from a readership as well-educated as yours.

    (I must confess here that I have glanced at Zagano’s columns in NCR and cringed from time to time. Publishing there is not a professional badge of honor, unless you enjoy reading the errors of the likes of McBrien and Eugene Kennedy.)

  16. Friends,

    This is an intersting discussion, much like the one I hope to generate on July 8 at Tabor Retreat Center in Oceanside, NY on Friday, July 8 @ 7:30 p.m. There are too many different threads for me to pick up all of them, but let me try a few: 1) I am not banned in my or any diocese; my pastor and bishop are well aware of my work; 2) I write in different venues–journalism is one of them, and journalistic commentary is included–one or two very poor representatives of the extreme right wing have complained about one or two of my commentaries-. In fact, I left the Religion News Service (RNS) and joined National Catholic Reporter (NCR) because at RNS I was not free to present Church teaching, particuliarly on life issues, and often my pro-Church opinion was edited out of existence without my knowledge or permission; 3) Eastern Catholic traditions are shared by Eastern Orthodoxy and other Churches that share recogniton of the first several Councils, which include information and instructions regarding the ordination of women as deacons, although as far as I know Eastern Catholic Churches have not restored the tradition of women deacons, while some Eastern Orthodox have; 4) My writings are listed on my Hofstra web page:
    and Paulist has another book–this one solely by me– in the chute for Spring 2012 (“Women in Ministry: Emerging Questions on the Diaconate”); 5) Cardinal O’Connor asked me to write “Holy Saturday” and he helped with its outline; 6) My newest academic book “Women & Catholicism” (Palgrave-Macmillan) addresses many of the questions here discussed in academic detail. I hope these few comments allay the fears of the naysayers and detractors here and elsewhere. There seems a smear campaign going on against me by some very questionable internet bloggers, who willfully and uncharitably misrepresent what I write. Happy Fourth!

  17. As always, I am grateful for the kind of Catholic theology, the kind of catholicity that invites thought, exploration and expression through Christ of what might seem unthinkable. The scholarship of Dr. Zagano and Deacons Ditewig and Macy is deeply rooted in their faith and belief as far as I can tell.

    If we as Catholics begin to shut down at the mention of any thing out of the realm of what our own personal orthodoxy, I fear we have lost our way. Our faith demands such bold exploration as it is rooted in such eternal truth and a truth that is constantly being revealed as Christ is constantly being revealed.

    It saddens me always when we resort to insults and degradation in comment boxes. How is the dignity of the human person upheld in such circumstances?

    Even if one truly believes a brother or sister in Christ is in error, do we correct that error through cruel mockery or with love?

    You can all say I am a bit too kumbayah, but that is not it. I am not speaking of some saccharine love but rather the love of Christ in the world. I must say that I see much more of that here from those who are called out rather than by those who are doing the calling out.

    As for me, I wish that I were closer to the Tabor Center on that night; if I were, I would be present. And I highly recommend Holy Saturday, even if you disagree. You may read it and find your heart and mind opened. Whether you do or not, you can at least speak with more authority and clarity at that point. I look forward to the publication of Women Deacons.

    Does anyone really know the history here? Even a married, male diaconate was unthinkable and laughable by many, only 60 odd years ago.

    And today…

    Peace to all. Thank you to the people who actually work and live within the teachings of our Church and then have the courage to study and preach what they see revealed.

  18. I think it is good to have this discussion just as we the Church had many discussions on women in the priesthood. And I am confident that the result willl be the same, but at least those who advocate women deacons will have had their say. I read the findings of the ITC which really didn’t contribute of whole lot IMHO.

    I use ‘deacons” not deaconess as the latter refers to an ancient ministry and one that, as documents tell us, forbad these women to preachm, assist at liturgy, etc. such as ordinaed male deacons do today. It seems that deaconesses of the past were more in line with what we understand today as consecrated women. It is also interesting in that most of the wives of deacons under 60 yrs of age I know want nothing to do with ordination for themselves. A few of the elederly ones do, but then that’s also consistent with the spirit of the 60s-70s which characterize many.

    The ministry of the diaconate is so closely related to that of presbyter and bishop, and so firmly taught as part of the Sacrament of Orders that the drive for women deacons can easilty be prophesied to have the same outcome as that for women priests: no.

  19. Phyllis,

    You’re too conservative for RNS and too liberal for some of the posters here. Sounds familiar to me.

    I guess we just can’t win, can we?

    Best of luck on your event. Wish I could be there.

  20. Phyllis Zagano,

    “one or two very poor representatives of the extreme right wing have complained about one or two of my commentaries-”

    More than that, I think.

    Didn’t you write that hit piece on Bishop Finn in June in NCR, comparing him to Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Didn’t that generate complaints?

    How about your NCR commentary on the pope’s statement on condoms last November, which Fr. Z fisks here: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2010/11/fishwrap-getting-condom-conundrum-wrong-but-with-a-surprise/

  21. Are there not far more important discussions to have in the Church at this point in time? Are female deacons that essential to the life of the Church?

    Should we not be worried about the lack of vocations to the priesthood, closing parishes and schools, lack of faith in the Real Presence, mass attendance etc. ?? These are far more important issues and women deacons are not going to solve any of them.

    To tell the Pope “it is time for women deacons” seems to me a bit presumptuous and disrespectful. If Benedict XVI thought it was time he would do it. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him his job.

  22. Well, Phyllis, I read your piece on Bp. Finn, and it looks as if you played fast and loose with the facts. As I recall from the stories at the time, Bishop Finn did not, as you falsely allege, ignore the letter. When his Vicar General informed him of it, he told the Vicar General to talk to Fr. Ratigan about his inappropriate behavior. It was also reported that the VG did so, and that Fr. R’s behavior seemed to improve somewhat.

    So “maligned and misrepresented” seems to be a fair description of what you did to Bishop Finn.

  23. RomCath, you say: “Are there not far more important discussions to have in the Church at this point in time? Are female deacons that essential to the life of the Church?”

    I find myself curious at what those more important discussions would be from your point of view?

    The Body of Christ is vast and filled with life; many conversations can go on at once. It is the sound of Spirit, which is grace unleashed. That’s a problem with Spirit and grace for some – Spirit and grace are hard to measure or control, yet so very real.

  24. And now, Phyllis, I’ve read the one on Benedict XVI and condoms, and about half the comments (eventually I gave up). A number of them rightly criticize you for both the tone of the post and for not having read the book before writing on the topic. It seemed that you were writing for the sake of being as unflattering as possible.

    Theology, including moral theology, requires precise language. If people who are not professional theologians can’t immediately grasp what is being said, the solution is not for theologians and hierarchs to go for congenial sound bites that everybody will like. The solution is for journalists to realize when they’re out of their depth and consult experts so they can clarify the matter, rather than obfuscate it, and for everybody to heed the wise words of Bob Dylan, “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”

  25. Fran #24 said, “The Body of Christ is vast and filled with life; many conversations can go on at once.” I agree with that; it’s too bad when people try to squelch discussions which are outside their own little personal comfort zones.

  26. RomCath: How do you know that women deacons would not at least partly contribution to a solution of one or more of the problems you list? How do you know that alienation of women from the decision making in the Church has not contributed, to some extent anyway, to these problems? Don’t women contribute anything at all to the well being of the church?

  27. Fran, I listed at least 4 far more important discussions. Do you want more? How many Catholic women are raising their voices in the public square against abortion, same sex marriage etc.? I heard Dolan’s voice loud and clear. I didn’t hear any

    Barbara, yes women contribute a great deal to the life of the church and they are not deacons. I don’t see how becoming deacons will resolve the issues at hand.

    I know very well how the Spirit blows and I know that we don’t tell the Pope how to shepherd the Church as Ms. Zagano seems to want to do or maybe she doesn’t believe in papal infallibility either.

  28. RomCath…

    “[Lay people] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.” — from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #907

    Dcn. G.

  29. “with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors”

    When I see and hear that due regard I will pay attention. I don’t see it when someone tells the Pope “it is time to ordain women deacons”. I don’t care how many books they have written, how many degrees they have or places they have taught. Some people think women priests would be for the “good of the church” too and the Pope thinks otherwise.

    I still say there are far, far more important issues in the Church that people should be discussing.

  30. If we keep this in perspective, it is just one talk at a small retreat center (which was a former convent) on a topic that some find interesting. So i don’t see a reason to get the alarms going for or against the topic.

    In my opinion I don’t think that it is an idea that has much traction in the church, and the idea of writing a letter to the Pope seems pretty silly. The vatican has studied the question so I do not think anyone is telling them anything they do not know theologically and they probably have a much better picture of the needs of the universal church than the person writing the letter.

    But on a practical note, my opinion is that the whole diaconate is still an experiment trying to find its place and identity in the church. after 40 to 50 years many of the changes that came from Vatican2 are being reviewed and now with years of experience and reflection, the church seems to readjusting and fine tuning many of the changes. the liturgy being one of the most obvious ones. But in time the diaconate will be reviewed, the recent pastoral by the bishop in Michigan may be a sign of it future and the next step in the diaconate. time will tell…..

  31. I was informed by a renoun member of the Catholic heirarchy that the same reservation of men to the priesthood is not “expressly extended” to the diaconate. He also added this does not mean that the Church will ordain women to the permanent diaconate or that the Church feels it is being asked to do this.

    If there are no doctrinal reasons preventing the ordination of women as permanent deacons and the Church is not opening the door for this to take shape, then we must ask ourselves what is the reason. I have a great deal of respect for Pope Benedict. I believe he wants women to have expanded roles in the Church – not for their sake, but to sanctify the Church. Women cannot be ordained as priests. However, women sharing in the ordained ministry as permanent deacons would bring a healthy balance to an all male clergy, and inbalance which contributed to the sexual abuse of minors. I believe Pope Benedict has taken some steps in the direction of opening a dialogue for women deacons without advancement to the priesthood.

  32. Dear anthony,

    While this is YOUR opinion of the diaconate, it is not one shared by the leadership of the church. There have been many, many letters by many, many bishops on the diaconate over the years — and there are many, many documents reflecting on the diaconate by episcopal conferences, the Roman curia, and the several popes who have nurtured and encouraged its development.

    It is an exciting thing to be a part of such a renewed ministry in the church. I agree with you that there are many areas in which we are all still finding our way, but that’s just a normal part of life. I know Bishop Finn quite well, actually, and you are ascribing an intention to his recent letter that far distorts what he is doing in it.

    I have noticed, in your various postings in cyberspace, that you seem to have a real animus against the diaconate; that is certainly your right and privilege. All I would ask is that you not project your own uncertainties onto others. The order of deacons has been a constant in the life of the Church from the very beginning, although the ways in which it has contributed to the life of the Church has varied over time. Both of those realities will continue over time.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  33. Well, Bill, that is your opinion! You may think you are in the “inside” track with all the many many many people and letters etc: and from a few comments i have made you have figured out i have a animus and projections against the diaconate?

    hmmm, it couldn’t be that your own agenda and projections are keeping you from hearing and seeing issues and opinions you are in denial of?

    i guess we will just see how this all unfolds over the years ahead in the church.


  34. Dear anthony,

    As you wish. My opinion is one flowing out of some 40 years of academic study of the subject, 22 years as a deacon, and some 12 years of formation for ordained ministry.

    I recognize my own limitations. And, as a teacher, I also recognize when conclusions have been reached without an adequate examination of all available facts.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  35. with all respect Bill, your post did not come across as a disagreement to facts, but as a reaction, followed by a simplistic taking my “inventory” to discredit me personally so not to have to respond to the facts/or focus of my post. it is always easier to attack the person than debate a disagreement of facts. it is always hard to listen to what we don’t want to hear, and easier to react and attack with a cheap shot.

    as i said in my very first post, time will tell who has the pulse on what the future will bring to the form of the diaconate in the church. and we will probably both be surprised at what happens!

    blessings on your new ministry

  36. Deacon Bill,

    You say you know Bishop Finn well. How do you feel about Phyllis Zagano’s characterization of him in that June NCR article? How does Bishop Finn feel about it, do you think?

    And how about Zagano’s contention that only one or two extremist malcontents had any problems with her writings — does that stand up to “an adequate examination of all available facts” now that you’ve read some of the responses to her work by Fr. Z and even readers on this blog?

    BTW, there’s another author who begs to disagree with Zagano on women deacons. His name is Daniel Van Slyke, S.T.L. and Ph.D., and he is a young professor at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St Louis, MO. He teaches liturgy and Church history to seminarians, candidates for the permanent diaconate, and lay adults seeking ongoing formation. His article is here: http://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/your-holiness-it-is-time-for-a-theologian-who-is-not-clamoring-for-women-deacons-to-write-an-open-letter-to-you

    Is Van Slyke maligning Zagano?

    I’m puzzled by your habit of appealing to authority to shut off discussion– citing your degrees and years of study — instead of arguing the facts of your case. It’s a dodge, and an unworthy one if you truly believe you have a case worth fighting for.

    The Church needs deacons, but even more it needs well trained deacons faithful to its teachings and dedicated to its mission. I hope you fit the bill. I haven’t seen enough yet in your comments to be convinced of that.

  37. Dear Chris,

    There are opinions, and then there are opinions. I can have all kinds of opinions about medical issues; but a medical doctor’s opinion is a whole different thing, right? Just as medical doctors have to go to school, pass exams, contribute to the professional literature, and so on. That’s what we do as professors of Theology, too. So, there are opinions, and there are opinions. After all, you just appealed to professor Van Slyke’s credentials and experience — you found it important to convey that information, and you’re right to do so. Well, that’s what I was doing! Were you giving those credentials “to cut off discussion”? I hope not; I can assure you, I was not. Why was my appeal to the authority of academic background inappropriate and your own appeal to the authority of his academic background appropriate? Personally and professionally, I think we were BOTH right to cite academic credentials; this is a legitimate and reasonable “appeal to authority.”

    Yes, I know Bishop Finn. I’m not happy at all about the situation he’s dealing with. As with all human beings, he doesn’t always make the best decisions and sometimes we all get “called” on it. Would I have written what Dr. Zagano did? No. Do I agree that he probably could have dealt with certain things better? Sure! And, I’m sure he feels the same way!

    Look, theologians never expect everyone to agree 100% with everything proposed! There’s a whole professional, academic protocol about how these things proceed, and that doesn’t rely on blog entries. So, the fact that a professor at one school disagrees with Zagano really doesn’t amount to much. I’m sure there are professors at many schools who disagree with her, and there are professors at many other schools (including seminaries) who agree with her conclusions. We don’t just cite one or two dissenting opinions and conclude that the whole debate is over.

    Finally, I’m not sure why you would question my orthodoxy or dedication to the church! Wow! That’s quite a leap, based on a few combox entries! Perhaps you should inquire among the parishioners I serve or the students I teach, or the bishops I serve before you worry about that. Perhaps this will help, and it’s NOT an appeal to authority: I have been ordained for almost 22 years and I have served in a many parishes and dioceses over those years (part of that mobility was due to my Navy career). I have always been a cleric “in good standing” with every bishop where I’ve served, and during my years serving at the USCCB, I had wonderful dealings with ALL the bishops, including many bishops who had a wide diversity of theological positions — my own relationships with them were always positive. If I were some kind of “rogue” deacon, trust me — that would not have been the case.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  38. Dear anthony,

    OK, back to your #31: WHAT facts? You yourself, in that entry, refer simply to your own opinion. Based on what, exactly?

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  39. Bill
    i was responding to your statement:

    “And, as a teacher, I also recognize when conclusions have been reached without an adequate examination of all available facts.”

    yes, i gave my opinions, but i do not feel the need to explain my academic/professional/degrees or give detailed background of all that went into my “adequate examination of all available facts” in forming my opinions.

    instead your response was from a few comments of mine that you have read, you feel i have an animus towards the diaconate and i am projecting my uncertainties on others.

    the two opinions i shared in the first post are:
    it does not seem to me that there is much “traction” for the female diaconate at this time but i do not see some big problem with it being discussed. and that the restored diaconate is still very much evolving and that after 50 years its present form will under go a certain re-thinking and changes that all the reforms from Vat2 are undergoing…….just simple opinions based on my examination of facts. take it or leave it…..only time will tell how it will play out.

  40. If someone from the future read this comment thread, it might not at all be apparent that Catholic thought and life had such a profound impact on the development of Western culture over the centuries.

    There is so little knowledge (and I myself possess so little) about the remarkable history of the Church, chapters both astoundingly great and disturbingly tragic and awful.

    If the tenor of many of these comments “ran” the Church, what little would be accomplished.

    Not everyone is made to be a scholar – nor should everyone be one, but respect of history and scholarship are building blocks.

    The argumentative voices in this thread appear not to be concerned about the Catholic church but rather a small, short-sighted and stunted view of our Church.

    It is very sad, but history and more importantly, Christ Jesus, impels the Church forward, despite our petty differences.

    Everything, as anthony points out in comment #40, needs to undergo review and change, be it Vatican II, the permanent diaconate, the role of women and so much more. Although I am not sure that anthony was not referring to things only he considers that should be under review, waiting to see how the Spirit unfolds.

    Another note… I personally have a tremendous objection to one aspect of the blogosphere and that is anonymity. It is so easy to go throwing all kinds of words around when we only know others by first names, aliases and no links to any blogs or online ID’s of their own.

    My own experience tells me that speaking under one’s own name demands civility and Christian kindness. Even if one does not have a blog, creating an ID is not that hard and at this point, why not simply be the person that God created you to be, in all your splendor?

  41. I just read this quotation from St. Bernard of Clairvaux and thought it was connected to this thread and so many others… I must remind myself of this as well.

    “Zeal without knowledge is always less effective, less useful. Often it is found to be very harmful. Wherever zeal is most fervent and the spirit most vehement, there the need for knowledge’s oversight is all the greater. Knowledge restrains zeal, tempers the spirit, orders charity.”

    Pax et bonum to all.

  42. i disagree, fran, with your projection about people in the future reading this thread. they might just think that the people on it sure have a hard time keeping to what is said. and not throwing in their conjectures from reading a few comments (like “Although I am not sure that anthony was not referring to things only he considers that should be under review)”

    i cannot see how anyone has discredited the place of scholarship or disrespected the role of history and i do not hear any anger or disrespect, just the natural clash of different opinions and perspectives on this issue.

    if you have a ‘tremendous objection’ to aspects of commenting, why not just keep it simple and follow blogs that agree with your convictions?

  43. anthony, my objection is to anonymous and alias commenting, which in my experience happens on all blogs.

    I wish you nothing but peace and good anthony, but I am going to terminate this conversation as it has no real point, it serves nothing.

  44. Friends,

    It is heartbreaking to see so much misinformation and anger surrounding a simple talk about a legitimate topic of discussion–not to mention totally unrelated smears and mischaracterizations.

    For your convenience, there is a list of my publications at http://people.hofstra.edu/Phyllis_Zagano/

    If you are coming by Friday evening, please make your reservation by telephoning Tabor Retreat Center in Oceanside, NY at 516-536-3004. I understand they are asking for a $15 donation per person.

  45. This quote from the Crisis article by theologian and professor, Daniel Van Slyke, S.T.L. and Ph.D is the best succint commentary on this disucssion IMHO:

    Another early Christian document, the Apostolic Constitutions, prescribes: “A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons.” Deaconesses manifestly did not have a role at the altar during Eucharistic celebrations. As the ITC states in the study mentioned above, “This ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate.”

  46. Before I too end my involvement in this thread, let me just use diakonos09’s last comment to illustrate the complexity of what’s involved here.

    1) In his opinion, this particular theologian and professor, who has a licentiate and doctorate, offers “the best succint [sic] commentary” on the issue. Fine. However, others of us with the same academic credentials would disagree with Van Slyke (I have a BA in Philosophy, an MA in Education, an MA in Theology, and the Ph.D. in Theology). That disagreement doesn’t mean that he’s right and we’re wrong, or that we’re right and he’s wrong. It simply means that academics disagree on the subject matter. That happens all the time. So, for the moment, it’s a wash. Let’s see what happens next, and what diakonos finds so compelling.

    2) The “Apostolic Constitutions” offers a quote for Van Slyke’s comment. One quote. One quote does not reflect the totality of the documents involved. Let’s take a closer look. These constitutions were composed as a set of ecclesiastical laws (not divine law) in Syria around the 4th Century. The last bit was added at a much later date. It’s a curious collection, and patristic scholars have long concluded that, in the words of one scholar, “it is a forgery of the grosser and more impious sort.” Nonetheless, it can give us a window into what was believed in that local region; these are not laws for or of the entire Church.

    3) In another passage (apparently ignored by Van Slyke, but we all have to make choices), the bishop is instructed to “appoint a female deacon, faithful and holy, for the ministerings of women. For sometimes it is not possible to send a male deacon into certain houses of women, because of unbelievers. Send a female deacon, because of the thoughts of the petty. A female deacon is of use to us also in many other situations. . . .”

    4) Let’s see some of what the anonymous author says about deacons in general: “A deacon does not bless. . ., he does not baptize; he does not offer the sacrifice. . .” But then the author goes on to say that “the other clerics are never permitted to do the work of the deacon.” Then we get to the bit about “deaconesses” that Van Slyke notes: “the deaconess does not bless,” etc.

    5) Clearly the document in question offers some nice insights about the way things were done in that local church. But there are other sources from the same period describing other local churches in which things were done differently, including deacons giving blessings, baptizing, and so forth. I would refer anyone interested to the work of Msgr. Joseph Pokusa (oh, I don’t want to forget: JCL, JCD) who has studied ALL of the patristic legislation concerning deacons and archdeacons for some very interesting contrasts. The simple truth is, every local church handled these things differently.

    6) I would also point out that the text in question also uses two different terms: one refers to “women deacons” and the other refers to “deaconesses”; this is most significant.

    7) In the early 1970’s two French scholars of great repute, Roger Gryson and Aime George Martimort, got into this same debate over the same documents. Gryson, with great care, concluded that women deacons were “definitely counted among the clergy like clerics, with the laying on of hands (cheirotonia), they received ordination under precise juridical conditions.” He continued, “From a doctrinal point of view, since for several centuries a large portion of the Church followed this practice without raising a theoretical problem, it is perfectly conceivable to confer on women a diaconal type of ministry. Women deacons then receive a true ordination, with nothing distinguishing it formally from the ordination of their male colleagues.” Martimort, analyzing the same evidence, disagreed. He determined that the “Apostolic Constitutions” were “of questionable orthodoxy.” He went on to say that he found ritualistic differences between the ordination rites of deaconesses and male deacons, therefore, he concludes, women were not ordained. I would ask Martimort, if that were possible, what about the ordination rites for women deacons?

    Anyway, folks, as you can see, distinguished scholars have been thrashing away at all of this for a long time now, and these are very, very complex issues. You can’t just pick one little quote from one particular theologian with whom you think reflects your own thinking on a matter and declare the matter closed! The Catholic Church just doesn’t work that way!!

    God bless,


  47. OK, I mis-spoke; I do have one last comment on Diakonos09’s post. Consider this a PS:


    There is considerable evidence that women DEACONS (NOT deaconesses, these are two very distinct groups of women) DID have liturgical roles analogous to male deacons in many parts of the Christian Church, so while your statement is technically true about the group of women known as “deaconesses” it is not true about “women deacons.”

    The ITC comment is quite nuanced: no one is suggesting that the female diaconate was simply the same thing as the male diaconate. But then again, the way I exercise diaconate as a so-called “permanent” deacon is considerably different from the way a so-called (and mistakenly called) “transitional” deacon who is a seminarian on his way to presbyterate. But we are still part of the one Order of Deacons. There are many ways of exercised ordained Diakonia.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  48. My only quibble with what Deacon Bill says is this:

    “You’re entitled to your opinion, of course.”

    No. No one is entitled to an uninformed, or misinformed opinion. Indeed, those of us who have informed opinion and judgments are called to correct these, as the old catechism called us to, under the banner of spiritual works of mercy, to instruct the ignorant. And indeed in his later postings on this subject Deacon Bill has carried out this work of mercy, as he has in his books and other materials.

  49. Actually one of the statements from the ITC in their published work, “From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles” shoudl really be able to answer the back-n-forth historical question. They declared that from the evidence of historical documentation alone one cannot say that daconesses/women deacons did or did not receive Holy Orders and/or carry out what we would term today to be clerical-liturgical ministries. So history and documents will, after all, do no one no good in coming to an conclusion.

    I guess that means we need to look to Sacred Tradition and the decision and interpretation of the Tradition by the pope. And in this realm things seem pretty predictable. But if a woman thinks she is truyl called to the diaconate and if men in the Church believe they are called to support and promote a female version of the diaconate they can save themselves a lot of work and have their desires easily fulfilled by entering into membership of the Episcopalian Church.

  50. Mr Burke, are you reading the same thread? even Bill says regarding this issue “for the moment, it’s a wash”. it would be helpful for you to explain yourself more?

    as far as i know, in RC theology the priesthood was instituted by Christ, the diaconate was instituted by the church to meet current needs of the church…….so the bigger picture is how the church wants to respond to its current needs.

  51. “so the bigger picture is how the church wants to respond to its current needs.”

    One thing is clear. There no longer remain any social prohibitions that prevent male deacons from carrying out their work with female congregants. So if that was the reason for having female deacons in the early Church, and it sounds like it was, the need really doesn’t seem to be there.

  52. Having just read Dcn Greg’s latest post on Corapi all this debate seems so trivial. Let us all pray for Croapi and especially for those directly and indirectly affected by his choices.

  53. Deacon Bill:

    Referring to your #10–

    I don’t know the man at all except through his writings and comments by others who had him in class. He can be the nicest guy in the world and still be a heretic, so your personal relationship isn’t really relevant. I had friends in seminary who had no business being priests. Most aren’t, but unfortunately a few are. My friendship with them was no guarantee of the possession of the theological virtue of faith.

    I notice that you don’t refer to my specific point. Does Dr. Macy (is he was a deacon?) adhere to the dogmatic teaching of the Church or not? I’m not talking about theological issues in question, I’m speaking of the definitively settled teaching such as the Eucharistic teachings of Trent. My friends tell me that his adherence is questionable. I say that nobody should be involved in the question of deaconesses unless it is known that they do so from a position of full adherence to Catholic sacramental dogma. Last thing an important topic like this deserves is a participant who majors in AmChurch doubletalk.


  54. Fr.Michael,

    I can assure you that Dr. Macy (he is not a deacon, and never has been) “adheres to the dogmatic teaching of the Church.”

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  55. For the record: Gary Macy is a Ph.D. historian, not a deacon, and chair of the theology department at Santa Clara University in California. He has published an extensive historical study of the documents referring to women deacons in the early to medievl church. Neither he, nor Deacon Ditewig, nor I intend to overthrow any Church teachings by our writing and speaking about the restoration of the tradition of women deacons in the Western Church. As has been said, come and see:

    “Women Deacons: Questions and Answers” at Tabor Retreat Center, 60 Anchor Avenue, Oceanside. Hofstra professor and NCR columnist Dr. Phyllis Zagano will be discussing the possibility of the ordination of women as deacons in the Catholic Church Friday July 8 @ 7:30 p.m.. Call 516-536-3004 for reservations. Donation $15.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.