"This is a book that will get people thinking — and talking"

If you find yourself in Chicago Thursday, you might want to wander over to the Simpson Living Learning Center (1032 West Sheridan Road) at 4 p.m. for what promises to be a lively presentation and discussion on the topic of women deacons.

It’s to mark the official publication of the long-aborning book “Women Deacons: Past, Present and Future,” written by my good friend and brother deacon William Ditewig with Gary Macy and Phyllis Zagano.

The discussion (including Q&A) will be moderated by Dr. Susan Ross, who wrote the forward to the book and who chairs the Theology Department at Loyola University.

As Dr. Ross notes in her forward:

Gary Macy, William Ditewig and Phyllis Zagano have performed an invaluable service in writing Women Deacons: Past, Present and Future.  To the question of whether there is historical precedent for women being ordained to the diaconate, Gary Macy offers ample evidence for women’s official and clerical ministry in the Church.  He also shows how this practice was first discouraged and then ended.  What “ordination” means has actually changed over time, Macy shows, and the distinctive developments in the late medieval Church that excluded women once and for all from ordained diaconal ministry are revealed for their misogyny.  William Ditewig, himself an ordained deacon, examines the present state of the issue.  He works through the documents of and following Vatican II, showing how the question of women’s diaconal ministry has arisen over and over and why it is time for this issue to be resolved.  Lastly, Phyllis Zagano, already an authority on the issue of women and the diaconate, looks toward the future, showing the benefits and possibilities that the ordination of women to the diaconate would bring to the Church.

I read a draft of the manuscript some months back, and what I wrote in response (and what appears on the back cover) still holds:

This is a book that will get people thinking — and talking.  After all the debate about ordaining women as Catholic priests, here at last is a timely and trenchant analysis of something even the pope hasn’t dismissed: ordaining women as deacons.  Forget everything you know, or think you know, about this hot-button issue.  Women Deacons breaks ground, shatters misperceptions and adds immeasurably to the ongoing discussion about women in the Church.

Drop by the Simpson Living-Learning Center for more on this — or check out the Amazon link to order the book, read it and draw your own conclusions.

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100 responses to “"This is a book that will get people thinking — and talking"”

  1. Yep. PrayTellBlog in a dalmatic. Darned shame. Used to be a good, orthodox blog.

    Is this a serious post? C’mon!

  2. Need to get Dcn. Bill to come do a lecture at LMU. I would love to be able to hear him speak again. I am looking forward to reading this book when I don’t have a ton of reading to do for my classes. I am sure that it will be up to his usual standard and a good, thought provoking read.

  3. I can see the dissent is going stronger than ever since Vatican Council II. Some things are beginning to make more sense to me in light of continued attacks on the Church, society, family and human person. I can’t wait to finish passing through this life filled with those trying to reinvent themselves, their classification (male, female, transgender, same sex attraction and ordained women) and justify their lack of truth. Michael Voris refers to this as the ideas created by the femineazy groups. This same group justifies same sex attraction, abortion and all sorts of distortions. I see no place in the Church for such rubish and can’t wait until the ordained supporting such evil perish from the surface of this world, thus opening vocations for more orthodox men willing to hold fast to the truth.

    Sorry, Deacon, you need new friends.

  4. Wow! And #1 and #3 were written without even reading the book to see what we actually say! Don’t you think, Ryan and Vocatio, that just maybe you should at lest read the book before you condemn us? You have no idea what the book contains!

    Oh, and by the way, even the Pope has kept this question “open” — even giving it over to his own International Theological Commission to study for more than 10 years. He thinks it’s a worthwhile question to study — why don’t you?

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  5. Deacon Bill and his co-authors should take comfort in the fact that people of good faith are routinely mocked.

    Imagine if one were to read the book first and then comment. I have not yet had the chance to read this book, but I look forward to doing so.

    Did anyone read the daily readings for today? I think that what St. Paul tells us in Romans 8 is worth noting here: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
    who are called according to his purpose.”

    While being obedient to Church, it might be wise to remember that (more Scripture) “with God, all things are possible.”

    Did anyone not notice what Deacon Greg has said clearly and which is actually part of the fact-based, Vatican approved universe: the Pope has not dismissed this notion. It is very different from the topic of women’s ordination to the priesthood.

  6. Pope John Paul II was no push over and was very intelligent. He addressed the ordination of women priests, but left the issue of women deacons open.

    I once read a book on Christology that in part stated that the issue would not be completely resolved until theologians fully explored “Wisdom Christology” – the study of Christ as related to the concept of God’s wisdom in the Old and New Testaments and the how Christ was the expression of God’s Wisdom. Wisdom was described as a feminine quality.

    Whether one likes it or not, the question is open.

  7. It is a topic we need to think and talk about. Looking forward to this book and an informed discussion of the topic. Thank you Deacon Greg for the post.

  8. I hope and pray that I always have enough faith to “Go with the pope”, so in that sense, if he is truly open, I will be too, albeit never for priests.

    That said, what drives me nuts about the “women on the altar ” issues is this. For most, it’s about “being equal” or “women moving up the ranks”, far more than it’s ever about the Holy Sprit guiding the needs of the Church.

    Here’s the thing. Unlike the secular world, the spiritual world, and most certainly Catholicism, are not “won” by either getting to the altar or making it to the “administrative” level. Be it the Vatican hieracy or the local parish, the “end game” so to speak of Catholicism is simply holiness and heaven. On that note, Jesus left many ways and various states of life for women to achieve that holiness, motherhood being a biggie, which will never and can’t ever be open to men. And that’s because God simply wanted it that way!

    My point is not so much if or if not women “can” become Deacons, although I would really have to read the book and understand the ‘ordination” evidence better (as no women priest was ever “ordained”, based on biblical history), but WHY women want or feel the need to be clergy. That in my opinion, is what needs more attention, as it appears to be greatly misunderstood as to what Cathlicism actually is.

  9. Just placed my order for THREE via Amazon. One in my library; one in the parish open library; and one for the library at the local college.

  10. Seems to me that it was about six-eight months ago that this blog was active with comments about this whole scene. One of the critical issues raised at that time was whether there were any unique spiritual situations in which women in pastoral ministry simply do a better job than men, regardless whether the men are ordained or not.

    At the time; three surfaced:

    –spiritual life and formation directors / Congregational Ministers / “chaplains in all but name” for religious communities of women (this is where the Orthodox Deaconesses have flourished).

    –ministers / “chaplains in all but name” / for police agencies. Here civilian experience has provided us the insight because these secular agencies have realized that women officers are uniquely qualified to work with rape victims, victims of family violence, and victims of child sexual abuse.

    –prison ministers in women’s settings. For example, the “Manager of Chaplaincy Services” at several large penal institutions for women are Roman Catholic religious sisters.

  11. First Council of Nicea, 19 June, 325 AD, Canon #19:
    “We refer to deaconesses who have been granted this status, for they do not receive any imposition of hands, so that they are in all respects to be numbered among the laity.”

    (source document linked below, so you can read it for yourself…)

    The documentation shows that there were 318 Bishops at that First Council of Nicea.

  12. Klaire@9

    “…what drives me nuts about the “women on the altar ” issues is this. For most, it’s about “being equal” or “women moving up the ranks”, far more than it’s ever about the Holy Sprit guiding the needs of the Church.”

    This is the ONLY experience that I have had with women wanting to be priests and deacons and it drives me nuts/crazy too.
    I will bet 100s of dollars to doughnuts that if everyone would calm down and allow the Holy Spirit to work and act as is right, that this would not be such a hot button issue.

  13. Antonius

    You must read that document in relation to a particular group of women in question:

    Nicaea, 325 A.D. The clergy of the heretical Paulianist sect returning to the Catholic fold were required by the council to be rebaptized and reordained. The same rule was to be observed concerning deaconesses, who were specially mentioned since some of them wearing the habit had not received the laying on of hands and therefore were to be considered laity (canon XIX)”


    But if you move forward to Chalcedon:

    “Chalcedon, 451 A.D. (The fourth general council.) The ordination of deaconesses is expressly called both cheirotoneisthai and cheirothesia – ordination by the imposition of hands (canon XV)” (ibid.).

  14. Regarding the First Council of Nicea, Canon 19:

    This canon needs some context, because it doesn’t really say what you might think it is saying:

    This canon is in regards to the Paulianist heretics who were within the Church. It was never meant as a blanket canonical statement about deaconesses but it is specifically concerned with the deaconnesses who came to the Church from the heresy of Paul of Samosata. The Council of Nicea was obliged to lay down Canons dealing with situations arising from the Paulician heresy.

  15. I don’t have the time or space to delineate some of the historical material that Gary Macy unearthed; but he gives compelling evidence (from early canonists, documents, pontificals, sacramentaries and even saints like John Chrysostom) that there were women in both the Eastern and Western Churches who were called deacons; that they were “ordained” (as the term was understood at the time) in a ceremony that included the laying on of hands and the reception of a stole; and that their ministries included proclaiming the gospel, teaching, and assisting at the altar. There’s evidence that the ministry continued in some places into the 11th century. Read the book. It’s fascinating, challenging stuff.

  16. I think that people need to realize that the Eastern Orthodox, who cling to the ancient Tradition more stridently than the Latin Rite Catholic Church, has begun to ordain the deaconness again in many Orthodox Churches.

    While the role of the female deacon was different than the male deacon, the fact remains that the deaconness was ordained by the laying of hands of the Bishop to the ministry of service.

    The ecclesiology of the sacrament of order is quite a bit different between the Eastern and Latin Churches, and is based on the differing views between the Augustinian and Cyprianic view of the sacraments. The west holding to the former, while the east holds to the latter.

    The prayer of ordination of the deaconess in the Orthodox Church that has been used since the 8th/9th centuries is:

    “The divine grace, which always heals that which is infirm and completes that which is lacking, ordains N., beloved of God, as deacon. Let us pray for her, that the grace of the Holy Spirit may come upon her…

    …O God, the Holy and Almighty, who sanctified woman through the birth in the flesh of your only-begotten Son and our God from the Virgin; and bestowed the grace and advent of your Holy Spirit not to men alone, but also to women; look now, Lord, upon this your servant and call her to the work of your diaconate, send down upon her the abundant gift of your Holy Spirit. Preserve her in your Orthodox faith, in blameless conduct, always fulfilling her ministry according to your pleasure, because to You is due all honor and glory and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and always, and unto ages of ages, Amen.”

    We really need not fear what the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church did. The ecclesiology of the West developed significantly since this time. Women deacons are not a backdoor to women priests (which are not even possible).

    It is because of the developments in the understanding of the sacrament of order in the west that has created the difficulty in reconciling that women were ordained by Cheirotonia with the development of the ecclesiology of the sacrament of order in the west.

    It is my hope that this book discusses this at length.

  17. Deacon Greg makes a valid point. We cannot take a developed ecclesiology of the 20th/21st century and apply it to an 8th century Church. Things simply don’t work that way.

  18. Dan S #17:

    “The ecclesiology of the sacrament of order is quite a bit different between the Eastern and Latin Churches, and is based on the differing views between the Augustinian and Cyprianic view of the sacraments.”

    The Cyprian you are referring to in Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258), I assume. He is a part of the Western, Latin tradition. It surprises me that his view of the sacraments would have such influence in the Eastern, Greek tradition. Please explain.

  19. HMS

    St. Cyrprian is well loved in the East, and many Orthodox think his writings contain a critique of the universalization of the papacy, leading to a further exploration and development of his thought. I would say his authority is seen higher than Augustine in the East.

    St Gregory the Great is another Western figure whose work has heavily influenced the East (interestingly, he is far more Western, and Augustinian). He is remembered most for the Dialogues.

    The point with this is – just because someone is in the West does not mean they have no influence on the East. Or, of course, the other way around.

  20. Are we once again getting hung up on being Catholic (following some rules that are open to question anyway) and forgetting to be Christian (allowing the best person to be on the altar without regard to gender)?

    It’s seems hard to justify not allowing 50% of Catholics — women — to heed a call to serve as deacons especially as there seems to be a history of them.

    I do agree that this should not be about women being ordained simply because they want to be “equal”. It is about honoring ALL who are called to serve in this capacity.

    But for the record, I look forward to the day there will be women priests, also.

    [Jake: You should prepare for a very long wait. That door has closed. Dcn. G.]

  21. Henry Karlson:

    Thanks. I am surprised about his influence in the East, since Cyprian’s works were in Latin.

    But, I am not very knowledgable about the Eastern tradition, although what I have read of the spiritual writings of Eastern writers in the fourth century is truly inspirational.

  22. HMS

    You are welcome; yes, many in the West would be surprised who is brought up in the East and influential to Eastern thought. Of course, I am in a peculiar position, being Byzantine Catholic, but only because I converted from Southern Baptist in 1995. I study the East, Orthodox and Catholic, but also study the West in my work and so I find myself uniting both traditions, but the spirituality of the East being a major influence as to my hermeneutic.

  23. I see that the estimated delivery date of my book is January 4, 2012, so it may be a good while before most of us–those without advanced copies–can offer an informed judgment on it. Still, I think many of us do have opinions about female clergy, and I have to admit that mine are mixed–especially so this morning since I just came from an interfaith prayer breakfast where MANY (too many) clergy, mostly female, were invited up to the mike. What really bothers me is clericalism, and I hate to see us take any steps that might enhance that phenomenon in the Church of the 21st century. Of course, it’s possible that female clerics (female deacons, anyway) could provide us with more servant leadership than the all-male force has done, but I am not sure that has been the case for Protestant churches that have opened up their clerical ranks.

  24. If Pope Benedict XVI supports this move, then we can be assured it meets Catholic criteria. I pray that the Pope give this a lot of thought and prayer. Maybe there can be some move to form a lay deaconite where women can serve in some capacity but not be ordained.

  25. Just take a look at The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church and look how it start. Women deacons firts, then priest and after Bishop, and in N.H USA a gay Bishop married with another men, then 2 women lesbians ordained boshops in Califournia. Is that what you want in the Roman Catholic Church? If ever happen I move right away tu Russians Orthodox Church.

  26. Henry Karlson #23:

    A few years ago (perhaps late 1990s) I was watching a TV broadcast of Pope John Paul II at the Coliseum on Good Friday. I thought that the meditations for each of the Stations of the Cross were so beautiful and inspirational. At the end, the narrator, Archbishop Foley, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications said that the Patriarch of Constantinople had composed them.

    Well, enough. I am wandering too far from the topic of the post.

  27. I’ll refrain from passing judgement until I read the book (something I cringe at considering Zagano has anything to do with it – bleck).

    I will, however, admit to being terrified of the idea that folks will become confused and think that if the door is open for this, the door could still be open (or forced open) for the priesthood.

    Then again, that seems to be what ultra-liberal “Catholics” aim for… mass confusion which drowns out dogma and truth.

    Hence my disdain for Zagano and my extraordinarily low expectations for this book.

    That all being said, the door IS open and we can’t all just sit around in fear of what folks may or may not believe because of a book. Best we can do is read the book, digest it, understand any and all arguments made, and be able to find credible sources that back up their claims (which might just mean double checking their sources).

    Don’t all jump down Deacon Bill’s throat, though. He’s a good guy with a good head on his shoulders. He’s entitled to his opinions and I haven’t seen him derail from Church teaching. As a result, halt the assault.

    Ooo… I need to go make a bumper sticker of that one! 🙂

  28. Girl altar servers didn’t appease the liberals. Women deacons is nothing more than accomodationalism. I’m still not clear the role of the permanent diaconate but that may be based on my own experience of what a part-time deacon does.

  29. ecb…

    Just as there is no such thing as a part-time bishop, or a part-time priest, there’s no such thing as a part-time deacon.

    Dcn. G.

  30. “But for the record, I look forward to the day there will be women priests, also.”

    What part of Pope John Paul’s declaration on that issue did you not quite understand?

  31. The anti women crowd was and is explicit about not having altar girls. Fr. Joe Fessio was famous by saying’ don’t let them get their nose under the tent’
    Well the tent has many flaps and it’s too bad some here only think that their man only entrance is the only flap.
    Lets Keep on flapping…

  32. I have a question for those who have expressed horror at the thought of a deacon who happens to be a woman: what do you see as the role of women in the Church and why do you feel that a Deacon’s duties that includes proclaiming the Gospel and preaching cannot be filled by a woman? I am genuinely curious about this. I do not see the historical role of women as a valid reason – there are many things that were accepted 2,000 years ago that are not accepted now.

  33. Instead of waiting to see if the Pope ok’s it or instead of cringing when something is written by Dr. Zagano, shouldn’t we do what the Church did in the first millenium that has server Her well; looked to the Tradition.

    If we are truly going to be Catholic in the most authentic sense of the word, then we need to be faithful to the Tradition of the Church. The reason Vatican II happened was to be faithful to the Tradition of the Church in recognizing that the many additions that have been added were not heterodox, but no longer met the needs of the people of God at the time. Councils were called for that reason. There is a need for ministers in the Church, and many lay people have answered that call to unordained ministry.

    If we find that there have been, indeed, well established historical fact and universal TRadition (in East and West) of a practice that dates back to the times of Christian antiquity, then I think that we are required to investigate whether these ancient practices have a place in modern society to meet a real need in the Church today. That is the truest sense of the Vatican II’s call for aggiornamento. It means to update the Church to meet the needs of the Church at the current time WHILE STILL conserving the Apostolic Tradition.

    In that true sense of the council fathers, it seems that it is reasonable to have a conversation about the ordained female deacon in her role over a millenia ago, and how that might look today in light of the new formulations that the Church has about the oneness of the sacrament of orders in its degrees.

    Someone had asked about the Cyprianic and Augustinian view of this sacrament. In the Cyprianic view, one participates in the sacrament of order. In the Augustinian view, one possesses the sacrament. It may seem like a fuzzy distinction, but this is why Eastern Christians do not hold that there is an indellible mark placed upon the soul when the person is baptized, confirmed, ordained.

  34. I should have also referenced a deacon’s role in baptizing. Is that the objection then – that women somehow receive the Holy Spirit differently and are not capable of being ordained at all?

  35. Chris …

    Looking at Bill Ditewig’s footnotes in the back of the book, some of his sources include Lumen gentium, several documents from the International Theological Commission, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the writings of Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler, and “The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate,” which is a report prepared by an ad hoc committee of the Canon Law Society of America.

    As Bill mentions in his introduction to this section:

    This essay aims to remain focused on the merits of one very specific question: Is it possible, based on an examination of Church teaching and the vision of the Second Vatican Council vis-a-vis the diaconate, to ordain women as deacons?

    He takes a fairly scholarly approach, and aims to remain consistent with the teachings and tradition of the Church.

    Dcn. G.

  36. “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”
    I wonder how honest some promoting deaconesses are really being.
    The foot in the door for women priests and bishops in the Episcopal church and a number of other churches (followed by a moral breakdown on issues from gay marriage to abortion) was the ordination of deaconesses.
    Thus it is hard to believe that those who are pushing for ordained deaconesses in the Catholic Church don’t have a bigger and more radical agenda.

  37. Deacon John,

    I do not know if I am to be considered “promoting” deaconesses.

    I stand within the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church that women cannot be priests. There is no question of that in my mind. With that being said, the restoration of this ancient order is only a gate-way to moral break-down if people desire this as a way to social engineering in the Church. I would categorically reject that strategy.

    I think that there certainly may be a valid reasons for the restoration of this order in the Latin Rite Church again, especially considering the role of women in parish ministries and their dignity as baptized Catholics. Certainly the Greeks see the need for it. I leave it up to the Bishops and the Pope to do the right thing.

    However, just because someone sees the factual nature of the ordained deaconness in antiquity doesn’t mean that they have ulterior motives. In fact, the role of the male and female deacon were very different. They were both ordained to service, but did have different roles. They were never ministers of the cup, nor did they proclaim the gospel, as far as i know.

  38. Deacon John #40

    “Thus it is hard to believe that those who are pushing for ordained deaconesses in the Catholic Church don’t have a bigger and more radical agenda.”

    I’m sorry — that connection you are making here is totally lost on me.

    Of the many THOUSANDS of men who have been permanently ordained as deacons, the number of those who have gone on to the priesthood from that initial step is miniscule. In my 33 years as a deacon, I have met three. They did not get any break in priestly seminary formation nor in the celibacy requirement (two were bachelors and one was a widower). I have met two other widowered deacons who were heavily recruited for the priesthood and they both declined.

    As I mentioned in a previous posting: if and when the universal church decides that ordaining women to the diaconate is an idea whose time has come, nothing you would ever say will slow that process down nor anything I or even Deacon Bill would say would speed it up.

  39. Dan…

    Regarding women proclaiming the gospel…

    According to Gary Macy:

    “In at least the Western Church, there are references to women deacons reading the gospel. Women deacons received the orarium (stole) when they were ordained in the West. The garment was specifically meant to be worn when preaching. A woman also received the garment in the Eastern liturgies after the ordination and before she received communion…

    …The influential scholar Rolandus, commenting on the Decretum(a basis for Catholic Church law) around 1148, agreed that ‘there is no doubt that it was the custom in the past to ordain women deacons, that is, readers of the gospel, who were not to be ordained before forty years of age, nor where they allowed to be married after ordination.'”

  40. Dear Dan S.,
    In reference to your comment “In fact, the role of the male and female deacon were very different. They were both ordained to service, but did have different roles.”

    I have heard some say that woman might not like the differences in the historic role of female/male deacons. Would you mind elaborating on that?

    This is fascinating to me.

    Thanks so much!

  41. Eka,

    It was my understanding that women did not proclaim the gospel, but Dcn Greg just posted something otherwise.
    (I have not yet received the book from Paulist Press yet, so I am at a disadvantage).
    It is my understanding that the role of the deaconness used to be ministry toward other women, especially in baptism. At least in the East, baptism was done completely unclothed. It seems obvious why the ministry of the deaconness was needed here.

    One of the reasons people give for not restoring this order is that most of the functions of the ancient deaconness are now filled by religious nuns.

    I will defer to others more knowledgable than me, but i don’t really think that a restored order would look something parallel to altar boys/girls. Maybe women wouldn’t like that. I don’t know.

    But at least for me; if the ordination of women was permissible in the Church at one time, then it seems to be reasonable to discuss the need for this in contemporary times in order to recognize that holy orders means that some people are called out for a specific ministry and are set apart for that purpose. Obviously, this calling can only be done within the context of discernment that MUST include the Churches discernment as well. At this time, the Church has discerned that this is not the case. I would hope that this changes, as I think it is worthy of the dignity of some women to be called to this distinct ministry that they already fill in many cases. However, I leave it up to the Church ultimately, which has the final authority.

  42. I think that one of the things that throws people in the discussion of women as deacons is they think that it opens the possibility of women then being ordained as priests. The thing is Permanent Deacons are intended to be that, permanent. The permanent diaconate is not around to allow men who are married to be ordained and serve as deacons until their wives die, and then we can convert them into priests. We are called to serve God and the Church as permanent deacons. It is rare for a permanent deacon to later on be ordained as a priest. If women were to be ordained as permanent deacons, it does not open the possibility of them being ordained as priests later on. If the application and discernment process is done well then women who are truly called to serve as deacons could be admitted and formed to serve God and the Church as ordained clergy without “aspirations” to higher office. If the Church were to chose this as an option I would welcome any of the women ordained into the ministry with open arms. If the Church choses not to open this option, then I can and will live with that as well.

  43. Dcn. Steve …

    Phyllis Zagano puts the question this way:

    The Church teaches that women cannot be ordained as priests or bishops; it also teaches that there is a distinct order of the diaconate. Therefore, if a woman cannot be ordained as a priest or bishop, then a woman ordained to the “permanent” diaconate would be just that — a permanent deacon…

    …The question might not be whether ordained women deacons predict women priests. If the Church believes its own teachings, this is not possible. Rather, the question appears to be whether to admit women to the clerical state.

    Dcn. G.

  44. Dcn Greg (44), I don’t know how that can be, since the reading of the Gospel is “Persona Christi.” That would make it the same problem as women priests, a “spiritual lesbiasm” of sorts.

    Something simply isn’t adding up.

    I still caution the quest for “power/agenda” vs. the Holy Spirit guiding what is best for the Church.

  45. Klaire:

    “spiritual lesbiasm” I assume you meant to type “lesbianism.”

    Anyway, did you coin that term?

    Before I think it through theologically, I just want to say: “That’s weird.”

  46. #32 RomCath — I understand the statement by JP II quite well. It was definitive. But I think it will eventually go the way of the Bulls by Pope Nicholas V in the 1400’s proposing “perpetual slavery” of captured non-christians, and the papal view of the earth orbiting the sun. Both were eventually changed — a good thing for the progress of civilization in general and science in particular. The ban on women priests will also change, though unlikely in my lifetime.

  47. just our of curiosity, does anyone know of an orthodox parish that has a real deaconess? as far as i understand it, in actual practice women are not even allowed past the iconostatis in the church. and given the important liturgical role of the deacon in their liturgy that creates a real problem. also there are many orthodox churches in my area and i know a number of the priests, and their congregations are ready to run them out of town if they even mention female servers. it would be very interesting to know of churches that actually have deaconesses and how it is working out.

  48. Klaire …

    As per the revision of Canon Law by Pope Benedict (which, in my opinion, widened the already-open door to allow the possibility of women deacons):

    “§3. Those who are constituted in the order of episcopate or presbyterate receive the office and faculty of acting in the person of Christ the Head, while deacons receive the power to serve the people of God in the diaconia of liturgy, word and charity”[3]

    Thus, priests and bishops are configured to Christ, and act in persona Christi. Deacons do not. Similarly, in Benedict’s reworking of this piece of law, priests and bishops are configured to a specific gender — the male Christ — but deacons are not.

    Dcn. G.

  49. If women became clerics, would they (be allowed to) wear clerical collars? Out and about? Because deacons can now, if they want to, yes?

    Curious is all.

  50. Thanks Dcn. Greg (53), that’s truly a really fascinating and informative piece of information, for sure a “game changer” in how I’ve been viewing this up until now.

    HMS (50), sad that you have to correct my typos, but if that makes you feel better, so be it. And no, I didn’t coin the term, as it’s often used in JPII”s teaching of the Theology of the Body.

  51. Nate…

    The collar issue is already a thorny one for deacons; some dioceses permit and encourage the wearing of the collar (Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, among others) while others do not (including my own diocese, Brooklyn).

    On a hunch, I imagine women deacons would follow the same guidelines for clerical attire as their male counterparts, depending on the diocese.

    Dcn. G.

  52. Klaire:

    I just wanted to find out if I had read your comment properly. That’s all. I make many typos myself.

    But, I am interested in your your source for Pope John Paul II specifically using the term, “Spiritual Lesbianism” in his Theology of the Body?

  53. Dan S.
    I appreciate your thoughtful and honest response.

    If indeed female deacons were restored, but not in a way as
    “something parallel to altar boys/girls” it could get very interesting.

    Obviously, I’m not well-informed in these matters, but I wonder if we might get into a “be careful what you wish for” situation.

    Many thanks Dan.

  54. Nate:

    Re: #54

    Deacon do not have a choice on “clerical collar usage.” What is true is that each bishop can and does make his own decision here for the deacons of his diocese.

    My bishop is very specific and a letter from him clarified that to all of us recently.

    (1) You must request permission in writing with a reason.

    (2) Permission will be granted for those in Prison Ministry.

    (3) Permission will be denied in all other cases INCLUDING hospital/nursing home ministry.

    I have been a deacon since 1978. I bought my first collar to wear in Rome for the Wednesday audience during a pilgrimage in October 2007. The second time I wore it was for a Prison Ministry Orientation this past summer which included a tour “behind the wire” of a major penal institution.

  55. “#32 RomCath — I understand the statement by JP II quite well. It was definitive. But I think it will eventually go the way of the Bulls by Pope Nicholas V in the 1400’s proposing “perpetual slavery” of captured non-christians, and the papal view of the earth orbiting the sun. Both were eventually changed — a good thing for the progress of civilization in general and science in particular. The ban on women priests will also change, though unlikely in my lifetime.”

    Re: Jake 51–Well if you understand it very well, then how can you make a definitive statement like the ban on women priests “will also change”. The two examples you give have nothing to do with sacramental theology or the form and matter of a sacrament. If a Pope says definitively the Church has “no power” to ordain women it would be ludicrous if some future Pope said it did. Not in our lifetime or ever. Thank God.

  56. This could be one of those decisions that never seem to be made by the Church but left out there in limbo…oh wait, we changed that limbo thinking…

    Good thing we all believe in One Holy and Apostolic Church and will thus leave it to the Pope and Bishops to sort out.

    I still think if they do anything, it will be to create some form of lay deaconess (without ordination) to serve in some capacity. I doubt they want to leave any doubt that women priests will not now or ever happen in the Catholic Church.

    One good news point is that we are seeing a nice growth in our seminaries, especially those in the dioceses with the most traditional bishops and those that support full Catholic teaching. The new incoming priest are also much more conservative and traditional and thus the bishops coming on are growing more conservative and traditional. All of this bodes well for the Church and questions like this will tend to be solved by these new Apostolic leaders.

  57. Greta

    Perhaps you might be right in your last paragraph. I have also heard of several seminaries that are at capacity but I find no evidence that these seminarians are being sponsored by super-conservative bishops in unusual or inordinate ratios.

    Some one assured me that Mt. St. Mary’s in Cincinnati is adding a new Residence Wing which will bring their capacity up by 35 more seminarians for Fall 2012. I praise God for that move.

    Most of these seminarians are all fairly new applicants so it will be eight years before many of them are ordained. Some might be ordained in four — but only if they already have baccalaureate or higher degrees from accredited colleges or universities. AND we are seeing a lot more seminarians who not only have already have their baccalaureate degrees but have been “out-in-the-real-world” before they apply.

    One might argue if that is a simple case of running away from the horrid economy into a vocation that assures you a reasonable living. That may be true — but if it is, trust me, those guys will be weeded out long before ordination. Once the economy turns arounsd, many will leave on their own.

    By the way, I also disagree with you 100% on a different part of your message. When — not “if” — the pope approves the diaconate for women, it will not be some “un-ordained-lay-diaconate” like you suggest. If he decides to do it at all, it will be a real and genuine sacramental ordination.

    But please don’t worry about any of that. As slow as our church does things, you will be long dead and buried before the reigning pope rules in favor of ordaining women to the diaconate. Then you can take up your anger and arguments with the Risen Lord Jesus and see if he pays any attention.

  58. Anthony,
    Good question. I thought about this myself earlier, but my only source was the Internet. I never found one myself.
    Perhaps Dr. Zagano or one of the other authors may know.

  59. Dear Fiergenholt,
    It sounds like you are the one with the anger issues, not Greta. Why do you have to add such a sarcastic, un-Christian tone to your response. To have her “dead and buried” and then to say that God won’t be interested in what her questions are, is pure condescension and drivel. The problem with blogs is that people just let their worst thoughts and insults flow freely, and the blog becomes little better than a YouTube posting.

    Talk about bringing a discussion down.

  60. Who can say what will happen. Remember, its just a book, not a Papal Decree. It seems to me that Fiergenholt has a point. If this ever does come to fruition–we are very far away from it.

  61. “just our of curiosity, does anyone know of an orthodox parish that has a real deaconess”

    Sister Hripseme, an Armenian Orthodox deacon now living in Turkey, served liturgies in New Jersey some time ago. At present, most Orthodox women deacons are monastics, although the Orthodox Church of Greece has discussed “social service” women deacons.

    I am heartened by the generally respctful and intellegient discussion on this thread. Hope some of you can come to the event tomorrow(Thurs) at 4 at Loyola U.

  62. Dcn Bill,
    You seem to have all the answers for other peoples conscience. Just in case you don’t know, I did a very exhaustive study into salvation history before returning to Catholicism. One of the major issues was this thing you call “women’s ordination”, an ongoing heresy that dates way back. Maybe I should throw out my name and rant for my claim to expertise now. I know many professors that are atheists, live vile lives and teach false beliefs. Why should anyone trust this particular person… because she has a few clergy friends that support her work. The last time I checked, clerics are the ones that lead all of the past heresies.

    It is difficult to open the eyes of those that have already closed their hearts and minds because they believe they know better. Prayers.

  63. Let me add that I am still studying ancient history. From my research, there were women that were considered deacons, but it was more of an honorary title, not a true ordination. I have no problems with women in this role. But the fact remains that there are already many of them we call “Sister” or “Mother” today.

    I apologize for being so snarky. This topic just irritates me to no end. It will take an act from God to bring me to a point of believing it is licit.

  64. Vocatio

    In the East, it was not merely an honor — as can be seen by the way they were made deacons!

  65. Vocatio…

    According to Gary Macy, a 10th century Romano-Germanic Pontifical contains the complete liturgy for the ordination of a woman deacon. It takes place during Mass and includes the reception of an “orarium,” or stole, indicating her faculty to preach; it features the imposition of hands by a bishop, a prayer of consecration, the woman lying prostrate, the anointing with chrism at the hand of the bishop, and the reception of veil, ring and crown by the woman. He also describes a similar liturgy for the Eastern church.

    It wasn’t an honor. It was an ordination.

    Dcn. G.

  66. WOW! Seventy comments (and counting)! Some of the commentators are strongly in favor of the Church’s opening the permanent diaconate to women; some are strongly opposed; others are undecided. But there is one thing upon which I think all of us can agree: Deacon Greg was spot on when he asserted: “This is a book that will have people thinking…and talking.” If there are this many comments posted about a book that has not as yet been published, I can only imagine how many comments will appear in January, after the book has been released and we all have had an opportunity to read it!

  67. “Sister Hripseme, an Armenian Orthodox deacon now living in Turkey, served liturgies in New Jersey some time ago”

    would you know the name of the parish? I am close to NJ and would like to follow up on the experience there. theory is one thing, but an actual orthodox church having an ordained deaconess serve liturgy is very interesting. thank you.

  68. Matthew 19:26 “With God all things are possible.” Who was chosen to give God a body to enter this world? What can be said about the meaning of this experience as it applies to women in the church? We are only limited by our limitations.

  69. If the magisterium rules that female deacons are kosher, then I would like to see addressed next the phenomenon of male nuns. I cannot seem to get an initial interview at any convent so far.

  70. Quite a few years ago, when I was working in the religious education office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I asked the Cardinal (in a lighthearted moment) if he thought that women would ever be ordained. (I was very young and foolish.)

    He answered: “Not in my lifetime.”

    I took that to mean: “Over my dead body.”

  71. Dr. Zagano,

    Wish i could be there. I work not too far from Loyola. But alas, I will be at work during that time.

    Looking forward to reading the book, though. Hopefully, they will ship it soon.

  72. We do have male “nuns” the Religious Brothers. My daughter graduated from a high school founded byt he Christian Brothers of St. John Baptist de La Salle and my son now attends the same school. My daughter is a freshman at St. Mary’s College of California also run by the Christian Brothers of St. John Baptist de La Salle. They are wonderful order very much “diaconal” in their mission and really helping their students to live lives of service while they are in school, as well as post graduation.

  73. The book will be on sale this afternoon at Loyola–and it already is available from Paulist’s website–and from Amazon–and it’s not that expensive. The “official” pub date is 2012, but it is in the warehouse now.

  74. After reading all these comments I still haven’t read any plausible reason to believe that to open the door to deaconesses will somehow not become the disaster it has become in the Episcopal Church–both in its organization and in its teaching of traditional morality.
    Those in favor of it seem to blithely take the attitude that what happened in the Episcopal Church can’t happen in the Catholic Church. Also, the Feminist movement isn’t nearly as powerful in the Third World (where most Catholics now reside) as in the disintegrating West. In fact it is the Third World that is fighting the radical turn the Episcopal-Anglican Church has taken
    And just because something is very sparsely mentioned in history as being done in a parish or diocese, doesn’t mean that the wider Church considered it completely valid or licit.

  75. We seem to have a great number of deacons ordained already and many more going through training.

    In time, we may have as many deacons as we now have Eucharistic Ministers.

    Gender aside, does the Church have a need for deaconesses to replicate what deacons now do?

    And is it possible that while the shortage of priests continues to exist into the future, may we one day have a surfeit of deacons as well as a surfeit of Eucharistic Ministers?

    More and more, it seems, the priest is becoming the “presider.” How many men will want to takes vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to become a “presider” and sit at the side of the altar while well-meaning Lectors mumble the readings from scriptures, the deacon reads the Gospel and the Eucharistic Ministers prepare to charge the altar at Communion time.

    It’s almost like watching a concelebrated Mass on EWTN where the parade of concelebrants to the altar takes almost as long as the Mass itself. Then they all line up behind the altar like fans behind the bench at a football game.

    No sacrilege intended, but any concelebrated Mass from Washington, D.C., seems to me to need Spielberg to direct it–to make the cuts in the ceremony necessary so the person in the pew realizes that the purpose of this gathering is not a plethora of magnificent vestments but instead the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    How do you explain something like a concelebrated Mass to a Baptist who is watching the Mass with you? The Consecration takes maybe two minutes but the rest of all that goes on, before and after, takes a very long time. There seems to be little to point to the one and only reason for the Mass–the arrival of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ on the altar.

  76. “After reading all these comments I still haven’t read any plausible reason to believe that to open the door to deaconesses will somehow not become the disaster it has become in the Episcopal Church–both in its organization and in its teaching of traditional morality.”

    Not sure how rejuvinating the long tradition of women deacons affects the “teaching of traditional morality” but it might make an interesting study–for Anglicans.

    We are talking about Catholicism here, and the constant tradition of the Church. There is no definitive statement against strenghtening the ordained ministry by re-including women as deacons. It is about ministry, and nothing else.

  77. Donal #84:

    At Vatican II, Cardinal Spellman argued that the Church lost graces with concelebration.

    Apparently, the American bishops were told by a theologian that when 100 priests concelebrated there was a loss of 99 masses.

  78. In his apostolic letter entitled “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” So, even if the Church eventually permits the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate, Blessed Pope John Paul II’s declaration precludes their ordination to the priesthood. I do not know much about the Churches of the Anglican Communion I am assuming they never had such a safeguard in place. Please correct me if I am wrong. But if I am not, I do think fears of our Church heading down the same path as that of our Anglican and Episcopalian friends can be laid to rest.

  79. Donal…

    You know, of course, that priests do much more than celebrate Mass. And you know, of course, that the Mass is not about the celebrant, or con-celebrant.

    Any man who is ordained just so he can be on the altar and is peeved that he doesn’t have more to do shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    And concelebrated masses? How often do you see them in the parish setting? For most ordinary Catholics, they’re still rare.

    Dcn. G.

  80. For those interested in a deeper point of view by a scholar in the field of liturgy there is the book available through Amazon titled “Deaconesses” It is by one of the world’s leading experts in the field: Aime Georges Martimort and is published by Ignatius Press.
    Among other things he writes that when what were called deaconesses was a living institution both the discipline and the liturgy of the churches insisted on a very clear distinction between the two separate groups of men and women with deaconesses only doing limited service for women that was not proper for men to do.
    He also points out how in many cases the word “deaconess” used in translation in some Bibles is a modern artifact and not a proper translation of the word under study. And in many other later cases the word is clearly meant to refer to the “orders” of widows or virgins.
    However, I’m sure Martimort’s well-researched book won’t be given the academic status it deserves because much of it goes against the Modernist grain.

  81. Anonymous–Already in debates on various issues people commenting have observed how easily papal bulls, pronouncements, etc. can be brushed aside or ignored.(They’ll shoot your argument down by claiming the pope’s pronouncement was not really “ex cathedra”) Noone in the Episcopal Church thought that ordaining deaconesses there would have the effect it did as one by one a new radical step was embraced until finally a Gay “married” man became one of their bishops—with those who had pushed for deaconesses leading the cheering.

  82. Which churches? One of the problems is such books tend to be rather selective in their evidence, and tend to ignore the Orthodox tradition. In other words, it is well known, there are many different traditions with those who have the title, “deacon” who are women, such as we find with the Canon from Nicea mentioned above in relation to what is found at Chalcedon. So, yes, you can find some deaconesses without ordination and having an “honorary” title. But that is like saying some people are given honorary PhDs so no one ever has to write a dissertation.

  83. Dcn G.–The book is still being published and Amazon is almost out of them (1 left) with more on the way.
    Is your point that the book was originally published all of 25 years ago? And that that just couldn’t be relevant to our modern minds???? Or accurate???People shouldn’t be in an intellectual strait jacket that says only the latest book hot off the presses is any good.
    However, the level of honest (not corrupted by PC thought) scholarship, in the opinion of many, is far lower today than it was 25 years ago

  84. John…

    I just wonder whether more recent scholarship has surpassed what was contained in the book. I don’t know. I do know that Macy has referenced Martimort’s work in some of his previous writings, and it remains critical to understanding the history of the diaconate.

    Clearly, the popularity of Martimort’s book is a testament to the public’s interest in this topic. That can only be a good thing.


  85. Deacon John M. Bresnahan,
    Thank you for your supporting truth. The claims that a 25 year old book holds no weight on the subject is like saying the bible is outdated. Illicit acts have occurred throughout history, including ones we are currently hearing about on this thread of comments. So far, revisionism is working hard to redefine man as woman and woman as man, and if we like lets just be both…that way we can have our way no matter what we decide our sexual preference. If this is allowed in our Catholic Universities, we are suffering greatly from a lack of orthidoxy.

    I’ve seen creationists with PhDs effectively argue against evolutionist theory. I’ve seen evolutionist with PhDs effectively argue against creationst theory. I’ve studied both sides. I see flaws in their approach, which should force them to lose their credentials based on the dishonesty or refussal to investigate the evidences against their position. Further, sometimes they just do it for money. Basically, they have hidden agendas that do not always comply with truth. I suspect this material in this book and movement is really nothing less that an approach with a preconceived belief based on desire, rather than truth. They often are like this.

    From my perspective, I’m beginning to believe the worst place to send a child to school is catholic schools, colleges and universities. The statistics are alarming at what is accepted among them. As one climbs up the latter the statistics approaches seriously heretical if not apostate.

    I will be reading this book and use reliable sources as I obtain them to check for academic dishonesty. If there are any doubts, I would rather lean towards the current teachings set out by the Holy Father on the subject, no ordinations for women, period. It appears that an 8th sacrament is in the creative works.

  86. Vocatio #95

    You write, “If there are any doubts, I would rather lean towards the current teachings set out by the Holy Father on the subject, no ordinations for women, period.”

    I believe “no ordinations for women, period” misstates what the Holy Father said. What he actually said, following the form of your paraphrase, is, “No priestly ordinations for women, period.”

    In fact the question of diaconal ordination for women is still open at the Vatican, with the knowledge of the Pope.

  87. “Martimort’s well-researched book” is part of a 1970s discussion (in French) about returning to the tradition of women deacons between him and Roger Gryson. Gryson is published in English by Liturgical Press. He argues that women received true ordination. Older historical studies are by Josephine Mayer and Ute Eisen. Newer studies are by Osiek & Madigan and by Gary Macy. There is significant historical information in “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future,” which will provide accurate scholarly infomation to counter the incorrect (and somewhat nasty) negative comments in this string.

  88. I received the book yesterday, and I am currently ab out 2/3 through it.
    There certainly are many scholarly references in the text that one can verify.
    I don’t understand why people are being accusatory here, of modernism and the like. The historical evidence really is overwhelming.

    If one doubts the historicity and the theology, one should consult with an independent Eastern Orthodox source.

    They don’t have any “skin in the game”, as it were. The Orthodox don’t do anything that even smells like innovation. People should be inquiring with them if they feel that there is some alterior radical feminist agenda here.

    I am, by no means, a liberal Catholic, but I don’t fear the Tradition of the Church. I want my Church to look more like the first millenium Church. The developments and changes in the medieval Church weren’t bad. They met a need at the time. We have new needs today.

  89. Whether there is a case for it or not due to historical precedent…(and when I inquired about it in recent years, the credentialed sources I found, researched, and listened too said the female diaconate of old was definately not ordained or looked at as a holy order) but let’s say it’s possible…I do not trust modern society AND the current culture, just by evidence of it’s current fruits alone, in any way, to approach a female diaconate out of sincerity to the wholly spirit rather than primarily a feminist egalitarian motivation…..to quote philospher Dr. Peter kreeft…”the one thing modern feminists need to do, is to approach the cross, unclinch the fist and bend the knee”

    My personal opinion about this is that despite mens ridiculous moral failings and I do mean ridiculous, nevertheless, I think they are uniquely called, to enforce the moral ethical order by virtue of who they as created men in the theological interpretation of Adam, the first man,as protector of the garden. This does not make them better than women just different in responsibilities and duties.

    In addition,I may be wrong about what holy orders are suppose
    to do but i would like to believe one of those responsibilities, besides the sacrementals, is to teach and enforce the moral
    order, in season and out of it.

  90. My three books arrived on Monday Nov 28 — but I have some different plans for them now. I am keeping/reading one for an assigned book-review to be published after the first of the year; a second is going as a gift to a woman who was in my Lay Ecclesial Ministry class many years ago and now runs a very successful RCIA program; the third is going to the “open” library at my parish.

    Now that I think about it; I may have to buy three more!

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