Women deacons: "an open theological question"

Deacon Bill Ditewig has just posted on his blog a report from Chicago, where he launched (with Phyllis Zagano and Gary Macy) the new book “Women Deacons: Past, Present and Future.”  (I wrote about that earlier right here.)

A snip:

Here are some things to know before blood pressures are raised:

1) No one, not the pope, nor any part of the Roman Curia, has EVER ruled out the possibility of ordaining women AS DEACONS.  It is, according to the pope himself, an “OPEN THEOLOGICAL QUESTION.”  All we are doing is exploring that question with the latest research we can find on the subject.  Many people think that “we can’t talk about ordaining women”; that’s not true, and that’s not what church authority says!  You will see what I mean when you read my chapter of the book: I analyze much of the official teaching documentation to see precisely what is being said.  One thing comes through crystal clear: the Holy See very clearly and very significantly DISTINGUISHES the diaconate from the sacerdotal (“priestly”) orders of presbyter and bishop (I use the word “presbyter” here because in technical language, “priest” can apply to both presbyters and bishops).  So, no matter what has been said about the ordination of women to the presbyterate, the Church authority itself says that this does NOT apply to the diaconate.

2) The history of women in the diaconate has benefitted from considerable new historiography and analysis over the last 20-25 years.  Therefore, Gary’s work is not simply a different interpretation of the same material, but an up-to-date analysis of the more complete data we have now.  He builds on some of the venerable work done a generation or more ago.  For example, there are several groups of women associated with diaconate in the early history of the Church: there are “women deacons” in one group, “deaconesses” in another, and some women given those titles because they were married to male deacons.  Each group is distinct and we have the rituals used to ordain them to help determine how their local communities perceived these women in ministry.  I know you’ll find this section quite interesting.

3) My section deals with two major themes: first, as I said before, I study the official documentation on the topic to demonstrate the distinctiveness of this question from other questions, and to stress that we are only interested in this book with the question of the possible ordination of women as deacons, not to any other question at all.  I also review the teaching of Vatican II on the subject of the diaconate itself to make sure we see what the “vision” of the diaconate at the time of its renewal.  Just as women and men in religious life often talk about rediscovering the vision of their founders, I think that for deacons, the bishops at Vatican II were our “founders”, and it’s good to have a sense of what they were thinking and doing about the diaconate and the renewal of the Church.

4) We often hear that this is just an attempt to get women into the priesthood “through a back door”; that, if we ordain women to the diaconate, “the next thing you know, they’ll want to be priests!”  Well, that’s just a lot of nonsense.  As I said: the diaconate is not the priesthood, nor is it a part of the ministerial priesthood in which presbyters and bishops participate.  Furthermore, we have more than four decades of experience with the (permanent) diaconate now, in which the vast majority of deacons are serving as married men.  There’s been no run on any diocesan chanceries by these married deacons to demand ordination as presbyters!  The vast majority of deacons, when asked if they would be interested in serving as presbyters if the church’s discipline on celibacy were changed, respond that they would not.  After nearly 22 years as a deacon myself, but also as someone who had earlier spent eight years in the seminary, I can attest that the vocation of deacon is significantly different from the vocation of the priest!  So, the evidence is pretty clear that the diaconate is not now, nor would it ever be, a “back door” to becoming a priest.

Read it all. And remember to order the book!

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110 responses to “Women deacons: "an open theological question"”

  1. I pray that women will be permitted to enter the deaconate. I’d be one of the first in line -IF that is what will best serve the Roman Catholic Church in Baker Diocese. I don’t want to be a priest- I want to serve my Church in the best way possible that is allowed. I’m currently a Pastoral Associate. I pray that I can do more!

  2. Kevin they are called brothers, and they already exist in the Church. The Christian Brothers of St. John Baptist de La Salle are one example.

  3. Kevin, please, if you want to joke about this, then at least come up with something original.

    There are many ways to serve, and as Deacon Steve out pointed out, consecrated religious life IS ALREADY open to both men and women.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  4. Kevin #2

    Way back in the early 1800’s, a Swiss priest named William Joseph Chaminade founded the Society of Mary. They are known to this day as Marianists. They organized/sponsored/managed scores of high schools and two institutions of higher education here in the US: Chaminade University in Hawaii and the University of Dayton in Ohio.

    The members of this religious community all join as “Brothers” first. If they want to become priests, they can, but only after their Final Profession of vows to the community — usually after seven years as a Brother. If I recall correctly, there are 4-5 times more Brothers than priests and the local and regional superiors are always Brothers.

    Good men: I studied under them for eight years — four in high school and four in college.

    By the way — their founder is now known as “Blessed” William Joseph Chaminade.

  5. We have enough deacons already, don’t we? Every year the U.S. ordains hundreds of them. There is no need for women deacons, nor is there much of a need anymore for male deacons, I would argue. Except this isn’t about meeting the needs of the Church. This is about power, and for liberals it’s always about power.

    Whether or not women served as deacons in the early Church seems to me to be irrelevent. We don’t even know what exactly that meant back then. Perhaps it was done away with for good reason (not the simplistic misogyny that Zagano has maintained). Perhaps the Church, in her wisdom, saw that it was confusing people and decided that women should no longer serve in this capacity. Do you truly believe that Zagano is overly concerned about the suffering Church and it’s “need” for women to be deacons? Give me a break. 95% of her articles in NCR trash the Church. Her goal, like most rabid liberals, is to tear down the Church in it’s present form and remake it in their own image.

    It’s all about power. It has nothing to do with service. What we need are more priests. And we’re not going to get them from permanent deacons–male or female.

  6. Fr. B. (if you are, indeed, a “Father”):

    Do I understand you correctly? “We have enough deacons already”? Are your priests bored? Too much time on their hands? Looking for things to do? You have too many people to help with weddings, baptisms, funerals, wake services, retreats, RCIA, Sunday homilies? Congratulations.

    And congratulations, as well, for bravely stepping forward and actively stating your opposition to men answering the call to Holy Orders. I’m sure the Holy Spirit is impressed.

    Just as impressive, by the way, is your sweeping condemnation of Zagano’s thesis, without even reading it.

    Keep up the good work.

    Dcn. G.

  7. When I was an altar boy, many years ago, I never thought of it as a stepping stone to the priesthood. Now, however, that is one of the reasons given by some for restricting altar servers to males only. Our pastor uses only males, except for one girl, who apparently is a hold-over. Of course, many people from our parish worship in neighboring Catholic churches due to our pastor.

  8. I will indeed keep up the good work, Greg. Thank you. But you didn’t really answer the question. Why would I need help at a funeral? What is the essential role of a deacon there–or in any liturgy? We also don’t need to have a deacon preach, though sometimes it’s nice, I guess.
    You answered in perfect deacon form: always insecure and defensive about your status and role in the Church, and quick to take personal insult. Many, many deacons don’t even do most of the things you stated, in my experience. Many deacons simply show up on Sunday, do a lousy job of proclaiming the Gospel, and then shout, “The Mass is ended!” I’m sure that’s not what you’re going to say is your experience of other deacons, but that is mine, and many other pastors.
    I know, I know–I’m just a lost priest who doesn’t understand the greatness of the permanent deaconate. My experience is that we have A LOT of deacons, and we simply don’t need so many. Again, adding women deacons to the equation is, in my opinion, simply another effort at grabbing power. The fact that you react so defensively, and nastily, only proves my point, in my opinion. But again, who really cares what any of us have to say.

  9. I wish women would aim higher and work to become a Doctor of the Church — a way that is open to them and has precedent. We could use more of them…

  10. Fr. Brian…

    Thank you for your insight. I’m sorry that you have so much hostility toward my vocation.

    And I apologize for being defensive. I tend to get that way when I’m gratuitously attacked.

    It appears you’ve had some bad experiences that have soured you. Your venom and animosity are palpable. There’s nothing I can do to change that.

    You’ll be in my prayers.

    Dcn. G.

  11. Forced to pick which reaction seemed “nasty” or “defensive,” I don’t know that I would pick Dcn Greg’s.

  12. Since when does a permanent deacon get to talk to a priest like this? I don’t care what he said. you have no business talking to any priest like this. Does your bishop actually let you get away with this? You should be reported and your faculties removed.

  13. PJM,

    This is why we have canon law–to protect people from the zealous impulses, however intentioned, of those who have thin skin.

  14. PJM, I think Deacon Greg did a good, sincere job of responding as civilly as possible to what Fr. Brian posted. (If you’ll reread Fr. Brian’s comment, there’s where you’ll find plenty of kerosene.)

    I’m curious, however, whether you think any Catholic (deacon or not) has an obligation to just nod politely and say, “I’m sure you must be right, Father” no matter what a priest says or writes. That notion does seem implied in your comment.

    As for women deacons: Yes — a wonderful idea. Long overdue. And it’s not about power. It’s about service — service to God and service to God’s people.

  15. No one attacked you personally, Deacon. You seem to react that way when anyone dares to question any aspect of the permanent diaconate, thus proving my point. I don’t see venom or bitterness in any of my statements–I see an opinion. And since it’s a free country, I have the right to state that opinion (you, of course, are under no obligation to listen to it).
    Permanent deacons like yourself would do well to develop a thicker skin in these matters. Like I said before, what we have to say doesn’t really matter that much. That’s the problem. Too many priests and deacons think what they are saying is profound and that people must hear it. What matters is what Jesus and His Church have to say. I merely contend that Zagano, based on her past writings which I have read on this topic, is manipulating what the Church is saying. Unless, of course, she is a “prophet” which I highly doubt. And if you’re seriously looking for bitterness, read some of her stuff.
    Thanks for your prayers–you’re in mine as well. I will even remember you and your family at Mass–that is–if I can manage without a deacon 🙂

  16. If a priest can’t criticize a deacon, then how can a laic criticize a deacon? The logic of it doesn’t work.

  17. The church has NOT had female deacons for 1800+ years– to start now is a novelty and a break with tradition. Please get off your deacon high horses and hold fast to tradition.

  18. Sorry folks simply not going to happen. First of all the permanent deaconate is largely an American phenomena and is really not on the radar in Rome. One simply doesn’t see permanent deacons in Europe (or anywhere else in the world). The Holy Father hasn’t said anything “official” about it because Rome usually won’t address an issue like this until there is a worldwide clamor.

    Secondly the curia and bishops are slowly moving to the right. The Holy Father is bolstering the ranks with traditional minded bishops. There will be too much opposition in his inner circle and for the popes to come.

    Thirdly, there simply isn’t any historical prcedent at all concerning woman deacons as we understand the term today. Although it is true that the permanent deaconate isn’t technically a sacerdotal state, it is a traditionally minor order alligned with the clerical state. Because a deacon can preach, he shares a distinctly sacerdotal privilege separted from the lay state. This would disqualify a woman right here. The term “deaconness” used in the NT is not the same term we use today it the Church. It refers more to a woman in religious life.

    Women do not need to be ordained. They have a special ministry in the Church already that in many ways supercedes ordination. They are very vital in the Church for what they do already, perhaps more so than the clerical state. Ordination is essentially an act conferred by God of extreme humility and service. Men inherently need this, women don’t.

  19. One writer opines, “there much of a need anymore for male deacons.”

    Another writer opines, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ … On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12: 21-23).

  20. Re: #24

    Perhaps if there were more deacons, they, as servants of the Word, would help us avoid such moments when our thoughts are not fully shaped by the Word.

  21. I am sick and tired of this plea! If the Church ordains women as deacons, there is no way it can say ‘no’ to ordaining them as priests and bishops. It’s only a matter of time! Look at the Church of England! I mean, what’s left of it! If Rome consents to this…I’m gone! Get over it, ladies! I am what I am and you are what you are! ‘Equal rights’ is becoming both an intrusion and a pain for the Church of Rome. I’m sick and tird of it! If the ‘ladies’ are unhappy, I suggest they consider joing the Epsicopal Church or whatever!

  22. Wow! I hope you’re not the same Fr. Brian I know with that smiley face! I say that not because of your stated opinion, but because of the manner in which you expressed yourself.

    Father, we all know that some deacons don’t do much at Mass because the Presider doesn’t want them/doesn’t allow them to do so, even though there is a role for them in the rubrics. Some deacons seem only to fill the role of window dressing, because Pastors also don’t want them officiating at funeral liturgies (not Mass), weddings (not Mass) and baptisms, much less taking a more active role in the Eucharistic celebration.

    The Church always goes back to Scripture for authenticity. And, yes, we do have evidence for women deacons, or deaconesses, in Scripture, first and foremost in Romans 16:1 (among other places), where Paul says to greet Phoebe, a deacon in the church at Cenchreae. Yes, the Greek word used here is actually diakonos.

    And, Genevieve, the Church has had women deacons until at least the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In fact, the fifteenth Canon of that council, “decreed that no deaconess should be ordained below the age of forty; and no person once ordained a deaconess was allowed to leave that state and marry” (this is from the New Advent site http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03555a.htm). That would be 1560 years ago, not 1800+ years ago. And, that’s what a quick look (not extensive research) will tell you. This means that the Church was actually ordaining women to the diaconate at least until that time, probably longer.

    So, women deacons have been ordained by the Church before and it’s possible, because of scriptural warrant, that it can be so again (there is no scriptural warrant for women to be ordained to the presbyterate). The fact that we don’t know what women deacons did then is a red herring…and hardly an argument for or against. If God wants it, the Holy Spirit will breathe where it wills and that day will come. If not, then it won’t happen. There are a lot of good things happening in the Church today that we never thought would happen in our lifetimes. No matter how this controversy turns out, God will triumph in the end, in fact he already has in Christ Jesus!

  23. Deacon Greg,
    One last thing. Whenever someone agrees with you on this, you seem very happy. But when someone takes issue, you say, “You haven’t even read the book–keep up the good work.”
    The book hasn’t been released yet, but since you agree with it’s premise, it doesn’t matter to you that no one on this blog has read the book. A little more consistency, Rev. Mr. Kandra.
    But I do believe that this will never happen. As a blogger just said, the Permanent Diaconate is an American phenomenon. The rest of the worldwide church seems to do very well without them. Rome isn’t about to confuse people by instituting women deacons, no matter what book comes out.
    This is great fun!

  24. FrBrian,

    Theologically, it seems like ordaining women to the diaconate, which lacks the sacerdotal character, is possible and that historically it has been done. I’ve seen enough of Dr. Zagano’s work to be convinced of that. I would agree that the Catholic Church makes decisions on a global basis and that the Church’s leaders probably see this possibility as inexpedient.

    But it’s the anti-intellectualism in your post that’s disconcerting.

    How is it that reading a book and finding its reasoning and argument convincing is somehow suspect, but that it’s somehow laudable to be able to dismiss a book without even reading it?

    If we were fideists, then that would make sense. But there has to be a purpose for including so much philosophy in priestly formation, and if that purpose isn’t the ability to root our judgments in a reasoned reflection on the evidence, then what is it?

  25. Keenan I am positive he has had infinitely more philosophical training than I or you could possibly even conceptualize. The last thing I would characterize his posts as anti-intellectual. All of this navel-gazing is what it is. I pray with every fiber of my being that the Church gets such a glut of ordinations to the priesthood that,frankly, the permanent diaconate itself becomes a nonessential nice to have.

  26. Bill,

    If deacons were substitute priests, then your post would make sense! But they’re not.

    And while FrBrian has likely had philosophical training, and then has philosophical potency, it is has yet to be demonstrated that this potency is being actualized in his dismissal of the evidence at hand.

  27. Bill, thank you. Your words are a welcome breath of fresh air. Rarely do priests get treated with that type of respect from people–and when we do, many times they are not Catholic.
    And I do promise that I am not anti-intellectual. But I agree with you that this speculation about women deacons is navel gazing, masquerading as an intellectual forum. I personally believe that Phyllis Zagano, bless her soul, is driven by emotion, which causes her to come to false conclusions.
    And about priestly vocation: from your lips to God’s ears. God bless!

  28. I am just a layperson, but in my opinion the last thing we need is more innovation in the Catholic Church.

    We have had nothing but innovation since Vatican II. So tell me, how’s that working out for us? Sunday Mass attendance is at an all time low, and less than 10 percent (if that) of Catholics follow the teaching of the Pope and Magisterium on birth control. Abortion is legal thanks to “pro-choice” so-called Catholic politicians and our Bishops are too cowardly to excommunicate them, or even deny them Holy Communion.

    Woman deacons…? Yeah, we need woman deacons in the Catholic Church like we need a hole in the head.

  29. I agree with Fr. Brian that the Church is in dire need of more priests but where I respectfully disagree is that this does not preclude her need for permanent deacons. Our parish is blessed to have three excellent priests and two wonderful permanent deacons, one of whom, Deacon Greg Kandra is the author of this blog, and the other, Deacon Bill McNamara, is our director of religious education. The priesthood and the permanent diaconate are two very different vocations, each important to the Church and its people in its own unique way. I am blessed to count both Deacon Greg and Deacon Bill among my friends, and I can honestly say that these gentlemen evidence by their every word and deed, a vocation of humble and loving service to God and to our parish family. Their vocation is not suited to one who loves power. As an ordained clergyman who lives in his own home or apartment, is employed at a 9-5 secular job, and who might be married, a permanent deacon functions as a bridge between the priests and the laity. As to the question of women deacons, I want to wait to read the book, so that I can make an informed decision. At this point, I do not have strong feelings one way or the other. If The Holy Spirit should one day guide Our Holy Father to discern that the door to this vocation must be closed to women, that will be fine with me. But if Our Holy Father should one day discern that the time has come to admit women to this vocation, that would be fine with me, too. And should a female deacon one day serve our parish, I would treat her with the same respect and gratitude for service that I do her male counterparts.

  30. Great, just what we need. A book on women deacons written by

    – an NCR columnist

    – a mid-grade liberal dissenter and trasher of the Council of Trent

    – and a USCCB and chancery bureaucrat who was unable to see the liberal bias of the USCCB staff during his tenure there.

    Doesn’t give much cause for hope, but I’ll wait patiently until the book arrives at a library near me and then I’ll read it, since historical scholarship is important in the life of the Church. But breathless hyping is not called for here.

    BTW regarding the comment, “No one, not the pope, nor any part of the Roman Curia, has EVER ruled out the possibility of ordaining women AS DEACONS.”

    Well, no pope or curia member has ever ruled out canines, extraterrestials, and igneous rocks as deacons either. It is a valid point to add to the discussion, but it is not a trump card to play against us reactionary anti-intellectual dogmatists.

    Here is a piece of advice to the three authors: why don’t all three of them individually make public statements identifying that they personally assent in mind and conscience to the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church that She has no authority from God to ordain women to the priesthood? Such statements from them would go a long way to assuring the suspicious, like myself, that the book is offered as serious scholarship rather than serving as a contumacious propaganda piece.

    Deacon Ditewig, since we know you read this blog, how about it?

  31. Fr. Brian:

    “Rarely do priests get treated with that type of respect from people–and when we do, many times they are not Catholic.”

    Surely, you are not implying that any lack of respect for the priesthood today has something to do with discussions like this.

    By the way, your comments:

    “And admit it–my comments have added some zest to this conversation!” and “This is great fun!”

    indicate to me that this conversation is not going in a very responsible or productive direction.

  32. Fr. Brian, if you’re still around,

    The thread on Communion under both kinds tells you why you need more deacons: to minister the cup.

  33. Fr. Brian:

    Sorry that you and other priests in your locality have had problems with permanent deacons. It doesn’t have to be that way and I’m sorry that your diocese allows substandard performance. Of course, as a fellow pastor we know a good number of priests also fit into that category.

    I would like to offer you my personal experience.

    My parish has two deacons.

    One is a great preacher and has greatly improved the parish’s marriage preparation program. He is generous with his time in covering funeral vigils when the priests are short-handed.

    The other does not speak the dominant languages of the parish well, a problem which we have to work around. However he has suffered greatly for the Faith in his native land and is greatly respected by parishioners who have come to know him well, despite the profound troubles he faces in public parish ministry. In other words, he is a bad fit but a good man.

    Not all deacons are the thin-skinned type of your acquaintance, even though I do know a good number of the sub species that you describe.

    OTOH my diocese is getting into a position of having large numbers of deacons and nobody quite has a handle on how to use them all, given that they seem to have a “veto power” over their assignments in a manner unknown to most priests. “Oh, I can’t do that ministry.” I suppose that I should pay a little more attention to the next diaconate ordination to see how the qualified promise of obedience is worded.

  34. My 2 Prayers. 1) Everybody discusses their opinions in the full light of day. 2) We get back to what we are here on earth to do. Progress and Progressive Idea’s are 2 very different things. Progress is our journey towards Heaven, Progressive ideas are best left to politics. IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Greek Word that was translated to Latin also means Truth. We must guard ourselves from an existential mindset. That philosophy has been condemned by our Church. It does not all start with us – it starts with the WORD. I fully support original thinking, and innovation, but lets keep that where it should be in science and the humanities not in our Faith or else we should call ourselves protestant.

  35. It may shock some that this permanent deacon agrees in some (but not all respects) with Fr. Brian. The ordination of deaconesses that started the Long March of the Episcopal Church to finally ordaining a “married” Gay to their episcopacy should be a lesson for the Catholic Church to learn from.
    I also think it is sad that one of the most well-known deacons in our country is teaming up with a writer who is on the payroll of a publication which is referred to as the “Anti-Catholic Reporter” by many devout, dedicated Catholics.

  36. Deacon Bresnahan,

    Respectfully, the Church has already had a history of ordaining women as deaconesses…long before the Episcopalians.

    In fact, the fifteenth Canon of the Council of Chalcedon “decreed that no deaconess should be ordained below the age of forty; and no person once ordained a deaconess was allowed to leave that state and marry” (this is from the New Advent site http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03555a.htm). That was in 451 AD, and probably some time thereafter. Imagine that! The Holy Catholic Church has ordained women as deaconesses and never did wind up ordaining a “married” Gay to the episcopacy, thank God. So, that kind of argument doesn’t wash with historical truth.

  37. The church has NOT had female deacons for 1560 years– to start now is a novelty and a break with tradition. Please get off your deacon high horses and hold fast to tradition.

  38. #43, if it did happen 1560 years ago (ongoing for~400-500 years?) it would seem to be neither a novelty or a break with tradition.

  39. Yes Deacon JMB, I agree that point four in Deacon Ditewig’s list is historically blind, if not disingenuous. Some women have been agitating for Catholic female deacons while mealy-mouth bishops damn with faint praise the current discipline of male deacons (*cough* Rochester, Albany). Moreover, the example of The Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and other churches of the Anglican Communion demonstrate that culturally, once Westerners (NAm and Europe) get used to seeing women clergy on the altar, they aren’t theologically sophisticated enough to make the hard distinction between deacons and priests. Perhaps that is a function of the invalid orders of the Anglican Communion and the slack approach the AC has with sacramental doctrine, but I believe the same cultural currents would afflict the Catholic Church.

  40. #46–Yes, there were deaconesses as evidenced by that particular Canon approved by the Council of Chalcedon. One can’t argue with documented Church history. In those days there was no specific codified Canon Law like there is today. And, what was promulgated by those early Councils is Church law (those early Councils did things like approve the Creed we say at Mass, that Mary is the Mother of God, that Jesus is both human and divine, etc, etc). People don’t make laws for no reason at all. They make them because something has to be regulated. That this Church Council would take up the age for deaconesses at ordination, etc, means that deaconesses were being ordained. What happened? That would be a good research paper, because there is no doubt more historical evidence exists somewhere in Church records. It’s anybody’s guess why the Church stopped ordaining deaconesses. I suspect that it wasn’t due to anything sinister per se but just that the Church stopped ordaining deaconesses just like they stopped ordaining deacons. They just fell into “disuse!” Permanent deacons were only brought back to the Church fairly recently (in Church terms). I wonder if this new book will address why the Church stopped ordaining deaconesses.

  41. I am dismayed by this line from FrMichael: “Well, no pope or curia member has ever ruled out canines, extraterrestials, and igneous rocks as deacons either.”

    Some people claim that the church has no problem respecting its women members. And then we get a nice little helping of this type of reasoning. Women are the equivalent of animals and rocks and aliens? I feel bad for the women in your parish, Father, if that is your attitude.

  42. My brother is in a parish with a Deacon. As to Deacon Greg comment on priest needing help with baptism, funerals, weddings, ect., in this parish the rub is not from the priest who wants to do all of these things and is against the Deacon, but the parishoners who want a priest and not a Deacon. The acceptance of the Deacon for things of this importance to families has a very long way to go. In talking with a number of priests, this has been the case in many parishes and if the priest pushes back and insists on the Deacon taking ever bigger roles, the folks simply seek out a new parish. Not sure if that is the same in NYC and other locations, but it seems to be very strong that way in the midwest and south. Most see him as a help to the priest, but only in areas of ministry to the sick or other duties separated from the sacraments.

    And Deacon, you do tend to give off snipish comments such as questioning this person truth as being a priest right out of the box. Starting a discussion by questioning the other persons honesty is not something I would like to see in an ordained person in the Catcholic Church.

  43. Greta…

    Thank you for your insight. Things are different here in New York City.

    And as to your other comment: you should know by now that anyone can be anything online. Just because someone places a religious title in front of their names in a comment doesn’t make it so.

    But again: I’m from New York City.

    Dcn. G.

  44. Doing a little research I read a book by Cummings, DITEWIG, and Gaillardetz titled “Theology of the Diaconate.”
    Two lines by Cummings struck me:” Theologically and ecclesiologically, then, there is no competetion among deacon, priest, and bishop. Deacons and priests PARTICIPATE IN THE FULLNESS OF ORDERS that is the episcopate.” (In otherwords inadvertantly proving that the whole movement for the Catholic Church to ordain women deacons is merely the same strategy used in the Episcopal Church that is now destroying it.
    I also read about deacons and ordination in the Official Catechism of the Catholic Church. There deacons are repeatedly referred to as having received Holy Orders and under the heading:” Who can receive this sacrament?” (referring to bishops, priests and deacons receiving Holy Orders) the next sentence says clearly: “Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.” This came right after referring to “the three degrees of the sacrament of holy orders.”
    Which makes me wonder where the line “open theological question” came from or how it was actually intended. From what I read in the Catechism it doesn’t seem very “open.”

  45. #50–As to the rub being from the parishioners, then it’s time for the new evangelization to include teaching that deacons can do those things, too. Everyone has to get on board with it. I know a deacon who preaches at Mass regularly, does weddings, funerals and baptisms, and other things in the parish, all without pay, and parishioners love him…and his pastor supports him. Parishioners tend to support what the pastor supports and promotes. If the pastor promotes a just cause, parishioners will dig deeper in their wallets and their “volunteer good will” to support what the pastor supports. But, he has to both stand up before the people to support it and demonstrate by his actions that he supports it, too. If he gives someone or something just lip service, then parishioners will figure out they can, too. And, that goes for a lot of things, from being pro-life to disaster relief and all things in between.

    Now, I wonder how many deacons are paid for their services as deacons? The ones I know don’t get a cent unless it comes as a “bonus” or good will offering directly to the deacon. It’s not an item in the parish budget.

  46. The definitive study of Aime Martimort (“Deaconesses” – Ignatius Presss) proves that “deaconesses” never belonged to Holy Orders. Catholics are being tortured and killed in many regions of the world today. They have no time for the bourgeois quest for female ordination which is basically a hobby horse of western suburbanites. Women who seek holy orders are for the most part angry widows and militant lesbians. Christianity is too much under attack to indulge the diversion of these silly people.

  47. In defense of Deacon Greg I will say it is very difficult to not feel personally attacked when your vocational calling is essentially called useless by one of the ministers that we are ordained to help and serve the people of God with side by side. My experience as a deacon is very much DOD (dump on deacon) all the things that the priests did not want to do. I am the only deacon at my parish with 2 priests and I am scheduled to do every baptism by default unless I am unable to be there because of family obligations. I ahve the utmost respect for our priests, but it is very disconcerting to read priests saying that they feel that the sacred order of deacon is not needed. The two ministries are not mutually exclusive, but are tied together through service to our Bishops. If you stop ordaining men to the permanent Diaconate there is no proof that we will get more priests. I was not called to the ministerial priesthood. I did not choose to be ordained a permanent deacon insted of being ordained a priest, and I am not waiting for my wife to die so I can go on to be ordained as a priest (and yes this has been said to me a few times). Both vocational calls are valuable and necessary to spreading the Gospel, in different ways with different charisms. When we pray for vocations we need to pray for men and women to answer their call to service as Priests and Deacons (for the men) and as religious brothers and sisters (for men and women). To dengrate one calling because of a shortage in another is not going to help spread the Gospel.

  48. #55–Amen Deacon Steve!

    …and let us not only pray for vocations, let us pray for HOLY vocations to ALL states of life.

  49. Greta: #50

    “Not sure if that is the same in NYC and other locations, but it seems to be very strong that way in the midwest and south. Most see him as a help to the priest, but only in areas of ministry to the sick or other duties separated from the sacraments.”

    Some observations — for what they are worth — about the parishes I work in — in a neighboring diocese to “greta”:

    –About 50% of the wedding ceremonies are presided over by deacons. In fact, I presided at six in 2010 and am looking at six also in 2011. We now have a second deacon in our parish — newly ordained in September — and he has already had his first wedding ceremony.

    –Our “rookie” deacon will also be singing the Exsultet next Holy Saturday. (I did that for the past twenty years!)

    –Best guess is that in 2009; my parish had about 100 infant Baptisms — maybe 12 were officiated by a priest, the rest by the deacons. Our one “emeritus” deacons — over 75 — who is bi-lingual/bi-cultural in Spanish had over 50 of them! In 2010, that count dropped to closer to 50. That year our bi-lingual “emeritus” deacon was ill and had a mere dozen. I had about 18. The priest/pastor had 12 that year as well — none at Mass.

    –Another of our “Emeritus” deacons — over 75 — had over 15 complete funerals last year he presided over by himself. I had maybe 6.

    –All three of our local parishes have deacons “on-ceremony” at ALL week-end Masses — and they preach at all the masses one week-end month.

    –Our Bishop insists that Deacons be “on ceremony” with him at ALL Confirmations; ALL Chrism Masses; ALL ordinations of any type; and ALL masses in the local parishes for whatever reason where he is the Presider.

    I know a number of deacons in “greta”s” Archdiocese — including one or two in parishes very close to hers — and the ratios and protocols there are very similar.

  50. Dear FrMichael (#35),

    1) Since I’m the “USCCB Staffer” you claim “couldn’t see the liberal bias” of the staff while I was there, let me just say that there was a real good reason for that: IT WASN’T THERE TO SEE! I know that you won’t accept that, and there’s nothing I can do to convince you, but there’s nothing else I can say. I was the one who sat around the conference tables, worked on a wide variety of projects, and actually knew the people involved. Anyone who thinks that there was/is some kind of liberal cabal at work there is simply making a ludicrous claim, without foundation.

    2) For those people (and I can’t recall if you’re one of them, so I’m including the observation here nonetheless) who think we have “too many deacons,” let me make two simple points. To suggest that “we have too many deacons” and then list only liturgical functions misses the full spectrum of diaconal ministry. As ordained clergy, with a participation in the triple munera: the munus docendi, munus sanctificandi, and munus regendi, the needs we try to address go far beyond being “Father’s little helper” (well, since I’m 6’5″, I guess that should be “Father’s big helper). Vatican II didn’t renew a permanent diaconate for that. Secondly, are you telling me that all the people living in your community (and not just your parish) have no needs which need attending to? There are no hungry, homeless, imprisoned, abused, lonely, sick, dying people who are not currently being helped? Really? There are no unmet needs where you are? Because that’s the only time we’d be able to that there’s no longer a need for deacons.

    2) I don’t owe anyone here, especially someone who doesn’t sign with a full name, my profession of faith or oath of fidelity. However, since I really do take those acts seriously and publicly, I have no problem in reiterating the profession of faith and oath of fidelity which I swore shortly before my ordination as deacon. I meant these words then, nearly 22 years ago, and I mean them now, and nothing I have ever written or taught violates them.

    I, William T. Ditewig, with firm faith believe and profess everything that is contained in the Symbol of faith: namely:
    I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

    With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed. I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.
    Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.
    I, William T. Ditewig, in assuming the office of deacon, promise that in my words and in my actions I shall always preserve communion with the Catholic Church. With great care and fidelity I shall carry out the duties incumbent on me toward the Church, both universal and particular, in which, according to the provisions of the law, I have been called to exercise my service. In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I shall hold fast to the deposit of faith in its entirety; I shall faithfully hand it on and explain it, and I shall avoid any teachings contrary to it. I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the entire Church and I shall maintain the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law.
    With Christian obedience I shall follow what the Bishops, as authentic doctors and teachers of the faith, declare, or what they, as those who govern the Church, establish. I shall also faithfully assist the diocesan Bishops, so that the apostolic activity, exercised in the name and by mandate of the Church, may be carried out in communion with the Church.
    So help me God, and God’s Holy Gospels on which I place my hand.

    Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D.

  51. Thank you, Bill, for adding your voice to this conversation.

    Going back to the issue of “We don’t really need deacons”: earlier today, I met with a parishioner to discuss some issues she was having with the Church — both sacramental and personal — and when I suggested she might want to get another opinion from one of the priests, she shook her head. “They don’t live in the real world,” she said. “You do.”

    That isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. And I think it points to something largely overlooked in this discussion: the way that deacons reside in both worlds, the clerical and the secular, and serve as a vital and even invaluable bridge between the two. At its best, that comes out in how the deacon ministers — how he preaches, how he teaches, how he counsels and supports and consoles and uplifts and serves the people in the pews. You can’t quantify that, or measure that, or easily dismiss it.

    Elsewhere, someone said that they didn’t quite understand how “part-time” deacons fit in. And that’s another common misconception. There are no “part-time” deacons, just as there are no “part-time” priests or bishops. Realizing that, and understanding all that it implies and the potential that it offers, can help people see what makes this vocation so different and, I think, necessary.

    Dcn. G.

  52. As an Eastern/Byzantine Catholic I see this as one more way to create greater distance from my parent church in Orthodoxy. 🙁
    Thankfully, the Holy See is unlikely to move in the direction of ordaining women in the Latin Church. Assuredly, none of the 23 Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches sui iuris will be ordaining women.

  53. The harvest is great but the laborers are few – thank you Deacon Greg for answering the call to labor for the Lord. All of us who are touched by your work – whether in your parish or here on your blog – are the better for it. Your ministry is important and necessary. I hope you are not discouraged or disheartened by some of the comments here. The Church needs Deacons like you.

  54. “One simply doesn’t see permanent deacons in Europe (or anywhere else in the world).”

    This may be true in the Latin Church but in the other 23 Catholic Churches, Eastern and Oriental, there is no “transitional” or “permanent” diaconate. We simply have deacons, and protodeacons.

    The Divine Liturgy in the absence of a deacon is a very different service from one with the deacon. Our priest would say he felt like “a one armed paper hanger” when he served without a deacon. The deacon has a deeply intimate relationship with the priest/s celebrating at the altar and he very actively leads the faithful in prayer throughout the Liturgy as he passes back and forth through the deacon’s doors from the nave to the holy place. His role is equally central in other services such as Vespers and Vigils, which are themselves central to the Divine Liturgy.

  55. I have read that one of the recent Popes-not sure which one-forsaw the posibility of Deaconesses playing a role in the Catholic Church of the not too distant future.

  56. Bill Russell

    It does no such thing; the Orthodox have done far more work on this, and they do see that, in the East, the women were ordained.

  57. “One simply doesn’t see permanent deacons in Europe (or anywhere else in the world).”

    Not true in England. The largest “town” parish in Cambridge has four priests (one “retired” and one bi-lingual/Spanish) and four deacons. A major town parish in Lincoln has one priest and two deacons. Neither place were particularly hard to find “on the web.”

  58. Also “greta” #50: These Mega-Churches (all over 3,500 family units/ 10,000 in “head count”) in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati were not particularly hard to find on the web and their staffing of deacons is in no way unique.

    –Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Cincinnati: two priests/ six deacons (and at least one incredibly impressive potential applicant that I know about)

    –St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Cincinnati: two priests and three deacons but add at least one other deacon who is a parish member/resident but ministers elsewhere in Cincinnati.

    –St. Peter in Huber Heights: three priests and six deacons.

    The web-site of the Archdiocese shows a marvelous photo of the class of deacon candidates that started their three year formation last month. I counted over twenty in number.

    You might want to contact Archbishop Schnurr and let him know that our church does not need deacons. I’ll let him speak for himself.

  59. I was in hospital with a very serious illness and the Catholic chaplain came around,a nun, asking if there was anything she could do for me. As I was seriously ill I asked her if she could get a priest to call by. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was the chaplain of the hospital and she could do anything that I needed. I asked her if she could hear my confession and she answered no, I then asked if she could give me the sacrament of the sick. She reluctantly replied no. I then said “Get me a ……….. priest!” A deacon would have been just as useless to me for all their worthy intentions. As Fr. Brian says it is all about power…

  60. Perhaps I’m missing something, but don’t the parishes mentioned, where deacons officiate at weddings and funerals have nuptial and requiem Masses? Baptisms I can understand, but the other two? I’m puzzled.

    And reading the initial post on this subject, which included the possibliity of using deaconesses as hospital and prison chaplains, I must admit that my first thought was similar to #68’s story.

  61. Mary…

    What Henry said. And I actually think this is one reason why the Vatican has explicitly not closed the door on ordaining women as deacons. The Catholic Church recognizes the legitimacy of Orthodox sacraments. And all recent popes have worked tirelessly to promote eventual reunification with the Orthodox. Declaring that the Church has no authority to ordain women as deacons — as John Paul did regarding priests — would be a problem.

    Dcn. G.

  62. Sal…

    Some couples, for a variety of reasons, don’t want a nuptial mass. (I’d say about half the weddings we do at my parish are ceremonies without a mass.) And there is a funeral liturgy that can be done by a deacon if a priest is unavailable. It’s still somewhat exceptional. I’ve never done one, but I know of deacons who have. With priests getting older, and being stretched thinner, and often having to cover multiple parishes, it may become more commonplace.

    Dcn. G.

  63. So Deacon,

    Jesus didn’t live in the real world either, since He wasn’t married. What a bogus, weak argument you made. I suppose you would support a married priesthood as well. You are really showing your true colors here.

  64. Ken…

    Where did I say this has anything to do with marriage?? That’s your inference, not mine. For the record: I think there’s tremendous value in the celibate priesthood, which is a complete offering of self and the laying down of one’s life. I’m not persuaded that this is discipline that should be changed. (My homily this morning has more on that idea.)

    And: I think there’s ample evidence in the gospels that Jesus did live in the real world.

    Dcn. G.

  65. The theology of Holy Orders says that the proper matter for ordination is for the ordinand to be a baptiized male. There are three levels of this sacrament: diaconate, presbyter, and episcopate.

    Females do not present the proper matter for Holy Orders. The Church cannot change this as been confirmed time and time again.

    The sacrament of Orders is one of service. Many think it is about self or about power and they are mistaken, although one can see why they might think that sometimes.

  66. Ken, there are permanent deacons who are not married. But permanent deacons, whether married or un-married, share with their lay parishioners the day-to-day experiences of working at a full-time secular job, and the day-to-day experiences of being a homeowner or an apartment dweller. So permanent deacons are ordained clergy who live the “real world” experience of their lay parishioners, and function as a bridge between the priests and the laity.

  67. Magdalene – what do you mean by saying that women do not present “the proper matter”? I never heard that before.

  68. Ken, a permanent deacon does not have to be married. But a permanent deacon, either married or unmarried, shares with his lay parishioners, the day-to-day experiences of working at a full- time secular job, and of being either a homeowner or an apartment dweller. So, he is an ordained clergyman who functions as a bridge between the priests and the lay parishioners.

  69. i am not sure how helpful it is to keeping mentioning that the “Orthodox” are ordaining women deaconesses. It gives the impression that there is a real unity in their churches on this issue.
    There situation is very complex and there is not unity on this question among all the orthodox churches. The Greeks, the Russians, the churches of the middle east, the orthodox of India etc…..all have real debates going on and differ on this issue. I think it is helpful to treat them with more respect on this issue and not with a simplistic “the orthodox are doing it.”

    In the Roman church, this debate on women deacons has been going on and studied for sometime and there are many opinions on it. And this new book on the topic is just another opinion, hopefully a well studied and considered opinion, that will be added to the debate and future discernment on the issue. but no one book has the “smoking gun or silver bullet” that will prove the case one way or the other. it is just one opinion added to the discussion. we all have biases and subjective agendas that influence us, no matter how hard we try to be objective. that is why we put our ideas and opinions out there, to add out voice but also to get feedback to parts we are missing or cannot see. this is what discernment is all about!

  70. Regina
    i respect your need to have a deacon as a bridge to relate to your priests. but i do not think it is the reason for the diaconate.

    historically this idea of the deacon as a bridge came more from the European churches, especially in germany and france where the clergy did live in a very different class from the laity. It was never seen as a reason for the diaconate but thought it might be an effect of the resorted diaconate in those churches.

    The North American church never had this same dynamic with the clergy in a systemic way and I do not think that most laity feel they need a bridge to relate to their priests today. Also these ideas that “because a deacon works in the real world then he will understand me better”……are also a dead ends.

    All depends on the concrete individual; empathy, compassion, understanding etc comes from the maturity of the person. And like the rest of humanity, some priests and deacons have it and some don’t.

    when it comes to clergy, it is the depth of their prayer life and their personal holiness that is the most important and no one lifestyle has a monopoly on holiness, prayer life or personal maturity. (read todays gospel!)

  71. Dear Magdalene (#74):

    In terms of current LAW (which is also cited in the Catechism), at this time only a baptized male may be ordained. However, you’re mixing apples and oranges in terms of sacramental theology: a person’s “maleness” is not the “matter” of the sacrament at all. Let me explain.

    For centuries, theologians spoke of the “matter” and “form” of a sacrament. The “matter” was something that could have a general overall meaning which was then focused or “explained” by the “form” used. The form is the prayer used in the celebration of a sacrament. So, for example, the “matter” of baptism is the FLOWING WATER. Now, flowing water can be used and seen in many contexts not associated with the saving sacrament we have in baptism, so we turn to the form, which are the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The form “explains” and gives shape to the matter.

    So, what are the matter and form of ordination? Pope Pius XII, in 1947, resolved the issue in his document “Sacramentum Ordinis” (“The Sacrament of Order”). He pronounced that there were three sacramental orders: bishop, presbyter (priest), and deacon. He further stipulated that, for each order, the matter is the LAYING ON OF HANDS by the bishop, and the form is the PRAYER OF CONSECRATION to each order as prayed by the bishop. So, you see, the gender of the ordinand is not the “matter” of the sacrament at all. It is currently, however, a matter of current practice and legislation, and that is what the catechism summarizes and the law contains.

    Experts in canon law have already determined, including canonists advising the Holy See, that there is nothing in the law which could not be changed vis-a-vis the ordination of women as deacons, should the “ministry of discernment” of the Church decide to ordain women again as deacons.

    To those who have opined that the (permanent) diaconate is not found in Europe or other parts of the world, that’s simply not true. I’m thrilled to be a part of several international groups of deacon leaders who regularly convene to focus on global issues related to service and the Church’s diakonia. The diaconate is vibrant in many, many countries and regions of the world! The reason we have so many deacons here in the US is that we are such a large country. We have 196 dioceses and eparchies, for example; Germany has 22. It makes sense that we’re going to have more deacons than Germany. However, the ratio of deacons to parishioners is just as healthy and in some cases healthier, in other parts of the world as it is here.

    Finally, to those who keep saying that all women want is “power” — where does that idea come from? Why do you think that, when MEN present themselves for formation as deacons and priests, they’re doing it for good reasons, but women must be doing it for nefarious reasons? Really?

    We need to take some of the emotionalism out of all this and approach the questions rationally, systematically, and calmly. There are good and valid reasons to examine this issue, and certainly the three of us in our book are not making this a “social justice” issue. It is a theological, sacramental and pastoral issue related to the nature of the Church, the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and world, and what is possible and needed in today’s world. This is not a work that flows out of a feminist critique or any other politicized context. We are doing what theologians are asked to do: to probe and to seek, and we are doing so with the support and knowledge of legitimate church authority. My bishop is aware of my activities in this and other areas; whether he agrees with my own conclusions is up to him, but he supports the process involved. In short, to be involved in the work of theological research is NOT an act of dissent or heresy; it’s how our church’s teachings develop over the centuries. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, now regarded as “the Angelic Doctor” was roundly condemned by church authorities in his own day as a radical, dangerous thinker, with the Archbishop of Paris (where he was teaching) condemning his works! Now those works are required reading.

    Go figure!

    Anyway, pace, pace. . . .

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  72. Definitely not going to happen. America has 70% of the world’s permanent diaconate — so why hasn’t that been explored elsewhere? Moreover, if the Church is going to move and ordain deaconnesses, why is she evidently so hesitant, say, to institute an order of catechists (at least in our country); and why can she not (universally) install women as acolytes?

    I realize people are going to find this reactionary, but this gambit to “discuss an open theological question” is indeed a red herring swimming in waters of the fallacy of origins.

    And yet, it is also a sensitive issue, since there are so many good men who have answered a call and devote themselves to good work. I do sympathize with Deacon Greg. Regardless, though, it will be very difficult to talk about this in an objective way.

  73. Anthony,

    Despite debates, the Orthodox have women deacons, and the Orthodox recognize their ordination in the past. The fact that there are debates doesn’t mean the Orthodox are not doing it. You have debates about the calendar still within the Orthodox jurisdictions. However, the fact that main Orthodox churches do it again has the value as already shown above. It is significant. You can’t dismiss it when main Orthodox communions do it. That’s the whole point. And the history is there. That is the point.

  74. Deacon Bill:

    Your comment #58 fully resolves any concerns I have regarding your good faith in this matter. Thank you.

    Your second point in that same comment (regarding there being “too many deacons”) isn’t really my main concern (see my comment #38). I’m all for the permanent diaconate. I do believe that dioceses should be clearer with diaconate candidates about the vocation serving the Church on a practical level (i.e. one might get an assignment that is less-than-ideal in one’s mind) and a better understanding of the clerical promise of obedience. Dioceses themselves need to be cognizant of the pastoral needs of the diocese and prepare their deacons appropriately. All-too-often what I see is a class of deacons ordained and then scrambling to figure out how to use them. With so much to be done in the Lord’s vineyard, there is no need for diaconate “make work.”

    Yours in Christ, FrMichael

  75. Deacon Bill,
    Of course there are some deacons in Europe and the rest of the world. I was speaking in hyperbole when I said one “doesn’t find deacons in Europe”. The fact is their numbers are very few. That was my point.

    The vast numbers of permanent deacons are in the U.S. It is an American phenomena. The Roman Church isn’t deeply considering the issue right now like some here in the U.S. Once and if they ever do I assure you language will slowly come out Rome like that of holy orders, maintaining this minsitry for men only. There are many points to be made here theologically but are too long for posting. If one wants clarification Dr. Peter Kreeft is a good places to start. One simple point that can be made against ordination of women in any ministry is that there is absolutely no historical precedence whatsoever. Any type of sacerdotal ordination in the Orthodox communion conferred upon women would be considered invalid by the Roman Church if there ever is reuinification.

    While I personally appreciate this ministry in the parishes, I have had reservations ever since it was reinstituted, precisely for the reasons espoused in this article. We are opening a can of worms. The permanent deaconate wasn’t installed to open the door for women ordination. It was installed as a service to the sacerdotal life of Church. That’s it. “Deaconesses” in the early Church were not ordained women. That would be quite frankly insane to presume as such. The idea of ministerial priesthood from the Jewish culture was much more patriarchal than it is today. It would have been unheard of for the Church to confer any type of sacerdotal ministry on women at that time.

  76. #80–Thank you, Deacon Bill for a good summation of what we’re discussing here. If I didn’t know better, there are those who only read a few comments and then throw in the same things that have been brought up before ad nauseum. And, if I didn’t know better, there are another few who don’t check facts before posting!

    Christ came to serve not to be served…and, isn’t that what being a deacon is all about? Let us all pray that we all may become more Christ-like!

  77. Rob

    The historical ordination of women priests in the East — as shown at ecumenical councils — shows that your presentation is false. The fact that there have been such ordained women — before schism — shows the Church can and does allow them. They are not invalid. Indeed, the whole thing is circular: it can’t be done, so if it is done it is invalid. Therefore, no one can find it ever been done. Any point it is shown it is done it is treated as false.

    Reminds me of birthers talking about Obama’s citizenship.

  78. #84–Rob. Yes, the Catholic Church did ordain deaconesses for a time–at least during the time of the Council of Chalcedon as evidenced by Canon 15 of that Council. All you have to do is read the Canons of that Council. Canon number 15, “decreed that no deaconess should be ordained below the age of forty; and no person once ordained a deaconess was allowed to leave that state and marry” (this is from the New Advent site http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03555a.htm). That was in 561 AD and probably for some time thereafter. It’s not without precedence. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more evidence of it.

    I suspect, after a while, it just fell into disuse like the use of male permanent deacons fell into disuse. But, that the Catholic church did ordain deaconesses for some time is, without question, a historical fact.

  79. Mr Karlson,
    perhaps you can share more concrete information on which orthodox churches have ordained women deacons? do they serve liturgy? I know priests in six major branches of orthodoxy in my area and they all assure they do not ordain women deaconesses and would not allow one to serve at the divine liturgy in their temples.

    Also they do have a big debate going on into what “type” of ordination women received that were ordained deaconesses. In the US, it seems the more progressive churches are the OCA and Antiochian, and as far as i understand neither ordain women deaconesses.

    So more concrete facts would be appreciated or at least some links to actual churches or articles. thank you

  80. Anthony

    First, your argument appears to be universalizing a particular. Second, no one said there were many women deacons — however, just one would serve as an example. For the most part, right now they are found in convents, and you will find it, for example, with the Greeks. But the fact that they exist, and that they existed in history, is something the Orthodox communion has established.

    Here’s an old article from the Orthodox Herald:


    Here is a book you can pick up:


  81. regarding the number of deacon in the church, i do not think it is unfair to say it is heavily slanted to the USA?

    There are around 1.20 billion Catholics in the world
    There are around 70 million Catholics in the USA.

    There are around 37,000 deacons in the whole church
    of these around 17,500 deacons in the USA

    that means there are around 19,500 for the rest of the population of Catholics in the world.

    Also I do think many people are comparing USA and Europe when they comment and not USA with an individual european country. I think we are smart enough not to compare the number of deacons in all the USA with Germany!

  82. The title of this thread says the pope said the issue was an “open theological question.” And because the words were put in quotation marks I presume they are the pope’s exact words. But still noone has said where or under what circumstances or in what context he said that so it could be closely looked at.
    Context can make all the difference in the world in what was actually meant. For example was he speaking “ex cathedra????” Or was he ruminating off the top of his head to some reporters in response to leading questions???

  83. #69 Sal:

    –My bishop is quite specific: if both of the engaged couple are Roman Catholic, the Nuptial Mass is the preferred choice but if either of them are non-Catholic; a simple Marriage Ceremony is the ONLY choice. It is not so much discriminatory to the couple because the ceremony is the same whether it is free-standing or within a mass but it is to totally avoid the whole “inter-communion” hassle.

    In my own parish; one of the important questions asked by our parish receptionist when an engaged couple first call is is whether both are Roman Catholic or not. If one of the two is non-Catholic, then I — or the other deacon — gets the tap (IF an annulment is needed and then my colleague handles it).

    — You might be surprised to know how high a percentage of Roman Catholic folk do not have a funeral mass anymore. My colleague who does all those funerals usually does them in funeral homes at the specific request of the family. Often, but not always, the deceased was a nominal Catholic but his/her family was not and thus are not interested in a priest or a mass for the funeral. AND you might also be surprised at how often we Catholic Deacons are asked to preside over a funeral of deceased non-Catholic family and friends. That has happened to me an average of once a year — for the past several years.

  84. For historians:

    I found two additional Council Canons referring to deaconesses (one refers to deaconesses being ordained, the other to deaconesses being elevated). This is from The Holy and Ecumenical Quinisext (or Quinisextine), or more properly speaking, Sixth Council…assembled in…Troullos (or, according to the Latin spelling, Trullus), in the reign of Justinian II” in 691 AD. And, although this Council is not accepted by the Western Church [read Rome], it does give evidence of deaconess ordination.

    Canon #14 reads, “14. Let the Canon of our holy and God-bearing Fathers be observed also in respect to this, that a Presbyter may not be ordained before he is thirty years old, though the man be thoroughly worthy; but, instead, let him be obliged to wait. For our Lord Jesus Christ was baptized when He was thirty years old, and then He began teaching. Likewise, let no Deacon be ordained before he is twenty-five years old, nor a Deaconess before she is forty years old.” (http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/councils_ecumenical_rudder.htm)

    Canon 48 of the same Council says this: “48. As touching any woman who is the wife of a man who is being elevated to the presidency of an Episcopate, and who by mutual agreement gets divorced from her own husband in advance after his ordination to the Episcopate, let her enter a Convent that is in a location far removed from the home city of the Bishop, and let her be taken care of by the Bishop. But if she also appears to be worthy, let her also be elevated to the office of Deaconess.”

    OK. So, now we have historical evidence of ordained Deconesses until at least the year 680. This goes along with my previous posts regarding ordained Deconesses from the Council of Chalcedon in 561 (which is accepted in the West/Rome), more than 100 years prior! Fascinating!

  85. Would someone – Deacon Greg is best since its his blog – please state clearly, in exact words and with reference to the source, the pope words stating that the ordination of women to the diaconate is an open question? Thank you.

  86. I’ve been snowed-out of the NY Metro Area for a day and have just come upon all this chatter. I am astronished at the vitriol, especially by those claiming to be priests, and ignorance, not only from them but from so many others. The misinformation on this thread does not begin and end with outlandish comments about church history, but rather with an insecure “tree-house” mentality of a couple of ordained priests and at least one (retired)deacon, from what I can tell from a quick read.

    Beyond, I find the claim:

    “Do you truly believe that Zagano is overly concerned about the suffering Church and it’s “need” for women to be deacons? Give me a break. 95% of her articles in NCR trash the Church. Her goal, like most rabid liberals, is to tear down the Church in it’s present form and remake it in their own image.”

    To be so untrue as to constitute libel. I would be most grateful for a categorization of commentaries (in the National Catholic Reporter or for the Religion News Service) that, in someone’s angry words “trash” the Church, as well as some documentation to the claim that I am a “rabid liberal” out to remake the Church in (presumably my) image.

    If you read Martimort, you must read Gryson. IF you read my NCR online and print commentaries, you must read my academic work. If you wish to continue in the tone you have used to blast mysefl and other scholars, you probably should examine your sources, as well as your conscience.


  87. Mr Karlson
    thank you for the links, especially the one “in communion”. I am aware of the works by Elisabeth Behr-Sigel in this area and she brings a lot to the table. i do not think there is much debate that there were deaconesses in the church, but rather how was there role understood and what exactly did the do? at least that is my take on it. also i understand but have no reference for this, that until very recently some Carthusian nuns were ordained as deaconesses and would proclaim the Gospel at liturgy vested with the deacon stole. sounds something similar may also happen in orthodox nun’s convent

  88. Diakonos09…

    I’m sure Deacon Bill can address this in more depth, but I’ll draw on some points he makes in the book. In short, it’s not what the Church has said about ordaining women, but what She hasn’t said.

    In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document on the ordination of women that stated that the Church did not have the authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood — explaining “the Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women.” As Bill notes:

    “The Congregation repeatedly made specific mention of the priestly order, or the priestly and episcopal orders. In the midst of such specificity and care, it becomes particularly noteworthy that the diaconal order is never once mentioned in the document as being part of the question being addressed.”

    Deacon Bill also goes on at great length about various documents on ordination that make clear there is a distinct difference between the diaconate and the other orders, priest and bishop. In one of her essays on the subject, Phyllis Zagano recalls asking then-Cardinal Ratzinger directly about the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, and he replied that it was still under study.

    The Canon Law Society of America in 1995 took a closer look at the question and concluded “the supreme authority of the Church is competent to decide to ordain women to the permanent diaconate” and added “the amount of adjustments in law which would be required to open the permanent diaconate to women are within the authority of the Church to make, and are relatively few in number.”

    Zagano further cites a 2002 report by the International Theological Commission that expressly leaves open the possibility of women deacons and said the question is “up to the magesterium.” In 2005, Cardinal Kasper said as much, admitting that the question of ordaining women as deacons is “not settled.”

    One important distinction needs to be made about the diaconate, which people tend to forget: unlike the priesthood, it was not instituted by Jesus Christ. It is a creation of the Church and, as such, can be adapted and adjusted in any way that the Church sees fit.

    Given multiple opportunities over the last 30 years to shut down study and discussion about ordaining women as deacons, the Church has chosen not to. I keep going back to Pope Benedict’s motu proprio from a couple years back, in which he clarified the role of the deacon for the purposes of Canon Law. Tellingly, he noted that the priest is configured to Christ the Head, while the deacon is configured to a ministry of service to the people of God. The priest’s definition, it’s clear, is gender-specific. The definition of the deacon, in the pope’s phrasing, isn’t. Benedict is a man of intellectual precision. I can’t think that his word choice was unintentional.

  89. #99–well said Deacon Greg! Thank you for your clarity and honesty.

    Additionally, JP II Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” 22 May 1994, deals specifically with ordination to the priesthood. The diaconate is not included in this discussion.

  90. 99 Deacon Greg:

    To be honest with you, I was not all THAT aware of the extensive background research that this new book raises but I DID know about that moto propio in December 2009 and I agree with you. The point Benedict made was very deliberate but very subtle. That is the way that the Vatican announces moves like this– it starts by making sure the first word — and last word — is the Pope’s.

  91. John…

    The title does not quote the pope. Where did you get that idea? He’s not even mentioned. I’m quoting Deacon Bill Ditewig, in the body of the piece.

    Read through this thread, and you’ll find a lengthy answer I just posted, citing multiple authorities (including a gentleman named Ratzinger and another fellow named Kasper) who have both said, separately, that this issue is still open and being studied.

    Dcn. G.

  92. Thank you Deacon Greg. I figured such a statement could not be directly attributed to any of the popes nor any official document they wrote. So we are basically dealing with something from the implied negative, from the argument of silence or of what was not said. That puts this topic where I thought it was in ecclesial life, much as was the topic of women priests until something was finally said and then definitvely issued.

    One other thing: ALL the sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ and this is a teaching of the Church as noted in the CCC #1114, where it references the Councikl of Trent. Of course their manner of celebration was decided upon by the Church and their rituals evolved.

    Also the deacon is indeed configured to Christ (not just to am impersonal ministry) as Blessed John Paul II taught. The deacon is configured to Christ the Servant just as the priest is configured to Christ the Head.

    “By the imposition of the bishop’s hands and the specific prayer of consecration, the deacon receives a particular configuration to Christ, the Head and Shepherd of the Church, who for love of the Father made himself the least and the servant of all ” (Address to those taking part in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Clergy, November 30, 1995). Benedict’s moto proprio is not contrary to this papal teaching (it can’t be) but it simply clarifies it. Note how JPII makes a lot of sense is combining Christ as head, shepherd and servant in the above quote: Jesus is ONE person and Orders configures to the WHOLE person with mission reflecting a particular aspect.

    I personally hold, in the Church’s tradition, that it is exactly this configuration to Christ (no matter which aspect or mission is emphasized) that makes ordination to any degree invalid for a female candidate.

  93. The Council is not talking about conferring holy oders on an indiviual when it used the language that deaconesses are “ordained”. Deacons and deaconnesses were seen as a different ministry in those times (not clerical) and the theological language was different. It’s much like today for example when a lay couple wants to to serve the parish as lectors or Eucharfistic ministers. They might go through a formal ceremony where they are installed as such, but not “ordained” although that language may be used. In the early middle ages one might say they are “ordained” to serve as a lector. But it is not the same meaning as ordination to clerical ministry which has always been reserved to men only. The permanent diaconate state today is seen as clerical, therefore closed to women.

  94. Thank you to those who graciously answered my question. I’m a long-time EF attendee, where such are the rare exception.

    Judging from the comments, it seems that a major quesion is: has the definition of “ordained” changed over the 14 or so centuries since the councils cited?
    Also: why did the practice fall into disuse? Are those reasons still valid?
    Have patience with those of us who are a little gun-shy of the “novelty of antiquity”, having seen more than one practice
    from the early Church revived to back-fire.

  95. There have been a number of questions which have surfaced as to why there are more permanently ordained deacons in the US than in the rest of the world combined. BTW: for the sense of this discussion, I’ll accept Anthony #91’s set of figures but they appear to be imprecise.

    One answer might we be that the American Roman Catholic layperson — on average — has the highest per-capita educational attainment of any other geographically defined area of our international church. In simpler terms — more American Catholics, per capita — have more and higher academic degrees than anywhere else.

    That is important for at least two reasons:

    –The formation process for the permanent diaconate is — by Vatican mandate — very challenging academically. Applicants who do not already have baccalaureate degrees are at a distinct disadvantage. Some — a small number worldwide — dioceses require graduate degrees in pastoral studies of some type.

    –But that is also why there is a broader acceptance because the better educated laity here in the US can understand the real potential of the ministry.

    –Finally, most deacons here in the United States have a non-paid ministry and earn their family’s “keep” by their secular fields. Those secular fields also provide adequate retirements for those US deacons. None of that is true in most other countries. There the men are recruited into paid full-time career fields and the church is responsible for their retirement/old-age support. The ordinands are also younger.

    On essence; comparingthe ministry of the diaconate here in the US to those in other countries is not really valid.

  96. “I personally hold, in the Church’s tradition, that it is exactly this configuration to Christ (no matter which aspect or mission is emphasized) that makes ordination to any degree invalid for a female candidate.”

    Is Diakonos09 stating that women are”defective matter” for the sacrament of orders, and deny the fact of the incarnation points to the fact that all persons “made in the image and likeness of God”? Does Diakonos09 doubt the intent of the many bishops who ordained women as deacons? Does Diakonos09 know that the only person in Scripture named “deacon” (not “deaconess”) is Phoebe?

  97. Dear Sal (#106),

    In direct answer to your question, yes, the sacramental understanding of ordination underwent a rapid and significant shift in the 12th Century, for a variety of reasons. Some had to do with the impact of the Gregorian reforms, others had to do with the reintroduction of Aristotelian thought into Western Europe, and other factors. This shift is well documented in a variety of historical sources, and you should be able to read more about it in any good history of the 12th Century.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  98. Deacon Norb 57 and Fiergenholt 67

    First, I said that the priest at the parishes I am aware of in the midwest are supportive of the Deacon serving in the parish. Many want the help. Not sure what diocese is being discussed in Father Norb but the numbers he quotes are not representative of those I have heard about. However, I have not seen anywhere that such statistics are kept in the Diocese. I will contact the Archdiocese office this week to see if that is kept and what those numbers are in total across the diocese out of curiosity.

    Fingenholt, I have listened to ArchBishop Schnurr on several occasions since his arrival and know that his number one goal is to increase the number of priests coming through the seminary. He does not see Deacons as the answer in any way for priest shortage and has said so publicly. That is not bashing the role of the Deacon, but is a simple statment of fact that we need more priests.

    I will also be looking to find surveys done by Catholic parishes which I remember reading a few years ago on the attitude and understanding of the roll of Deacon and that most would want to have a priest for specific sacraments and other issues in their life.

    I know of a number of people who have switched parishes over the issue of being forced to have a Deacon serve in a role they want a priest to handle for their family. Does anyone have any knowledge of the acceptance of the Deacons role in matters related to their own family or preference for a priest? Curious. I think I am right on this and also am well aware that in many areas, having a priest for everything is not easy. Does anyone have a link to show the utilization of Deacons by parish in the various sacraments?