"Your Holiness, it is time for women deacons…"

"Your Holiness, it is time for women deacons…" May 10, 2011

Somehow I missed this when it was published several days ago, but it’s worth a look: an open letter by researcher and author Phyllis Zagano on the thorny issue of women being ordained…not as priests, but as deacons.

A snip:

I am not writing to argue for woman priests. But you told me many years ago in New York women deacons were “under study.” From 1992-2002, the International Theological Commission worked on that question, producing a report essentially repeating what you said: the Magisterium must decide.

When you met with the priests of Rome in 2006, you wondered aloud: could the church open more positions of responsibility to women? Were you then signaling the recovery of the tradition of women deacons?

In 2009, you changed Canon Law to echo the Catechism. Priests are ordained to act in the person of Christ, the head of the church; deacons are ordained to serve the people of God in and through the Word, the liturgy and charity. Since doctrinal statements only forbid women priests, and deacons are not priests, it seems you removed another hurdle.

You know it is not just me asking. Thousands of people sent Cardinal William Levada, your successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, e-mails and postcards about women deacons in a campaign organized by the US-based group FutureChurch. Several other organizations including the Canada-based Femmes et Ministères have claimed April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, as an international day of prayer for women deacons.

It is a new-old question. The only person in scripture with the formal job title “deacon” is Phoebe, deacon of the church at Cenchrae (Rom 16:1). Some see the start of the diaconate in Jesus’ washing the apostles’ feet at the Last Supper, but most see it really beginning with the apostles calling the seven to a more formal ministry (Acts 6: 1-6). There were many women deacons in the early church.

The bishops of the world were talking about women deacons at the Second Vatican Council. They are still at it. Most recently, the Swiss Bishop of St. Gall, Markus Bűchel, said women deacons were a good idea. Others before him — even Cardinal Carlo Martini when he was archbishop of Milan — wanted to restore women to the diaconate. Bishops from Australia to Ireland say more women in power would have stemmed the priest sex mess. I think they are correct.

I am told your curia knows women can be ordained as deacons, but does not want women in the clerical structure of the church. That cuts both ways, Holy Father. A lot of women do not want anything to do with clericalism. Some want the whole system to collapse. More say it has collapsed already.

Read the rest and see what you think.

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101 responses to “"Your Holiness, it is time for women deacons…"”

  1. Ms Zagano writes “Let me come to the point. The Catholic Church in developed nations is dying out. I am convinced it is dying because of the way it relates to women.”

    What she doesn’t address is the well known evidence to the contrary. The nuns who talk about women’s ordination are dying out.

    The feminine nuns who wear their habits and have no pretension to Holy Orders have no room for all the new postulants.

    Even the fact that “developed nations” have this problems is because of destructive feminist ideas, and if the Church caves in to them, we will go the way of the Episcopalians.

    The fact that the fastest growing groups are traditional, scriptural, devout, reverent, are not afraid of Latin, are not afraid of the EF, are not afraid of (gasp!) traditional gender roles … suggests that maybe we should emulate them.

  2. Dev Thakur, I think it’s more likely than not that traditionalist Catholics (ultra-conservative Catholics) do tend to gravitate toward very traditional religious orders, as well as to the EF mass. You’ve noted that their numbers are growing, and I accept that as fact.

    However, that trend does not in itself mean that more traditional orders, etc., would result in greater health in the overall church in the West.

    A poor analogy, but the one that comes to mind right now: If a restaurant called House of Lettuce opens up on the south part of town, and all the vegetarians form a long line outside its doors, that means the place is very popular among vegetarians, many of whom have probably longed for just such a place. That does not necessarily mean, however, that five dozen more Houses of Lettuce would have all the carnivores changing over to the leafy way. House of Lettuce has its appeal, but it may appeal only to a fairly narrowly defined categories of diners.

  3. This is an extremely thorny issue because the facts of history cannot be denied. Women were and still are ordained in the Eastern Orthodox Church to the deaconess.

    The ecclesiologies between Eastern and Western Christianity are quite a bit different on this issue. The Orthodox affirm that the female deacon is ordained with the imposition of hands and the calling down of the Holy Spirit. While she had a different role than the male deacon (which makes the situation even more thorny), the fact is that Eastern Orthodox theologians agree that the female receives the sacrament of Ordination.

    That being said, the problem comes in when people mistakenly think that this somehow brings the next step to women priests. It doesn’t at all because a deacon is not a priest-lite, nor has it ever been a stepping stone to the next degree of order (something Orthodox ecclesiology doesn’t even recognize the way the West does).

    The ancient ordination rite of the deaconess is available online. it’s hard to deny that all of the sacramental characterists are there. This was not an ordination to a minor order.

    it’s really hard to get around the history of this, regardless of what Canon Law says today.

  4. It seems to me that Dr. Zagano’s question is actually a call to return to the traditional Christian women’s role: active in evangelization and in leadership in the communities – just what a deacon does. Jesus’ disciples included women: Mary Magdalene, Susanna, the wife of Clopas, the mother of James and John, Jesus’ own mother. Acts and Paul’s letters tell us about women who were active in the spread of the Gospel, women whom Paul names as “fellow workers”: Phoebe, Chloe, Dorcas, Prisca, and Junia. Patristic writers also speak of women such as Macrina, Melania, and Paula, who formed communities and who taught and advised other Christians – even men, and who ministered to the community in various ways.

  5. As has been said here and on many other Catholic blogs, the arguments for women deacons from scripture, tradition and good scholarship are known and widely accepted – and Dr. Zagano is no slouch.

    What has yet to change is the understanding of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church by Catholics themselves.

    Ordination is not meant to imply membership in a “club,” much like a “gold level” membership in the Church where you get a tote bag or a name on the wall. Nor was it meant to be. Unfortunately, this isn’t seen as the case by merit-driven, egalitarian westerners. A vast amount of people would (and do) assume that if women were ordained to the diaconate, that the possibility of ordination of women to the priesthood would then be a mere matter of discipline, removable by the stroke of a pen.

    Apart from being wildly in error, the assumption of “if diaconate, then priesthood” ignores the historical basis of the diaconate, to say nothing of the relationship between that “full and equal order” and the priesthood/episcopacy, which cannot and does not equate one with the other. Until the larger post-conciliar Church revises its own way of looking at the “what, why and how” of ordained ministry – especially when considering the post-conciliar view of the priesthood of the baptized – there will be no movement in the Roman Church toward women deacons even in the face of what the Orthodox already know. And that’s a challenge for us – laity and clergy alike.

  6. I was surprised that Deacon Greg missed this one earlier! I really appreciate the comments above.

    Dr. Zagano, Dr. Gary Macy, and I have written “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future,” which will be coming out from Paulist Press in the Fall. Gary handles “past,” I talk about contemporary theology and magisterial teaching, and Phyllis looks to the future. One of the major points of our entire work is our total agreement that this is a question to be considered as distinct from any other question of the ordination of women to the sacerdotal orders. In this way, we respect both the unicity and the diversity of the sacrament of Orders.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  7. #5 Paul

    Excellent commentary on this wider issue. For those interested, you might try the files of Deacon Greg’s earlier Blog on this topic. Lot of commentary.

  8. The Eastern traditions have a strong attachment to roles for women. Currently, in the West, all roles are called into question or just patently thrown-out. Do you think it’s wise to add more confusion to women’s roles in such a state of society? We’re talking about people here, not theories.

    As such, I’d suggest now is *not* the time to add women deacons. I’d be curious to know her reasons for now being the time, besides lack of patience.

    I’m also concerned about a hidden clericalism. The development of doctrine has brought out recent decades a greater sense of the apostolate of the laity. Indeed, the needs are greater outside of the parish – in the workplace, at home and in the world and the laity take on that role. I suspect many asking for deaconal roles may be forgetting what they should be doing at home and in their daily lives.

  9. Paul:
    Excellent post. I couldn’t have said it better.

    Deacon Bill:
    May I also recommend:
    Fitzgerald, Kyriaki Karidoyanes. Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry. (Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press) 1999.

    There is a vast difference in the understanding of the Sacrament of Orders between the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church, and this is the cause of the difference.

  10. I’m definitely not knowledgable on what is allowed for women to do in church (so take this as one who has just enough knowledge to make a fool of himself), but doesn’t St. Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians limit what women can do in church:

    “…As in all the churches of the holy ones, 10
    women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says.
    But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church.”

    I have understood that as stipulating that women cannot preach a homily, though they can read a scripture reading. Wouldn’t that prevent a woman from being a deacon as we currently in the 21st century R.C. church delineate a deacon’s duties?

  11. Dear Dan S.,

    Fitzgerald is actually a good friend of ours, and is of course a strong reference, especially in Phyllis’ piece.


    We must always be alert to a creeping clericalism, I agree. On the other hand, we are all called and baptized to be a priestly people, as well, and that doesn’t stop us from wanting and needing ordained priests as well. The same applies with deacons: as I have written elsewhere: we are deacons in a diaconal church.


    Ironically, it was also St. Paul who refers to the one deacon we know by name in the New Testament: “our sister Phoebe, Deacon of the Church at Cenchraeae.” He actually uses the male form of the word “deacon” (Rom 16:1), so the proper translation is “deacon”, not “deaconness” or “servant.” In either of those cases, the word “diakonissa” would have been used. Now, of course, we don’t know what being a deacon in that local church meant, or how Phoebe got to be one, but linguistically it is off great interest.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  12. Deacon Bill, I am looking forward to reading “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future”. I realize that this discussion is NOT about women priests. It would be as it is now, a permanent diaconate. But as I look around our Church, these types of topics do not seem to be open for discussion. In fact, there seems to be a “circle the wagons” attitude coming from Rome, and spreading to the Church in the U.S.A. I hope that my perception is wrong.

  13. Show me 10 women who want to be deacons, and I will show you 9 women that support the deliberate pre-meditated killing of unborn children.

    Show me 10 women who want to be deacons, and I will show you 9 women that support the legal recognition of men sodomizing other men as a marriage.

  14. Here is the text of the order of ordination of a woman deacon used by the Eastern Orthodox.


    It’s probably important to note that this was used far less in the west than in the east. There was no real uniformity in the first millemium and the practice dropped out in the west far earlier than the East.

    it is also difficult to take an ecclesiology from over 1,000 years ago and simply apply it to today. There has been a lot of development over that time. Even in trying to draw comparisons, it is difficult based on that fact alone. This is why I am always hesitant when i hear calls to start ordaining women deacons right away. The practice in the east and west is very different, so we can’t just lift one practice of the Byzantines and apply it to the latin’s. I certainly hope that Zagano’s upcoming book recognizes that. If not, then that would be a fundamental error in the entire premise of the book. The East’s ecclesiology is Cyprianic. The West’s is more Augustinian. (This is, BTW, the reason why some Orthodox still re-baptize Catholic converts.)

  15. Max,
    I myself probably would not have worded MY post exactly as you did, but in my experiences I have strongly felt the presence of a “hidden agenda” in the women I’ve spoken to about this topic.
    After asking the question and getting no answer, I still wonder whether they truely feel called or just want to do what men do. I have always suspected the later.
    Also, IMHO, the reason Cursillo is structured the way it is,(husbands must make the retreat before their wives) because they know that the men will not participate if they don’t. I know it sounds kind of shallow, but you can still drown in a shallow pool…I’m just sayin’

    Peace to all

  16. How about first we ordain women to the minor orders? The conference on scripture from a few years back included in its findings a recommendation that women be ordained to the order of lector, and that ordained lectors (men and women) would preside at a Sunday Liturgy of the Word where priests and deacons were not available.

    Interestingly, this would, in the American Church, represent a return to practice 200 years ago in Catholic Kentucky, where priests rode circuits, and on those Sundays when the priest was elsewhere the parish would hold a service led by catechists around the scriptures of the day. The majority of those catechists were women.

  17. cathyf #16:

    “Interestingly, this would, in the American Church, represent a return to practice 200 years ago in Catholic Kentucky, where priests rode circuits, and on those Sundays when the priest was elsewhere the parish would hold a service led by catechists around the scriptures of the day. The majority of those catechists were women”

    Yes, it was the practice in Kentucky and Illinois and Nebraska and even points west — whenever Catholic parish communities were formed — often by Irish railroad workers — and where their priest/pastors were “circuit riders.”

    The practice is still going on in many areas of South America for the same reason — not enough priest/pastors to meet the local needs. In fact, I read one statistic a few years ago that suggested some 60% of all identifiable Roman Catholic rural parishes in Central and South America had women Catechists as their “Pastoral Leaders.”

  18. Max, IMO your statements were just a bit over the top. What is your basis for them? Women wanting more chances to help and support the church seems to be a problem for you.

    I’m with the Eastern Orthodox churches on this one. They are inclusive of women apparently.

  19. How about first we ordain women to the minor orders?

    For now, though, only men can be “instituted” as Lectors and Acolytes, normally done while in seminary formation. A good look at Pope Paul VI’s Ministeria Quaedam (which suppressed the old Cursus Honorum and re-established the Ministries of Lector and Acolyte) will show that future ministries could be created by the Church, and these could be open to women.

  20. Manny,

    The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said something a few years back to the effect that the Church doesn’t interpret 1Cor34 as meaning women cannot speak in Church.

    Our recognition of women as doctors of the Church indicates that we accept that women can teach.

    I recall that the Vatican’s instruction on Masses for children do allow a teacher (could be female) to give a Mass reflection in place of the homily for a good reason (eg if the priest isn’t able to relate well to children).

    God Bless

  21. Max,

    Shame on you. Your comments are beneath contempt, especially for one who professes to be a disciple of Christ. If you truly believe what you wrote, your really need to get out more.

    It is one thing to argue reasonably about the relative merits of an idea; it’s quite another to ascribe nefarious motives without any justification whatsoever. Perhaps if you actually met and spoke with women who are interested in the question of women deacons, you might actually find a completely different picture.

    You really do owe many, many women a sincere apology.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill Ditewig

  22. The first step that has led to the moral, organizational, and membership collapse of the Episcopal Church was its ordaining of women to the Episcopal diaconate.
    So it is really quite fraudulent to claim as so many commenters here that the ordination of women to the diaconate is a separate issue from ordination to the priesthood.
    The Catholic Tradition has been that the 3 orders: diaconate, priesthood, episcopate are sacramentally linked. We received Holy Orders. If women are ordained deacons they will be receiving Holy Orders and the Episcopal Church will have arrived in Rome.
    Its ironic how the Catholic Church is being pressured into becoming more feminized than it already is all the while under the guise that this is the wave of the future–and we MUST ride the wave.
    If that is so, why are so many women here in the U.S.,-and in Europe–converting to Islam????? Because of that religion’s passionate promotion of feminism????

  23. Dear Deacon John,

    The history of Holy Orders has always been extremely diverse, even more diverse than it is now.

    I think, when you’ve reviewed the official documents I analyze in the book, you will see how they themselves are making this very distinction you find problematic. It’s really fascinating to consider what these documents are actually saying.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  24. And Max may have put it crudely, but all the mainstream Protestant Churches that used to, like us, ordain only men are all now also pro-abortion amd pro-gay marriage–the latest to go that way –the Presbyterian Church this week.
    And, I don’t know how accurate this is, but an Orthodox friend of mine said that deacons in his church are not allowed to do many of the things Latin deacons can do–from preaching-to baptisms-to weddings. He said that whether we Latin deacons realize it we are more like priests in his church than the deacons in his church.

  25. Deacon Bill–We haven’t yet established ourselves and been totally accepted as the married clergy of the Catholic Church by many parishoners in our country. For us to now become the point men to make a radical change in the Church isn’t going to, in my opinion, help the establishing and accepting of the diaconate, especially in so many other countries that barely have any deacons and seem to be resistent to ordaining deacons.
    I am a retired history teacher who believes that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. On that basis I look at the Episcopal Church. I also look at the galloping popularity world-wide of the the anti-feminist Islamic religion. And then I wonder about how much our attitude toward ordination issues in the U.S. (where active , serious Catholics are only 10% of the population) is probably the result of a cultural brainwashing more than anything. It is certainly a factor in Catholic acceptance of abortion and gay marriage.

  26. Deacon John #25

    “And, I don’t know how accurate this is, but an Orthodox friend of mine said that deacons in his church are not allowed to do many of the things Latin deacons can do–from preaching-to baptisms-to weddings. He said that whether we Latin deacons realize it we are more like priests in his church than the deacons in his church.”

    This is the only thing you have posted on this blog-stream that I can agree with because it is true. Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Deacons do not have anywhere near the liturgical faculties we do. The rest of what you assert about the role of Roman Catholicism in the wider world of Christianity — or for that matter Islam as well — does not at all reflect the wider church’s experiences — but I think you already know that.

    It is also probably not a good idea to start waving academic credentials on this blog. Both Deacon Bill and I have earned doctorates; both Deacon Bill and I have taught Church History; both Deacon Bill and I have studied original church documents — in my case 1,000 year old manuscripts — in Europe; both Deacon Bill and I have held major roles in the diaconal formation programs of our respective dioceses. Bill publishes more than I do — but he has that opportunity. There are a number of other folks who also respond who are
    equally as credentialed as we are.

    I think it is time to “chill-out” this specific blog-stream

  27. As far as deaconesses go, they were not considered the same as Holy Orders. I believe it was the First Council of Nicaea who said that female deacons did not receive the laying of hands. Since it is now known that the laying of hands is the necessary matter for the Sacrament of Order, we can assume the early Church did not consider deaconesses as an Order.

    Now the purpose of deaconesses was to prepare early female converts for baptism if I’m not mistaken. As baptism by immersion was much more common at the time, it was considered improper for priests and deacons to assist (I’m told they undressed somewhat for the immersion). Other duties of deaconesses, included carrying for the infirm (a duty later absorbed by many female religious communities).

    There would be no point in re-establishing a female diaconate. Firstly, because baptism by immersion is virtually non-existent (except in Protestantized churches). Second, in today’s feminist climate it would be seen as a first step for woman’s ordination, which is impossible. Poorly catechized Catholics would not understand the differences between a Sacramental deacon, and a woman deaconess (who would again serve no real role).

    Tell me if I’m wrong on this one, but in the Eastern Orthodox, since a deacon receives no sacramental power distinguishing between deaconesses as a “sacramental” instead of a “sacrament”…is rather theoretical.

    There’s an excelling post by Father Z on the issue. Check it out!


    Anyway, at the end of article Msgr. Antonio Miralles of Opus Dei, Professor of Sacramental Theology at the Pontifical University of Holy Cross, and consultor for the Congregation for the Clergy and Doctrine of the Faith said thus and I qoute,

    “On this issue, there has not yet been a pronouncement from the magisterium as there has been on women priests. The current norms, however, and ecclesiastical practice restrict the diaconate to men. It’s true that in the early centuries of Christianity there were references to ‘deaconesses,’ but it would seem that they were not simply a female equivalent of male ‘deacons.’ For now, the permanent diaconate is restricted to men, but the question is still under study.”


    But, it pains me to say this, the Anglicans thought “We’ll just start out with women deacons” in the 70s. Look where it got them.

  28. I found Phyllis Zagano’s article interesting, and and felt that her arguments in favor of a revived offiice of Deaconess had merit. However I don’t think it will happen anytime soon, if at all; because the powers that be are so paranoid about the camel and the tent and the nose. And they aren’t the only ones who are paranoid, to read some of the comments.

    Well everybody knows it’s definitely settled then, if Fr. Z and Opus Dei said it.

  30. Melody, you can mock Father Z all you want to. I bet that even if God were to appear to you and tell you the same thing that you still wouldn’t accept it.

  31. “Romancrusader, you don’t know me or what I think.”

    I can see that you’re trying to farther the schism between liberal Catholic and true Catholicism.

  32. Deacon Norb–sorry if mentioning I was a simple history teacher as a reference to my interest in history read like I was “waving academic credentials around.” I taught history in an inner city vocational high school and do not have any of you or Bill’s elite dergrees or doctorates. However, over 70 years of living and devouring books I have discovered that highly educated people are just as likely to be wrong–in fact spectacularly wrong– in some cases as anyone else.
    My favorite reading in history books–after Church history and biographies–has been of the WWII era. And the crimes and evils perpetrated on the human race during that era by highly educated people with doctorates is mind boggling. If you get a chance see the Holocaust Museum’s exhibit on the Nazi Doctors. And who dreamed up all those whacko Master Race theories??? Mostly members of the educated elite-not carpenters or electricians.
    Sadly, the oldest book I have ever held was not 1000 years old, only 500 years old–a Latin version of St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Song of Songs. I ran across the book-not in Europe- but while doing research in our down-in-the-heels old city library’s attic for a history column I wrote for our little daily newspaper.
    Unfortunately your ending is very typical of how some highly educated people react when everyone isn’t falling into line and embracing what they are promoting=== to use your words: “I think it is time to ‘chill out’ this specific blog stream.”

  33. Deacon John,

    Amen to your comments. May God bless you and the Bishop who ordained you.

    The slippery slope calls and many do not recognize it until it is too late.


  34. Manny,

    You might want to take a class from someone who knows the original texts of Paul in the greek. This might help you.

  35. Max,

    I know certain woman master chatichists, some with degrees in theology and philosophy who could run circles around most preists, deacons and nuns and have spiritual lives like Merton’s. Those who wouldn’t want to (here) a woman explane scripture from the ambo is simply…ignorant.

  36. #28 Roman Crusader:


    –What you said about the first century deaconesses seems right on target. They did minister to adult women — not only the converts but also any other situation where ministry by a male-clergy was culturally inappropriate. In an earlier blog, someone else mentioned that we do have those same situations in XXI century America — situations where cross-gender pastoral ministry is inappropriate. That is why women officers do the investigation on rape cases; that is why most women penal institutions have more success with women in Chaplaincy positions than men; and what about those “Pastoral Ministers” every congregation of Religious Women have? Those religious women in that last category also minister to single and married women very quietly.

    –What you said about adult Baptism by immersion is not as accurate as you might expect. In our area of the world, all of our newly constructed Catholic Churches and those which go through renovations have Baptistries that can accommodate adult baptisms by immersion. I know of one local city that has three RC parishes — two of them have Baptistries than were designed for Adult Immersion. They are used most often on the Holy Saturday Vigil Mass. BTW: Baptizing infants by immersion could easily create a bigger mess than any priest/deacon could ever want.

  37. Max’s post may have been caustic but he does have a point (for those demanding apologies to women, he did leave 1 out of 10 as being faithful). The first thing I noticed in the article was the mention of Futurechurch, an organization not known for being faithful to the Magisterium.

    Deep down, my mother was not happy with the fact that women could not be ordained as priests but she accepted what the Church said. She used to say that those women who protest and want to change what Jesus intended lack the obedience and attitude to be priests. That same principle applies her too. Finally, at the beginning of formation we were given a Deacons’ Prayer which I pray at the end of the Holy Office each time. One line from that prayer that I continually repeat to myself goes “Release me from every desire to be all important and teach me the glorious lesson that I occasionally may be mistaken.”

  38. Mr Flapatap: Can you post the Deacons prayer that you mentioned in your post, please. I’m in formation. Thanks.

  39. I am surprised by some of the ignorance–not to mention anger–displayed in some of the posts above. The concept of ordaining a woman to the diaconate is neither radical nor new–the church father Epiphanius argued the need for women as deacons in the 4th century–and the International Theological Commission firmly stated it was an open magisterial question. In my diocese, only one of five applicants to the diaconate is accepted for formation and training–one can assume the same odds would apply for women who mistakenly seek that ministry as a substitute for priesthood. But to assert that the majority of women who seek diaconal ordination are at odds with church teaching, as one of the earlier, angry posts suggests, is beyond the pale.

  40. Ms. Zagano: “But to assert that the majority of women who seek diaconal ordination are at odds with church teaching, as one of the earlier, angry posts suggests, is beyond the pale.”

    I don’t know. Is it 9 out of 10 women as Max said? Probably not. Is it a majority? Maybe not, but I certainly don’t think that’s implausible.

    I’m not saying this is the primary issue in opening up the Diaconate to women. But at some point, the significant gender gap in strongly supporting the Church’s teaching on certain subjects MUST be acknowledged honestly if you expect to be taken seriously on the subject.

    Perhaps discernment could be improved such as to mitigate that effect, however until the proponents of ordaining women (to whatever ministry) at least acknowledge the gap, they leave themselves open (rightly or not) to certain accusations of subversion.

  41. “Bishops from Australia to Ireland say more women in power would have stemmed the priest sex mess. I think they are correct.”

    This lady is living in cloud cuckoo land if she suggests that. Look at the Anglican Church.

    I switched off here and disagree entirely with the whole sentiment of the letter.

  42. Ms. Zagano,

    Then you undoubtedly know that the ordination of the deaconess in the west was never practiced in the west in the numbers that it was in the east, and it had fallen out of use much earlier in the West than in the East.

    You would also undoubtedly know that the role of the ordained woman was different than the male as her role was not in the sanctuary, she did not proclaim the Gospel, nor was she a minister of the holy mysteries.

    One of the criticisms that I have of your analysis is that you point to a mostly Eastern practice with a millenium old ecclesiology and want to apply to something that has developed quite significantly since then.
    The ecclesiologies of east and west are different, they are not interchangeable. This needs to be addressed before there can be any real discussion of bringing back a practice of a ministry that is already being addressed by others in the lay state.

  43. Naked baptism by immersion, or baptism by immersion only in your Roman undies, was the thing, not just baptism by immersion while wearing more than enough clothes to be decent. It simulated corpse washing to be naked and then “die” by immersion before “coming to life” in Baptism and being clothed in white robes.

    Deaconesses were also in charge of guesthouses and orphanages for kids, and for teaching the kids. Oh, and for scouring the streets of the diocese for random people needing help, though that was mostly a deacon job. Sometimes delivering living money to the widows and others supported by the Church, but that was usually a deacon job also. (Well, you wouldn’t want people to know that the little old Christian slave lady was carrying bags of sestertii around.) A lot of this work devolved onto the deaconesses’ canoness helpers, and the women’s religious orders that evolved.

    Other than in Muslim areas, I don’t really see much use for deaconesses today. Heck, most religious orders don’t even do this kind of “church work”, because they’re too busy lobbying and demonstrating. I guess people in Catholic Charities could be deaconesses, except a lot of people working there aren’t even Catholic. So no real point.

  44. Also, IMHO, the reason Cursillo is structured the way it is,(husbands must make the retreat before their wives) because they know that the men will not participate if they don’t. I know it sounds kind of shallow, but you can still drown in a shallow pool…I’m just sayin’

    You know, I just can’t let this one go by uncommented-upon…

    I hear this off and on when discussing ordination of women, and I have dubbed it The Short Bus Theory Of Ordination. Basically, the theory seems to be that men are naturally lazy, stupid and self-centered, and if we don’t let them be in charge then they will all throw a tantrum and leave.

    Our culture spends a lot of time trashing men (the dopey guy is a staple of television commercials, certainly.) As the daughter of one man, wife of another, and mother of a third, I find this argument pretty offensive. Can’t we just cut that nonsense out of our discussions?

  45. Ferg #44

    Your statement discounting the suggestion of the Australian Bishops needs to be addressed. I am convinced that there is a lot of wisdom here.

    –Out in the wide hinterland of the American Church, one diocese had slightly over a dozen priests (out of 200+) that were caught up in the initial charges of pedophilia in the scandals of 2003. That same diocesan system also caught and charged one permanently ordained deacon (out of 200+) and that guy was a celibate single — the only one that diocese has ever seen. Or, to phrase it another way, no married deacon in this diocese, and probably in a lot more, was ever accused of violating children.

    I do not think that looking at the Anglican church is going to give us any insight but what will give us insight is the lived experience of American Catholicism.

    –This second story is more legend than anything else. In another of those wide flung dioceses in America’s hinterland, two permanently ordained married deacons “came out of the closet” and announced to both their wives and the wider public that they were practicing homosexuals. One of those deacons was married to a very strong-willed lady who simply and effectively took total control of his life and ministry. He never went anywhere in public ithout her being present. The other couple was totally different. Once she found out, the second wife felt so betrayed and ashamed that she filed for divorce and was able to obtain a church annulment based upon the deception of her husband (there has to be a church term for it somewhere). My point is — women, especially wives — can be an extraordinarily powerful check-and-balance in all of this.

  46. The Catholic Church does have and has had “deaconesses” in essence almost since Day 1 we just don’t call them by that name. The do not receive Holy Orders by the laying on of hand because they never have. They do not preach or assist at Mass because they never have. They DO carry out religious instruction, sacramental preparation, works of mercy and much evangelizing and missionary activities. They are the myriad of Sisters and more conscerated laywomen who have always been a vital and integral part of the Church. In contemporary times many of them even teach in seminaries and are engaged by bishops as chancellors and sit on the diocesan tribunals.

    The cry for “deaconesses” as voiced by Ms Zagano is simply part of the larger modern phenomenon of feminism that thinks equality means uniformity. “If a man does it then a woman should be able to do it and go through it in the same stages and in the same ways.” One hears this a lot in diaconal programs aimed at the wives (most of whom in my experience have no desire to be such).

    Who can doubt that Sisters, consecrated laywomen and a countless married apostolic minded ladies have contributed more to the evganelization of peoples than most deacons or even parish priests apart form the sacraments.

    My experience is that most of those who cry for deaconesses also cry for priestesses for they know (even if their agenda says otherwise at the time) that the Sacrament of Orders is of one piece. It matter little if 2 degrees of Orders act in persona Christi and a third in imago Dei…this was an intervention of B16 by means of a motu proprio which is the least authoritative means a pope can make use of in his teaching office. It is so subjective that another pope can come along and change it by his own motu proprio.

  47. I am truly sorry cathyf. There was no intent to upset anyone…this is just something that I have, on occasion, observed for myself.

    AGAIN, I am TRULY SORRY BUT….I’m gonna get “BLASTED” for this one too…
    We have a men’s club in town that has been in existence for over 100 years. A decade or so, a group of business women decided that it was “unconstitutional” for them not to be allowed to be members – and so they took their case to court – AND WON. Membership immediately dropped off & women were now allowed in the “men’s only bar”. Kinda like taking your sister, or girlfriend, or wife to deer camp…

    It is in my view a SIMILAR NOT THE SAME but SIMILAR reaction as the one I have always observed in the discussion I have taken part in.

    Come on, I’m ready….hit me…………..

  48. It is very hard to read this comment thread and yet it is a microcosm of our Church, isn’t it? Voices of charity, reason and hope and yet voices of anger and contempt.

    God help us all – because if we are truly the sacramental and eucharistic people that we claim to be as Roman Catholics we would not find such anger and vitriol expressed so freely and in the name of Christ.

    Did anyone go to daily mass today, Wednesday May 11? Or even just read the readings? In Acts we hear about how Saul was intent on destroying the Church and we see how that worked out. That is followed by the words of Christ expressed in John’s Gospel, and I quote:

    “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,”

    Women called to the diaconate – may I note that I consider myself among them – come to Jesus like anyone else with a sincere heart. So while it may not be possible today, or even in my lifetime, I still contend that charity and hope mean we can at least discuss and discern this in a meaningful way. At least I hope so.

    This thread shows some evidence that we can but sadly some evidence to the contrary.

    God help us all.

  49. Appropos of nothing … or maybe everything …

    A few moments ago I clicked open an e-mail from a friend: a woman who is the widow of a deacon classmate of mine. Having endured her husband’s own all-too-hasty death from cancer three years ago, she’s now facing her own battle with cancer and preparing to undergo stem cell therapy (using her own cells) that will involve some intense hospitalization and treatment for several weeks.

    Looking for inspiration, and consolation, she found herself leafing through her husband’s books, and came upon this passage. She had no idea this famous prayer actually has two verses. She posted it on her Facebook page:

    God, grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change,
    courage to change the things I can,
    and wisdom to know the difference.
    Living one day at a time;
    enjoying one moment at a time;
    accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

    Taking, as he did,
    this sinful world as it is,
    not as I would have it.
    Trusting that he will make
    all things right
    if I surrender to his will.

    That I may be reasonably happy
    in this life,
    and supremely happy with him forever in the next.


    By Reinhold Niebuhr

    I think that about says it, don’t you?

    Dcn. G.

  50. Obviously His Holiness does not listen to FutureChurch or whatever radical feminist agenda is placed before him.
    If he thought that women should be or could be ordained deacons, they would be. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
    A woman as a Sister can do just as much service as a Deacon although non-sacramental.

  51. An interesting string of comments by all. But in the end not only is it time for women deacons, but it is long overdue.

    The wisdom, experiences, dedication, and willingness of women should not be wasted or declined. There is nothing radically feminine about that

    It would, though, be closed-minded and bigoted to waste or decline such a rich resource.

  52. Someone here said we have nothing to learn from the failed Episcopal radical experiments. (They aren’t Catholic, after all ). However, here in Mass. Methodists did a reconfiguration of their parishes before the Catholic Church did and it was in the opinion of many–including ministers– a disaster causing more closings, bitterness, lost membership and disillusionment in that church
    The Catholic archdiocese of Boston now regrets our reconfiguration which resulted in more parishes needing closing, bitterness, lost membership, and disillusionment.
    The archdiocese could have learned much from the Methodist experience. Too bad it didn’t. Just as copying the Episcopals (which everyone used to say was the closest Church to the Catholic Church) is bound to cause similar disintegration in our Church.
    And I have seen in comments here some pretty strong negative language directed at those who are against female ordination. And there has been some in the other direction. Some get upset. Others would call it worthwhile vigorous debate (I do).
    But I noticed a pattern over the years. For some reason people of the liberal persuasion seem to hate vigorous debate and inevitably portray their words as “Voices of charity, reason, and hope”(see#51) and those who disagree with them as “Voices of anger and contempt” (again see #51).
    Again looking at culture–A number of years ago–America magazine ran an article on how there is a higher education liberal academic culture that you had better go along with or be treated like you have leprosy. The question raised was how could Catholics withstand the onslaught of secular liberalism in the face of ridicule and fear of failure for differing.
    Having taken some courses in nearby Boston and spending some time in campus culture, I came to the conclusion you can get into a better debate in one of my tough city’s barrooms–and frequently with more intelligence and honesty because everyone isn’t trying to bend their thoughts and opinions to make sure they are “in” academically. There is no fear of being relegated to the status of “unenlightened” on controversial current issues by the educated (or sometimes miseducated) mob.

  53. Deacon John #55

    John: You are a a tat bit older than I am, so you should easily remember what higher education was like in our country prior to — and even during — Vatican II.

    During that time, secular/public higher education refused to hire any person for a faculty position that had all three of their degrees (Baccalaureate/ Masters/ Doctorate) from a Catholic institution. The rationale of those public and private universities was real simple: The Catholic Church refuses to let genuine scholarship flourish. It does so by setting aside many topics as “off limits” or by insisting that if you want to be identified as a genuine Catholic Intellectual, you cannot challenge the “Magisterium” in its understanding of what should be taught to the wider world.

    I was a product of that line of thinking in that I did do my first two degrees at a RC University but my doctorate — and my “post-doc” — was from a public/secular one

    Over the years, however, I slowly became aware of that cultural prejudice and refused to be intimidated by it. I was a devout Roman Catholic intellectual and thus was doing my best to break that stereotypical paradigm.

    Now, I agree, I am slightly “left of-center” but I really do not “hate vigorous debate.” What I hate is folks who have locked-up their own personal spirituality in such a way that they do not even want to understand that Roman Catholicism is far bigger than their own personal values and focus. It is almost as if their position must be God’s position on what is right and wrong.

    Any form of “it’s my way or the highway” in Roman Catholicism has to measure itself against two thousand years of universal “catholic” teachings and insights. Our institutional church is far wider and broader and more mellow than many XXI century secular folks give us credit for.

    In closing: my saintly father — who died almost 25 years ago — used to say that the biggest difference between “stupidity” and “ignorance” is that “ignorance was curable.”

  54. Deacon Norb I agree with much of what you wrote. However, one sentence puzzled me: “It is almost as if their position must be God’s position on right and wrong.” If we believe in Revelation-as taught by the Bible, Tradition, and the Magisterium– shouldn’t we all be taking the position that is God’s position on matters of right and wrong?? And, if we can’t figure out His teaching where does that leave Revelation. Objectively, it becomes a useless, erroneous doctrine. For what good is Revelation if noone can figure it out. Which would be an odd position for a Catholic deacon to take.
    On the other hand, I hope you mean that we shouldn’t turn our own narrow, personal position into God’s position. Which I can totally agree with.

  55. I don’t have a saintly father quote but I know from personal experience that education doesn’t always result in intelligence or wisdom. Conversely, intelligence and wisdom are not dependant on education or the number of degrees one has.

    Deacon Norb please accept this criticism in the spirit in which it is given: your postings directed to Deacon John come off as extremely condescending and full of pride.

    Regarding the subject of women deacons I think it is true that most who are involved in promoting this would describe themselves as feminist. The feminist mindset is not one to take a backseat to anything the men are doing and that is how they will eventually view the diaconate. It will just become another excuse to see anything less than the priesthood as being treated as second class. Some probably even admit to themselves that the diaconate is just an intermediate step to the real goal.

    Everyone can serve God and their fellow man from exactly where they are right now. There is no need to agitate for a particular status within the Church. My favorite quote which is attributed to St Francis is “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words”.

  56. ormon:
    “The feminist mindset is not one to take a backseat to anything the men are doing and that is how they will eventually view the diaconate.”

    How do you know that? Have you any documentation for that generalization?

    Let me tell you the kind of feminist I am. A few years ago when I was teaching Organic Chemistry in a Catholic women’s college, three of my Chemistry Students told me that they were applying to medical school. I took them once a week for several months and prepared them for the MCAT, a kind of home-made Kaplan program. They all were accepted and are now practicing the medicine.

    Please don’t be so biased.

  57. “Regarding the subject of women deacons I think it is true that most who are involved in promoting this would describe themselves as feminist.”

    Maybe you could give me the list. I would find it most interesting.

  58. NMS & Phyllis, we all make generalizations based on our knowledge and experience. Can you provide evidence which discounts my generalization?

    Women who do not identify with feminism are ‘generally’ quite content in the knowledge that they can be equal to and yet different from men. There isn’t the same need to compete with men or to value male things over female that is ‘generally’ evident in feminists. They know they can find equally important and valid roles in the Church without having the same roles. Heads of parish councils and pastoral associates and DRE’s for instance are often more active and influential in the affairs of the parish than deacons.

    Jesus certainly didn’t see his Mother as less than the apostles even though He didn’t make her one. What He did make her was the Mother of His Church, the ultimate feminine role that no man has ever or will ever attain.

  59. I guess it all depends what one means by feminism. Some people seem to think that being a feminist = pro-abortion; which is a rash judgement. I think at its best feminism means wanting everyone to achieve their true potential, as HMS described in her comment.

  60. Oh yes, I also take issue with your position Phyllis that women are fleeing the Church and the Church in America is dying. In our diocese this past Easter we baptized an all time record number of new Catholic’s. We also have a record high number of seminarians in formation. And we have just completed an archdiocesan capital campaign for the support of priests and Catholic education that exceeded the goal by over 30%.

    At least in our little corner of America your generalizations don’t hold any water.

  61. ormom:

    “…we all make generalizations based on our knowledge and experience. Can you provide evidence which discounts my generalization?”

    In Logic, a single case is sufficient to refute a generalization.

    I presented my personal experience of expressing feminism as that single case. (I am not an exception to your generalization.)

    (I think I’ve said enough about this issue.)

  62. About converts–Recently we had a class of converts I taught that included an ordained Protestant minister–a woman Protestant minister. She converted after years of reading Church History and the Bible and attending our Sunday Masses.
    She is now one of our most active parishoners and has found plenty of opportunities to serve the Lord and others.

  63. The author’s article is really just an argument for female ordination to the priesthood, wrapped up as an end around through the diaconate.

    Luckily, the Holy See knows human nature very well and will not bend here.

    While not analagous on a moral front, this follows closely with how the homosexual movement has forced itself into the mainstream. In the ’80’s and ’90’s, the homosexuals argued for “acceptance”. In the 2000’s, we now have the “accepted” homosexual movement blasting past the seemingly sanguine proposition of “acceptance”, into satisfying itself only with marriage and family “rights” on equal footing with heterosexuals.

    The same would most certainly unfold with respect to female ordination of any kind. “We’ll just be happy being acolytes, or lectors, or deacons. We promise that is all we want, just some piece of the Holy Orders pie.” goes the feminist argument. But we all know that once that becomes the norm, the aim is then set on knocking down the doors to the priesthood, the episcopacy, and no satisfaction until a woman sits in the Chair of St. Peter.

    The author’s arguments are nothing more than egotistical human nature trying to mask itself under the studious face of academia and logic. In this day and age it’s so transparent it’s almost laughable.

  64. Melody — In logic a single contrary case refutes a universal assertion, but it does not refute a generalization which merely asserts that something is true in most instances.

    So, for example, if I say, “All tigers are orange and black,” and you produce a blue tiger, you have disproved my assertion. But if I say, “Tigers are generally orange and black,” and you produce a blue tiger, you have not disproved my assertion.

  65. Women cannot be priests, PERIOD. There is no ancient Apostolic Church; Catholic, Eastern, Oriental, or Assyrian that ordains women to the priesthood and all of them have stated that they cannot ordain women as priests.

    However, women have been ordained to the deaconate in the first millenium and a few Eastern Orthodox Churches do so today (or are bringing the practice back).
    Eventhough the practice has not really been uniform amongst the Churches (far more in the East than in the West), the fact is that the Tradition of the Church is that women have been ordained to the deaconate.

    If we are going to be witnesses to the Tradition (which is what it means to be Apostolic, in our Creed), we need to embrace that Tradition, even if it makes us feel uneasy.

    I think the point that Prof. Zagano is getting at (and she can correct me if i am wrong) is that women serve in the Church, and there is no reason why they cannot share in the dignity of the sacrament of ordination to the deaconate to affirm the ministerial role of women in the Church.

    In other words, if we are going to witness to the Tradition, we need to affirm the dignity of women who have been ordained to the deaconate, and there is no reason to prohibit this anymore.

    I certainly “get it”. There are a lot of practical problems to be overcome in reforming this (like affirming the priesthood being reserved to men only), but I understand that women desire to embrace that which the Church has practiced in antiquity.

    There is nothing wrong with Tradition, even when it comes to a return to the ancient practice of ordaining the deaconess.

  66. There have been assertions about the Eastern practice of “ordaining” women to the diaconate. I would love if anyone could

    (1) provided a source (like a parish bulletin) listing one!

    (2) find an Orthodox source to comment on this issue in the Latin Church who would in any way even a tiny but support the ridiculous idea that women should receive the same ordination to the diaconate after the same formation and then actually be allowed to march around in the sanctuary proclaiming the Gospel and what not.

    I know there is a such as thing as a “deaconess” in the East, but it’s not like a deacon. In many Eastern Orthodox churches even a cleaning lady does not go past the iconostasis and has to lean in with duster or vacuum cleaner or whatever from the outside, and clerics clean the inside.

    There is such a respect for these things in the Eastern Church that even for the making and handling of sacred vessels for a church supply company a man asked to be ordained to the subdiaconate just so he could do it.

    The Eastern Church would suffer any worldly persecution before allowing women to preach the Gospel and don the dalmatic nd proclaim “Wisdom!” and so on.

  67. I’m not opposed to women deacons but am to women priests. If the Church approved this, women deacons would have to go through formation. I would assume that any woman who wanted to do so and who affirmed the teachings of the Church in its fullness should be respected. I do want to say thought that I truly object to the patronizing tone that some women and men use when arguing this point. It’s a turnoff to even supporters of the arguments.

  68. Speaking as a colleague and co-author with Dr. Zagano (along with Dr. Gary Macy) on this issue, all I ask is that people study RECENT studies with an open mind. What several folks here have reflected is the state of the research of some decades ago. Historically (including archeologically) new evidence has been found and examined, and even my field of ecclesiology is much more developed than it was. For example, to speak of a singular Eastern “ecclesiology” or a singular “Western” or “Latin” ecclesiology is simply too facile. There are multiple Catholic ecclesiologies evident in the historical and theological sources.

    So, please, just read the current evidence objectively. No one is out to destroy anything or anyone: All three of our authors, as well as others who write on this subject, love our Church and her Tradition. We want only the best for her, and we want our Church to be able to carry out the mission given to us by Christ. If you read and study the evidence and don’t find it helpful, you’re free to ignore it. On the other hand, it might be enlightening.

    There’s no need to judge integrity, motivation or orthodoxy. The pope himself has declared this question to be an open question! All we’re doing is following up on this.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  69. Deacon Bill,
    Ok, I’m willing to have a look at it. When is the book being published?
    What is the title again?

  70. Deacon Bill:

    “The pope himself has declared this question to be an open question!”

    Will you give me the citation: when and where Pope Benedict XVI has written or said this?

    I was told this 5 years ago and could not find any reference.

  71. HMS…

    I’m sure Dcn. B can offer something more substantive, but NCR had this bit from 2001:

    (Phyllis) Zagano points out that “Holy Saturday”, her ninth book was inspired by the late New York Cardinal John O’Connor. In 1979 when O’Connor was an auxiliary bishop of the Military Ordinariate, he asked Zagano, a member of the Navy Reserve, how he could get women to serve as ministers in the military. “Ordain them as deacons,” Zagano said, noting that military chaplains have to be ordained.

    O’Connor urged her to put her ideas on paper. If she wrote a book, he said, he’d get it to the pope.

    Last spring, shortly before he died, O’Connor received one of the first copies of “Holy Saturday.” Zagano doesn’t know whether the book made it to Rome, but she has reason to believe the question of women deacons remains open at the Vatican.

    In 1987 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger visited New York, Zagano broached the subject at Ratzinger’s meeting with journalists. Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal czar, told her, “It is under study.”

  72. Thanks, Deacon Greg,

    I learn so much for the Deacon’s Bench. So glad I found your blog last fall.

    I wish I had known about this quote a few years ago when I assigned readings from early church councils and documents on the role of deaconesses in the Church History course that I taught in the Ministry Formation Program in our diocese. I was shaking in my boots that I would be reported to the bishop for promoting such “radical” ideas.

    And as to Cardinal O’Connor, who is from my hometown, Philadelphia: I grew up with members of his family.

  73. The book is coming out from Paulist Press in the late Fall. It’s entitled, simply, “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future.”

    Then-Cardinal Ratzinger responded to formal requests from the Canon Law Society of America on the status of the question. Specifically, he was asked if the teaching of “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (on the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone) applied as well to the diaconate. His verbal response was consistently in the negative. This appears in the minutes of the CLSA (and I believe in the minutes of similar meetings with the Catholic Theological Society of American (CLSA)).

    He further demonstrated this response by placing the question before two consecutive agendas of the International Theological Commission. The members of the ITC are appointed by the Prefect of the CDF, and he is the one who sets their agenda. Each term of the ITC meets for FIVE YEARS, so Cardinal Ratzinger devoted TEN consecutive years of the ITC’s time to this very question. He wouldn’t have done this if it were not still a very open question.

    The first five year ITC was unable to come to a definitive response. The second created a document (report) which was published in French on its own authority; it has never been adapted or promulgated by an official source. What normally happens here is that the Prefect would “receive” the report and then use it (or not) in the creation of some kind of official teaching document. This has not happened. The report itself did not come up with a decision to the question; it simply affirmed that the Church had yet to render a definitive judgment. So, even after all this study, the question remains an open one.

    Hope this helps.

    Deacon Bill

  74. Deacon Bill:

    “This appears in the minutes of the CLSA (and I believe in the minutes of similar meetings with the Catholic Theological Society of American (CLSA)”

    Do you know in what year this was presented?

  75. Dear HMS:

    Unfortunately, all my stuff is packed up at the moment (we’re in the process of moving cross country). As I recall the first time would have been in 1995, the year after Ordinatio Sacerdotalis appeared. Of course, it might have been a bit earlier. The ITC was working on this between 1994-2004.

    Still, the minutes of a professional association wouldn’t carry the same weight as the actions of the Prefect of the CDF with his own ITC.

    As soon as I get to our new home, I’ll dig it out for you.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  76. There is an excellent article on today’s Crisis Magazine site (Google: Crisis Magazine Van Slyke). It is titled “Your Holiness It Is Time For A Theologian Who Is NOT Clamoring For Women Deacons To Write An Open Letter To You.”
    It is by Daniel G. Van Slyke S.T.L. , phD. He is an assoc. professor at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Mo.
    His main point is basically a warning that so much of the pro-female diaconate stuff using past examples from Church history is colored by being looked at with modern biases–such as not seeing how radically different those called deaconesses were from deacons- then using the word “deaconess” as it was never intended to be used. In fact many were the wives of deacons and only given the honorary title “deaconess” by virtue of their being married to a deacon. Such “deaconesses” were not ordained.

  77. Dear Deacon John,

    You’re lumping together several different groups of women. Yes, there were groups of women known as “deaconnesses” who were not “ordained” as we understand that term today.

    But there was another group of women, correctly termed “deacons” who WERE ordained by the laying on of (bishop’s) hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, and whose responsibilities paralleled those of other (male) deacons.

    And then there were women who were wives of deacons; sometimes these women were also given the title of “deaconess”. On the one hand the distinctions above are pretty clear because of the precision of the Greek and Latin terms used; other times you have to examine the context in which the terms are used.

    There’s something else to consider as well: We can say that “the church never ordained women” but that clearly is not historically accurate: it’s clear from the historical record that this statement is just too broad and demonstrably false. The more significant point is: “What did these ordinations MEAN to the communities involved?” What many scholars have pointed out is that the MEANING of ordination itself has changed, and changed radically, especially during the 12th Century.

    So the real issue, when looking at the history, is whether or not the historical communities involved considered the rites by which women (and men) were ordered to ministry to be ordinations.

    And, then, regardless of history, we have to ask the question about whether such things are possible today. There are many dimensions of episcopal, presbyteral and diaconal life today that vary greatly from those respective duties in the ancient church. We’re a very flexible Church!

    Rather than being an “excellent article,” I found Van Slyke’s piece to be rather snarky, heavy on emotionalism and bad history, and really not all that enlightening. Facts, people, read the facts! Then, decide whether those facts reflect truth. Emotional arguments based on faulty research and logic won’t help us much.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

    God bless,


  78. Bill–Not being a phd like you or Dr. VanSlyke I’m glad there is a Holy Spirit guided Magesterium to referee on who is the better historian. For my part, I think Van Slyke has the better of the overall argument
    But there is no denying that the mainline Protestant churches–like the Episcopal Church- have been on a steep downward spiral ever since they started giving feminists, gays, and abortionists virtually everything they have demanded.
    Some of us are determined to see that the same rot doesn’t get a fooothold in our Church.
    In fact, the record of what has happened to Protestant Churches which have radically liberalized is both bleak and widely recognized. Maybe that is why the most anti-Catholic quarters of the secular media are so eager to see the Catholic Church follow in their footsteps. For does anyone think they have the best interests of the Catholic Church at heart.

  79. You want an Orthodox source talking about the ordination of women deacons?


    You want Orthodox discussion on them?


    BTW, Eastern deacons do preach and read the Gospel. They are not able to perform weddings because of the different view of marriage East and West. And the Eastern tradition is found within the Catholic Church, so what the East has to say is relevant to the question.

  80. Deacon John #83

    “Maybe that is why the most anti-Catholic quarters of the secular media are so eager to see the Catholic Church follow in their footsteps.”

    Once again, I have to ask you to spell out the details of your complaint. If you really believe that the secular media is “anti-catholic,” then spell out specifically writers and newspapers.

    Making generalizations like you do may be fun — and maybe even safe — but it is hardly historically accurate. I am not interested in vague generalizations or in rhetoric that incites more than it explains.

    I do not see secular media deliberately trying to create a “hate-Catholics” environment. I do see a secular media who is not afraid to challenge us active Catholics about us not practicing what we say we believe.

    Being from the Midwest, it would be lots of fun to point fingers at you folks from Massachusetts about how tolerant you all were during the years before the pedophile crisis became public. That sort of accusation would not be real helpful here.

    But back to the original question. Would ordaining women to the diaconate (with whatever titles and restrictions the Vatican might impose) be of value in bringing the wider people of God the “message of Salvation”?

    I do think that it might — and I would support it if, and when, it might happen. Next year, probably not. By 2020; good chance; by 2050 — long after both you and I are called to salvation but before our grand-daughters are so called — very likely.

    As I said to a priest who challenged me on this concept once, my answer is always “Sensum Fidei — the consensus of the faithful.” They immediately shut-up because they remember from their seminary training that “Sensum Fidei” is a good and solid concept in historical RC theology — but you already know that.

    At whatever moment in history the wide consensus of the faithful says it is time to do this, women will be ordained as “deacons/deaconnesses.” There will be nothing I have ever done or said which will make this happen and nothing you have ever done or said which might stop it — neither of us will be in this present world at that tme.

  81. Deacon John Bresnahan — You write, “But there is no denying that the mainline Protestant churches–like the Episcopal Church- have been on a steep downward spiral ever since they started giving feminists, gays, and abortionists virtually everything they have demanded.” The problem I have with this is that there is also no denying that the Catholic Church has also suffered a steep downward spiral, at least here and Europe, since Vatican II. In other words, I think your use of active membership as the touchstone “proves too much.”

  82. “Let me tell you the kind of feminist I am. A few years ago when I was teaching Organic Chemistry in a Catholic women’s college, three of my Chemistry Students told me that they were applying to medical school. I took them once a week for several months and prepared them for the MCAT, a kind of home-made Kaplan program. They all were accepted and are now practicing the medicine.”

    Haha – Too bad you just reinforced evey negative stereotype about anti-male feminists. Not only would you never have gone out of your way to help a male student. You hate men so much, you even work at an all female school. Which is slightly hypocritcal, considering feminists like you have sought to destroy each every all male institution, whether they benefit society or not. Funny how that works. Segregation is bad, until it works in your favor.

  83. Deacon Norb – “I do not see secular media deliberately trying to create a “hate-Catholics” environment. I do see a secular media who is not afraid to challenge us active Catholics about us not practicing what we say we believe.”

    Have you ever read the NYT or the Boston Globe? Watched CNN? The Catholic Church and its charities feed and cloth the majority of the world’s poor. Find me ONE article that highlights any of those works. Go through Laurie Goodstein’s articles for the past 5 years and find ONE that is not negative… Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, not to wear a kick me sign. And while you are at it, find me some articles that “challenge” people of other faiths to “practice what the say the believe.” That’s called fair and honest reporting.

  84. Ray:
    I think you missed the point I was making. I reached out to these young women because I wanted them to have equal opportunities to pursue their dreams even though at the time women were not welcome in the medical profession. (After all, as someone said to me, a woman would be taking the place of a man, who would not have to balance jobs as doctor and also wife, mother!)

    “You hate men so much, you even work at an all female school.”
    The time was the late 60’s, early 70’s. Catholic institutions of higher learning were not co-ed as almost all are today. Had I been offered a job in an all male college instead of an all female, I probably would have taken it, since I wanted to teach.

    “Not only would you never have gone out of your way to help a male student.”
    You don’t know me at all. For the past 16 years I have taught adult men and women in a lay ministry program, which is a requirement of the diocesan diaconate program. No one has ever accused me of bias toward the female sex. In fact, I have worked very hard to encourage the men, who were discerning a call to the diaconate. For the past 14 years I also taught in a co-ed Catholic high school. There I prepared young men and women, no discrimination, to graduate from high school and even to go to college. (In some cases, they would not have graduated due to emotional and bad-decision issues. I have evaluations and thank you notes from some young men as proof. I cherish their comments.)

    “You hate men so much… .”
    Well, l asked my significant other of 30 years about that. I don’t think I want to put on print his response over the Internet.

  85. How many generations will it take for all these pseudo-theologies, be it feminist, liberation, socioeconomic or the like to finally fade away into the dust of history? Relativism has now made this notion that what “we” think is fair, must be an eternal truth since “we” have deemed it so.

    And who are these opinion makers? Those who have had the luxury of the better part of an extra decade in grad schools, who wail and gnash their teeth at the magisterial teaching of the Church. The same people who mutter words like dogma and church structure with such disdain that they seem doubled over in pain?

    Acts 6:1 At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.

    The early women “servants” who helped in the full immersion baptism of women converts NEVER had hands laid on them which is why we accept the totality of scripture and tradition that there never has been women “deacons” in the context of clergy.

    From the document on priestly ordination of women Ordinato Sacerdotalis Blessed John Paul II writes;

    “Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe”.

    So if the Theotokos herself, the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of the Church, the most important human person to ever walk the face of the earth, the giver of the eternal Fiat that redeemed us all did not have hands laid on her…what exactly is so unfair?

  86. Re: Dcn. Rich #90

    “The early women “servants” who helped in the full immersion baptism of women converts NEVER had hands laid on them which is why we accept the totality of scripture and tradition that there never has been women “deacons” in the context of clergy”

    Hate to say it, compadre, but you cannot prove that statement at all. Any more than the credible church historians who are convinced that just the opposite is true can prove their side. (With all sorts of apologies to Deacon Bill whose co-authored book on the subject will be released soon.)

    Bottom line; There will be women ordained as deacons in the Roman/Latin rite of universal Christianity (as there already are in Byzantine/Eastern Christianity) at whatever point in human history that the Spirit of the Risen Lord prompts the “sensum fidei” of the broader church to say it is necessary. In my or your life time? Probably not. There is no such consensus yet.

  87. Norb, Rich, et al…

    It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the sacraments of several Orthodox churches, including those that ordain women as deacons. It’s also worth noting that all the magesterial documents about the restriction of ordination to men apply only to the priesthood.

    Pope Benedict’s recent adjustment of canon law — “the minister constituted into the Order of the episcopate or the priesthood receives the mission and power to act in the person of Christ the Head, while deacons receive the faculty to serve the People of God in the diaconates of the liturgy, of the Word and of charity” — explicitly removes any gender association from the diaconate. (By way of comparison: the pontiff could have written that priests and bishops act “in the person of Christ the Head,” and could have then said that deacons “act in the person of Christ the Servant.” It’s telling that he chose not to do so.)

    Dcn. G.

  88. Re: Ray #88.

    You know, you just proved a point I have been trying to make off-and-on in these blogs for quite some time. One’s own experience as a Catholic Christian immersed in our own immediate environments is not the general experience of the Church Universal.

    NO, I do not have a subscription to the NY Times nor the Boston Globe. Frankly, I have no desire for one. On occasion, I do read the Times’ web-site and download/read maybe 6-8 articles a month (way UNDER the limit of twenty that I can still do for free).

    But, in fact, I can almost pinpoint where in the country a comment comes from by the attitudes expressed by those who do post comments.

    Atlantic Coast Catholicism (let’s say Boston or NYC) is very different than Upper Ohio Valley Catholicism (say Pittsburgh or Steubenville) is very different than Kentucky Catholicism (say Louisville) is very different than Western Nebraska Catholicism (say Grand Island) is very different than Southwestern Catholicism (say Gallup) not to mention Northwestern Catholicism (say Salt Lake City or even Portland).

    If you want to assign the title of most “anti-Catholic-biased-media” to the New York Times, who am I to disagree. You seem to be immersed in that specific environment but that is not the environment a lot of us experience or perhaps care all that much about.

  89. Addendum to Deacon Norb:

    I think there are other non-territorial influences on our American Catholicism, namely, EWTN and Catholic Blogs.

    By the way, for me, Sunday isn’t Sunday without the Sunday New York Times (and, of course, our Sunday obligation.)

  90. Well said and quoted, Dcn. Rich!
    I am walking the journey with my husband in formation for the diaconate. I can’t help but wonder that if the Holy
    Spirit were truly at the foundation of this open letter to the Pope would it have been written at all? This makes me recall a bit of wisdom I read years ago in reference to Martha and Mary in the Gospel. (Pardon my paraphrasing and having forgotten the authorship): The greatest indication we have that Martha is in a bad way is that she tells Jesus what to do.
    Every woman contemplating the role of women in the Church needs to start the day by saying to herself, “Have I manifested the Gospel of Jesus Christ within myself and my own life enough to make suggestions to the Holy Father?” Perhaps St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Theresa of Calcutta, or our Blessed Mother could serve as bench marks in making this analysis before putting pen to paper.
    I am staggered by how much people of faith have to say. Mary said, “Yes,” and then proceeded to suffer. We all can only hope to follow her lead. My only regret so far to saying, “Yes,” to my husband’s formation is that people might think I have an opinion about any of it. God asks for my will, not my opinion. Dr. Zagano, you will know you are doing the will of God if you are slowly dying to yourself inside for the love of Him who deigned to love you. Some signs you are dying to yourself: you are miserable but have joy, you are exhausted but have strength, and your love and good works are OVERLOOKED BY FELLOW MEN but known to our Lord. As a sister in Christ, I would be remiss not to post here and point to our Suffering Servant as the model for all women in the Church. My husband and I are clear about one thing: anyone who truly grasps the message of Christ and the gift of His Church would never choose Holy Orders. They would only be capable of responding to God making the choice for them. Becoming a deacon was NOT my husband’s idea; he was approached. Who would think that much of themselves?
    God love you all…please pray for my husband’s service and all candidates. Thanks!

  91. #2 Steve – brilliant analogy

    Dcn G – thank you for keeping the lines of communication open on a contentious matter for not quite 8 wks

    various – I think it says much that people on the Internet feel it is necessary to be anonymous. For some it appears to be for protection, for others, well, there are contenious people w/o courage – and yes that may not be courteous but seems appropriate – If you are Christian and feel safe identifying yourself, you should witness to your faith w/all the gifts the Spirit of God has and will give you – pax Christi resurrexit – a guess at the last ending – its been a long time

  92. Sometime in the 1980’s I was told by my pastor that I was on a short list for becomng a female deacon, should women deacons be approved. I was somewhat astonished, as I had not expressed any interest in becoming one and do not have any interest to this day.

    Furthermore, I really don’t think this is such a good idea. There is a kind of progressive logic called the “thin edge of the wedge”, get a little opening and then force and force and force until you split the log. We’ve seen it time and again with society and churches. Open the door for one “compassionate” relaxation and, over time, the entire landscape is changed. Here in NY they’ve just passed the “same sex marriage” law. Yet, the day before yesterday I encountered a petition taker outside my local drugstore who was gathering signatures from passersby on behalf of “gay rights”. She didn’t approach me so I’m not sure what new “rights” she was campaigning for. I suspect this might have to do with federal “rights” like Social Security, but I can’t be certain. I mention this because the “thin edge” opens things a crack and then the constant pounding begins.

    That there were women deacons in the early Church is a fact. However, there were also house churches in the early Church. Both have died out in the West over time. There were married priests in the early Church in the West, as well. For various reasons this practice was ended. In the West also, there were tremendous struggles over hundreds of years concerning who controlled Church appointments and property, the Pope or the Kings, Emperors and later other manifestations of the “State”. We are to some extent still engaged in this later struggle. It is not necessary to recreate every condition of the earlier ages of the Church in this one. And the practice of the Eastern Church isn’t really relevant to the West. The Eastern Church was always different in language, in practice and in its relationship to the State.

    So, although I serve in my parish as a lector and minister of Holy Communion, I would not be sympathetic to the ordination of women deacons.

  93. Dear Marie,

    Thank you for the kind words and your testimony of faith it was very moving. I am recently ordained so I have nothing but respect for the opinions of my more experienced brother deacons in this forum, but what many people don’t understand is the sacrifice and commitment the wife of a candidate agrees to when her husband enters formation. You truly walk the journey every step of the way with him and in my diocese he can not be ordained unless you agree in writing to “give him” in a way to the Church.
    Yours is a journey of sacrifice, graced with spiritual growth and the knowledge that whatever good your husband does in the future, you are very much a part of even if you are not part of his sacramental actions. Your humility, faith and your own personal “fiat” of saying yes to your husbands vocation is a wonderful blessing that I am sure will bear great fruit one day.
    My class had a saying, we used to say we are “clawing our way to the bottom” since we are ordained to Christ the servant. Its not a “promotion” or “elevation” that somehow makes us any better or worse than anyone else, we simply have offered our lives in service to the Church that we love through this ministry established by the apostles.
    You, your husband and his classmates are in my prayers, the only advice I have is pray always, take it one day at a time, one paper at a time and enjoy the ride because it comes and goes quicker than you think…and then the real work begins!

  94. Looking into the Orthodox Church now. I thought all of these misguided women had already been buried and long gone or in nursing homes. There is no authentic evidence for women’s holy orders. In fact, it’s been slammed by church fathers. This was a very important issue to me before considering converting to the Catholic Church. I was sure the Catholic Church was headed in the same direction as the Episcopal Church. I also suspect that those responsible fore perpetuating a lie, are also in favor of same sex “marriages”, contraception and other sinful acts not accepted by the Catholic Church. If not, this is the time to come clean on those issues as well.

    I’m fed up with the older liberal generation that has caused Catholics to become atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant, New Age, etc. This line of thinking tears down the body of Christ and has no place in the Church. It’s really upsetting to have to put up with this when they should be excommunicated for saying such things. No Eucharist for them, bishops. Strip them of their faculties and strip them of the name “Catholic.” It’s about time Catholics stood up for the truth.

  95. How is it that women who are “leftist” can only see service in the Sacrament of Holy Orders and women who are “ultra-conservative” only see service in the home or as a sister or nun? Christ calls each of us to holiness and evangelization according to our state in life. Many women forget that there is a very important role in the church of catechesis. As a Mother, my job as Director of Religious Education stemmed from my vocation as wife and mother, i.e. raising the young in the Faith and supporting my husband in his search for holiness. Never has it been my job to usurp control or power from either my husband nor my pastor. Women’s ingenuity lies in their supportive roles. Hopefully women will find, through good catechesis and example, that one can give fully to the Church without “female ordination.”

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