Catholic Women Deacons? Why Not?

Do we require women deacons to assist at naked baptisms? No. Do we require women to be ordained so that they might have the authority to administer the church’s charitable work? The splendid work of our teaching  and nursing sisters precludes the need. Women are already administering the church’s charitable work effectively at every level. Do we need deaconesses to be diocesan chancellors, school principals, parish pastoral associates, directors of faith formation, Vatican administrators, professional consultants, diplomats, journalists, and financial advisors? No. Plenty of women already fulfill these roles. Do we need women to be ordained as deaconesses to be spiritual directors, theologians, cultural activists, broadcasters, evangelists, writers and scholars? No. We have a growing number of women already doing this.

The only reason, therefore, to have deaconesses is to include women in the ranks of the clergy, but when the need is to de-clericalize the church and empower the laity, isn’t it counter productive to add yet another layer of clergy to the church? Furthermore, doesn’t it send the wrong signal to the women of the world that the only way a Catholic woman can really be important to the church is to assume a job that has traditionally been reserved to men? Doesn’t it also send a message to all laypeople that they are not bona fide disciples of Jesus Christ unless they have become a member of the clerical caste?

Finally, those who are still pushing for women’s ordination to the priesthood admit that women deacons would be the first step. It would be confusing in the extreme to ordain women to the diaconate and thereby give the signal that women’s ordination to the priesthood is a possibility after all. It would be fine to say that the order of deaconesses is distinct from the threefold order of deacon, priest and bishop, but methinks the point would soon be lost.

Since, as Pope Francis says, “the door to women’s ordination is closed.” it would be much better for the whole church to continue to explore and expand the role of both lay men and women in the church, and thus fulfill the vision of Apostolicam Actuositatem the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity which states, “Our own times require of the laity no less zeal. In fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified. ..An indication of this manifold and pressing need is the unmistakable work being done today by the Holy Spirit in making the laity ever more conscious of their own responsibility and encouraging them to serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances.”