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DeaconChat highlights women who have “considered a call to the diaconate to share that discernment with the wider church.” Screenshot from Catholicwomendeacons.orgDeaconChat highlights women who have “considered a call to the diaconate to share that discernment with the wider church.” Screenshot from Catholicwomendeacons.org.

Several Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons.

Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, FutureChurch and Voice of the Faithful have launched DeaconChat in a bid to promote education and dialogue on the topic.

“Pope Francis wants to hear the voice of the faithful,” the Rev. Bob Bonnot, head of U.S. priest group, told RNS.  “The church is not a clerical monopoly.”

Deacons are one of the three “orders” of ordained ministry in the church, after bishops and priests, and can fulfill some but not all of the duties of priests, including preaching, conducting baptisms and serving Holy Communion.

“Women convinced of a call to ordained service as deacons, supported by many men, including our priest members, deserve to be heard,” said Bonnot.

Last year, the pope met with the International Union of Superiors General, an organization composed of leaders of the church’s women religious, and later appointed members to the panel.

Bonnot said Francis is giving the issue a serious hearing.

“He has asserted often that we must find ways to enable more women to play servant-leadership roles in the church. This is one possibility that could touch the church from the Vatican to grass-roots parish ministry.”

Francis has previously ruled out the ordination of women as priests, saying “that door is closed” in July 2013.

But if the pope endorses women deacons, Bonnot said, more education and dialogue will be needed within the church.

“If this step is taken, people must understand where the idea of women deacons comes from in the church’s tradition and why it is a well-grounded way to strengthen pastoral care,” he said.

Donna B. Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, said the initiative was “designed to foster educational efforts to enrich dialogue.”

Voice of the Faithful is a lay organization established in Massachusetts in 2002 as a response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and now has more than 30,000 members around the world.

“The program has three important components: learning, sharing and connecting,” she said.

FutureChurch supports a greater role for women in church leadership amid concerns about the declining number of priests.

“We hope Catholics in the United States and around the world will be inspired to start a conversation in their parish,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch.

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Lisa Weber
5 years 5 months ago

The Church desperately needs women deacons so that women are able to preach at Mass. The message of Jesus for women is quite different than the message of Jesus for men. When only men interpret the Gospel stories, Jesus' message for women is lost. An example - in the story of Martha and Mary, men are unlikely to comment on that story as a fight between two sisters even though that is the most obvious aspect of the story. The story has lessons about the mommy wars and also about the movement of women into the community. The movement of women into the community needs to happen before the role of women can be developed in the Church. Until women interpret the Gospel stories, the necessary understanding of Jesus message to women will be unavailable to either women or men. The Church will remain stuck like a fly in amber until it allows women to preach at Mass. Of course, more than a few Catholics like to have the Church remain a museum, a monument to a glorious past that never existed.

Jay Kay
5 years 5 months ago

It all depends on the definition of a deacon. If a deacon is a junior priest, a substitute officiant or something like that, then only men should be ordained to it--if only men are being ordained priests. Same kind of thing, just the junior version with a wife attached.

On the other hand, if a deacon is someone who's actually supposed to work with the people in the parish, listen and communicate, know where they're coming from and help them, then we're probably ordaining the wrong gender for that much of the time. Most of the deacons I've seen are not doing that; many of them can't do that because they simply don't know how. Everything about them has mitigated against it for their whole lives, starting with their genetic makeup and early childhood experiences, work experiences, parenting experiences and on and on. Some men can do this; a lot of them can't. And we've not been very good at defining this or working with these ideas either.

Even now, many male deacons sort of look like they're trying to "jump" vocations in mid-life, away from the vocation of the laity, and not very successfully. It's a kind of sad as it is right now. I think the diaconate is supposed to be more and different, but maybe that's only my opinion.

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