One-third of U.S. bishops believe church ‘should’ ordain women as deacons

An extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist distributes Communion during Mass at Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)An extraordinary minister of the holy Eucharist distributes Communion during Mass at Transfiguration Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

As Pope Francis mulls a report about women deacons in the early church, a new survey reveals that at least when it comes to U.S. bishops, support for ordaining women as deacons remains uneven.

According to a report released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University on Jan. 22, just 33 percent of bishops in the United States think the church “should” ordain women as deacons.

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Late last year, a papal commission wrapped up its work studying whether the early church ordained women as deacons and passed its findings on to Pope Francis. Two of the commission’s 12 members—Phyllis Zagano and Bernard Pottier, S.J.—said in an interview with America last month that their own research supports the idea that women were ordained deacons in the early church.

If the path forward for women deacons follows a similar route as the reintroduction of the permanent diaconate following the Second Vatican Council, the pope would first have to acknowledge that women deacons existed in the early church. Then national bishops conferences would decide if they wished to seek permission to reinstate the practice in their countries. The final decision for how each diocese would approach the issue would be made by individual bishops.

Most bishops seem opposed to the idea altogether, with just 41 percent saying they believe it is “theoretically possible” to ordain women as deacons.

If Francis were to follow that process, 79 percent of U.S. bishops say in the CARA survey, they believe the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would allow individual bishops to decide for their dioceses. If given that option, 54 percent of U.S. bishops say, they would “consider” ordaining women as deacons in their dioceses.

But most bishops seem opposed to the idea altogether, with just 41 percent saying they believe it is “theoretically possible” to ordain women as deacons and only 33 percent saying they believe the church “should” ordain women as deacons. Just 27 percent of bishops think the church will move ahead with ordaining women to the diaconate.

Even while there does not appear to be widespread support for women deacons among bishops, most of them said they would find women deacons to be “somewhat” or “very helpful.” For liturgical celebrations, 61 percent of bishops said women deacons would be “somewhat” or “very helpful”; 71 percent said they would be “somewhat” or “very helpful” for “word ministries”; and 83 percent said they would be “somewhat” or “very helpful” for charity ministries.

More than three-quarters of bishops, 77 percent, agreed “somewhat” or “strongly” that women serving as deacons would lead to increased calls for women to be ordained as priests.

Women deacons aside, 97 percent of bishops said they believe “somewhat” or “strongly” that their diocese is “committed to increasing women’s involvement in ecclesial leadership.”

According the survey, bishops and deacon directors believe the greatest challenges when it comes to accepting women as deacons could come from priests, male deacons and laity who are opposed to women serving as deacons. They expect as well challenges from some Catholics who fear that ordaining women as deacons could lead to louder calls to open the ordained priesthood to women.

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Mike Bayer
8 months ago

Mr. More,

I initially took heart from headline, that 1/3 of Vatican trained and appointed bishops were willing to move forward. However, I reluctantly agree that institutional suicide or at least a much smaller and much universal Church is in our future.

Nora Bolcon
7 months 4 weeks ago

Then we laity need to make a small just church. We need to fight against married priests until they ordaining women to priesthood. We need to reject bishops who are sexist and do not support same sacraments and treatment for women and men. We have a few young left who are hanging in our church by a thread. We can make a bonfire larger than the Holy Spirit fire-filled church we had in the beginning, with only a few flames left but once those flames are gone - we are done. God will take what strength we have had and give it to churches who will act with justice for all. Our teens and young adults will not remain in an unjust misogynistic church. It will be hard enough to get those who left to try our church again once we have started to ordain women priests and bishops. It is up to us to publicly protest and get real.

Mary Reeves
8 months ago

I expect the Canadian bishops to fall into the same statistics. Women are the backbone of our religious practice...we will not be ignored much more before we find a new faith home. The Canadian Anglican Church is a welcoming home.

Denise Mccarthy
8 months ago

This discussion should have happened about 100 years ago. This woman has joined the local Episcopalian Church and is quite happy with the female rector. It is clear that she has a calling to the ministry; as much of a calling as any male priest.

Donald Muench
7 months 4 weeks ago

The discussion about slavery took much longer to occur. 100 years is a drop in the bucket.

Dominic Deus
8 months ago

Dominic Deus here...

"Just" one third? One third of bishops who are constrained in what they can say is "just" a lot! How about surveying parish priests anonymously or Catholics in the pews publicly?

I agree with the other commentators--time is slipping away from us. Even with Magisterial support, the Church may not be able to right itself. With the clergy and the faithful divided there is little hope. Something is coming to an end here. I feel it as do many others. What it is I do not yet know but we are at the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Right now, we have choices on how that might come to pass but it will not be long before we will be mere observers.

Recently, I have come to a place of equanimity on this and it is growing into a sense of peace. I believe the Church will survive, but not in the body we see now. We started out meeting in upper rooms and may go back to that with brave women and men sharing the message of Christ and the the Eucharist in small but holy places,

Dominic

Dominic

Molly Roach
8 months ago

And have any of them gone on the record to state this?

Robert Bellarmine
8 months ago

Nice, Canon Law by plebiscite.

Robert Bellarmine
8 months ago

Nice, Canon Law by plebiscite.

Phillip Stone
8 months ago

these might be the same one third who do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Our Lord.
Don't they say it was about one third of the spirits who would not serve and became demons while the rest are angels.

Bev Ceccanti
7 months 3 weeks ago

Philip: I agree. I'm a Catholic educated woman and my heart breaks at each new contortion being forced upon the Church by those sworn to defend Her. Ironically, it's a betrayal reminiscent of the betrayal by Lucifer, God's most brilliant and beautiful angel.'.,

Mister Mckee
8 months ago

As usual, the discussion boils down to POWER...and PLUMBING!

Douglas Fang
7 months 4 weeks ago

It is very disheartening to see that the majority of US Bishops oppose women deacons even though the in-depth study reveals that women did serve as deacons in the early church. I fail to understand this objection other than it is due to their arrogance and pride. These bishops don’t represent the face of Jesus to the modern time.

I agree very much with one commenter here – the Church is undergoing a tremendous change that we don’t know yet the outcome.

May God have mercy on us all!

Nora Bolcon
7 months 4 weeks ago

This is why we need to elect the bishops that represent us. If we had been electing bishops, this issue would have been resolved ages ago and women and men would be well situated in our hierarchy serving us well together as equals. There would also have been far less pedophilia and child abuse in our past since patriarchy supports pedophilia and there is much evidence to support this fact. Women would be healthier, especially, in third world nations as this nonsense birth control ban would not exist so our global charities could have helped women get out of poverty and oppression which has been prolonged and exacerbated by our church's ridiculous church law against birth control. We would also have a world with far less abortion since it has been well proven, globally, that all countries that make birth control and abortion difficult to access or make them a crime, have higher abortion rates. It is no coincidence that even today, the countries with the highest abortion rates are Catholic led countries where birth control and abortion are often illegal. Also there would have been far less maternal deaths since these same Catholic Countries have much higher maternal death rates too.

Vince Killoran
7 months 4 weeks ago

Two-thirds of the nation's Catholic bishops are not using their critical faculties by reading history and keeping themselves open to the "sign of the times."

mary ann Steppke
7 months 4 weeks ago

I think that the bishops who object are being closed minded and narrow minded are causing destruction in the church and should be removed.

Phil Lawless
7 months 4 weeks ago

It seems to me that these discussions split between those who see the possibility of attitudes changing within the Church and those who see no possibility of them changing. I wonder what God thinks of that. It may be the God is unchangeable in His perfection, but He has given himself to deal with all human beings in all their freedom to be what they want to be. Is it so inconceivable that God Is unused to loving many people who find him inconceivable as well. Does that mean he cannot understand and accommodate one or two thousand years of male dominance without appreciating the possibilities of female equality? The essence of God is freedom, because God understands that love not given freely is conditional love. He wants us as free as we can be.

Donald Muench
7 months 4 weeks ago

Is there any thought to allowing deacons to administer the Sacrament of the Sick? To perform such as anointing with the holy oils?
Would it be theologically poosible for a deacon to hear confessions and give absolution, sacramentally?

Henry George
7 months 4 weeks ago

I would suggest that the Catholic Church enter into dialogue with the Orthodox Church concerning the question of Women Deacons, and let us be honest, Women Priests and Bishops.

Jennifer Martin
7 months 4 weeks ago

Bev Ceccanti..there is only one problem here..The Church is supposed to be doing the will of the Holy Spirit and every one of us who are baptized Catholics are supposed to be doing His will also, despite where that may lead. I, personally, was called to be a Catholic chaplain, a position many saw as being an impossible feat. I had to trust and be steadfast in what I pursued, a calling of mercy. The Holy Spirit opened unopened doors and my Bishop endorsed me to do ministry on behalf of the Church. We need to stop looking at the Church as if it is a political system and remember that the Spirit moves where He wills. Without listening to each other's spiritual stories we are ignorant and our movements are led by our agendas. I was asked once "Who called you into ministry?" I answered "God". Whether I am male or female, Jew or Greek, American or European, I am called by the Spirit and no one can tell me what that relationship is. Only I can tell them and that is scriptural.."No one can know a person's thoughts except that person's own spirit, and no one can know God's thoughts except God's own Spirit." (1 Corinthians 2:11) My spirit says to listen to everyone's spiritual stories, feminist or not, and you will be closer to God's thoughts than you are today. Blessings

Bev Ceccanti
7 months 3 weeks ago

Jennifer: The successors of the Apostles are the only Authority that can speak for Jesus because He gave that authority to the Apostles. The Church can't 'change' what is given. Chaplains lead in prayer and women have always been allowed to do that.. ...And the Holy Spirit may indeed inspire you in a private way...and you may be given a private revelation... but the only Revelation you may teach is PUBLIC revelation and it is embodied in Divine Revelation (Church teaching). . You don't have authority to stray from that. ,. The Bishop doesn't have the authority to give the Sacrament of Ordination to you, You may lead in prayer.. ... but the Church is defined by Jesus Christ..The Church is described as One, Holy,Catholic, and Apostolic since the Council of Nicaea. It's Holy because it is God made. Because it is God made, the Sacraments and their elements can't be changed. Women have always been able to lead prayer groups but Cannon law spells out the elements of the 7 Sacraments and Ordination can only be received by men. A 'man' is an Element of the Sacrament of Ordination.

Bev Ceccanti
7 months 3 weeks ago

Jennifer : There is no problem . I'm a Catholic educated woman.....and if you are confusing being a chaplain with a Sacramental office , you had better not be out there 'teaching' anything. You may lead in prayer and that's it. In fact, I have a cousin who is a 'chaplain' at the hospital..

Bev Ceccanti
7 months 3 weeks ago

Jennifer: In the context of these comments, I'm referring to the Diaconate in its present form and character as part of the Clergy which is a sacramental office. It has an identitiy beyond physical matter .ie a spiritual stamp conferred by God so that even if a Bishop went through the motions to ordain, it wouldn't happen.. If there were some duties that could be teased out of that which is now under the purvue of ordained clergy, and if it wasn't necessary to have an ordained minister of the church to effect a specific ministry., then maybe this portion of ministry might be able to be teased out to a ministry that would not require ordination........But this is a pretty contorted stretch

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
7 months 3 weeks ago

Longing to practice Diakonia in humility and simplicity is a fine vocation.

J. Calpezzo
7 months 3 weeks ago

Is this some kind of a joke? Here's the solution: give the boot to the two-thirds who say no.
Then ordain women to the priesthood.

It's time for the Magisterium of the People. Most of the bishops are fools.

William McGovern
7 months 3 weeks ago

In my view, the discussion about whether women were ever deacons is not important. Neither is the potential impact on the Church. What is important is doing the right thing at this point. And to deny the Church the opportunity to have the gifts of about 50% of the people as deacons and priests is wrong. And it is also wrong to deny that 50% to serve God in any manner possible in any role

Mike Macrie
7 months 3 weeks ago

Well let’s look at the Bishop’s Report Card, Cover up of Sexual Abuse, Closing of Churches and Schools, young Adult Catholics leaving the Church, Alienating Parishioners with their involvement in government politics, living like kings while asking for more financial support. I don’t know can women do any worse.

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