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.
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.