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Emil A. WcelaOctober 01, 2012

Can women receive sacred orders? Let us consult several authoritative sources. Canon 1024 of the Code of Canon Law states, “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” In 1994 Pope John Paul II said, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” And the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has weighed in on the issue more than once. A statement in 1995 read, “This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written word of God and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” And in 2010 the doctrinal congregation stated, “both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination incur a latae sententiae [automatic] excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.” And so the issue is settled.

Or is it?

Development of Early Church Ministries

Jesus chose the Twelve and others to help spread the word that God was working in the world uniquely through him. After his death and resurrection, local communities of believers formed; and within them leaders emerged or were chosen. In a natural way, the shape of such leadership was often borrowed from contemporary society. There were episkopoi, or “overseers,” in synagogues, who managed finances and sometimes settled disputes, and overseers in the civic world responsible for community projects, like the building of a road. There were presbyteroi, or “elders,” councils of men who formed administrative boards in synagogues and other religious institutions. Adopted by the Christian communities, these offices would develop into the episcopate and priesthood.

Very early in the life of the church, around A.D. 55, the Letter to the Philippians names the episkopoi and diakonoi among its addressees. This latter group is our focus. Many ministries contributed to the fruitful life of the community. Some were transient, like speaking in tongues or prophecy, while others, like teaching, required more permanence. In the New Testament, a whole range of such contributions to community well-being are clustered under the heading of the Greek verb diakonein and its related nouns. An inclusive translation of these words would be “to minister,” “ministry,” “minister.” A diakonos in the secular society of the day was someone chosen and entrusted by another person with carrying out a specific task. This meaning carries over in the ministry words found in letters written by or attributed to St. Paul. Such services entrusted to a believer by God and/or the community could range from preaching the Gospel to encouraging the community to taking up a collection for hungry believers in Jerusalem during a famine.

In the First Letter of Timothy, which most scholars date at the end of the first century, the word “deacons” appears to be used in a more narrow way. Requirements for the office (3:8-12) are not especially “spiritual” but basic to living with integrity: “dignified,” “not deceitful,” “not addicted to drink,” “not greedy,” “holding fast to the mystery of faith,” “tested first,” “must be married only once and manage their children and their households well.” What exactly the deacons did is not spelled out, although in Acts 6 and 7 they care for the needy and preach.

1 Timothy also stipulates that “women, similarly, should be dignified, not slanderers, but temperate and faithful in everything.” Much has been written about whether these women are the wives of deacons or deacons themselves. There is good reason to believe that they, too, are deacons. Paul in the Letter to the Romans famously calls Phoebe a diakonos, the only named individual explicitly so designated in the New Testament.

Here a note of caution is called for. It would be premature to make judgments about the diaconate today from these passages, since the specific nature of this ministry is not clearly defined.

What Deacons Did

By the third century, the hierarchical structure of church communities had developed into the now familiar pattern: bishop at the top, then priest, then deacon. Deacons, ordained with an imposition of hands, taught, cared for the needy and assisted in the celebration of the Eucharist and baptism. In some places they administered the finances of the community.

Circumstances also created a need for women to serve as deacons. Since persons were unclothed when they were baptized, having men ministering to women would have been highly improper. The same reservation would apply to men visiting sick women in their homes.

Women deacons instructed women converts and greeted women who came to the Christian gatherings. There is no evidence that they had a public role in teaching or preaching. By the end of the fourth century in the Eastern churches, they were considered part of the clergy, made so through the laying on of hands.

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek in Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History, sum up the situation in the East: “Female deacons…exercised liturgical roles, supervised the lives of women faithful, provided ongoing care for women baptizands, and were seen going on pilgrimage and interacting with their own families and the general population in a variety of ways.”

Testimony about women deacons in the West is much scarcer and does not appear until the fifth century. Inscriptions from Africa, Gaul, Rome and Dalmatia, for example, each name a woman deacon. The decrees of three church councils in France, in 441, 517 and 533, prohibiting their ordination are testimony that the institution continued for at least 80 years after its prohibition. It is remarkable to note that in 1017, Pope Benedict VIII wrote to the bishop of Porto in Portugal giving him authority to ordain presbyters, deacons, deaconesses and subdeacons.

By the end of the sixth century, however, the office of deacon for women outside monasteries was already in decline. One of the reasons given for this is the notion of cultic purity, meaning a suitability to approach sacred places and objects. It was believed that menstruation and childbirth made a woman ritually “impure.” Another factor was the move away from adult baptism—with its attendant nudity and need for modesty—to infant baptism. Communities of nuns would take over the nursing, charitable and teaching ministries without being ordained deacons. By the 12th century, women deacons anywhere were rare.

The permanent male diaconate was also disappearing. Tensions arose over the understanding and practice of the ministry of priest and deacon. Many of the services of the deacon were gradually absorbed into the priesthood or taken up by other orders: subdeacons, acolytes, doorkeepers. The diaconate changed from a permanent office into a step on the way to priesthood.

The Current Situation

In recent years, several Eastern Orthodox Church conferences have called for the ordination of women to the diaconate. The Armenian Apostolic Church, which is not in union with Rome but is recognized by Rome as being in the line of succession to the apostles, with mutual recognition of sacraments and orders, has always had women deacons, though only a few serve today. Their ministry includes service at the Eucharist.

But what about the Roman Catholic Church?

The Second Vatican Council opened a new era by returning the diaconate to a permanent order. Today about 40,000 men throughout the world are deacons. Knowledge of the historical presence of women deacons would raise the issue of their ordination. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration in 1976 that reaffirmed the exclusion of women from the priesthood. The official commentary commissioned by the C.D.F., however, had acknowledged the existence of “deaconesses” in the early church but was uncertain whether they had received sacramental ordination. The congregation had decided that this discussion “should be kept for the future.”

The first draft of what was to be a pastoral letter by the bishops of the United States on the role of women in society and the church appeared in 1988. It stated, “we recommend that the question of the admission of women to the diaconal office” be submitted to thorough investigation and that “this study be undertaken and brought to completion soon.” Differences of opinion emerged as the letter worked its way through discussions by the full body of bishops. When the letter was finally approved in November 1992, it noted that admission to the diaconate was among the concerns women had brought to the committee. The letter acknowledged “the need for continuing dialogue and reflection on the meaning of ministry in the church, particularly in regard to the diaconate, the offices of lector and acolyte and to servers at the altar.” The document was approved for release not as a pastoral letter of the episcopate but as a committee report. The sense of urgency or priority had disappeared.

Obstacles to considering women for ordination to the diaconate were formidable. Canon 1024 limited sacred ordination to males, as we have seen. This exclusion was based on the practice of Jesus and the church’s long tradition of ordaining only men and on the so-called iconic argument. Articulated regularly, as in Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” of 1995, the reasoning is that the person ordained is to be an icon, or living representation, of Jesus as bridegroom and shepherd and therefore male.

In 2009 a very significant paragraph was added to Canon 1009 of the Code of Canon Law. It states that bishops and priests “receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head; deacons, however, are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity.” This wording had already appeared in the modified Catechism of the Catholic Church issued in English in 1997. In other words, the diaconate is a sacred order but with a difference from the episcopate or priesthood. Bishops and priests represent “Christ the Head,” but this characteristic is not included in the description of deacons in their service to the people of God. Iconic maleness is not a requirement for them.

The International Theological Commission advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on important doctrinal matters. In 2002, it issued the results of its study on the diaconate under the title “From the Diaconate of Christ to the Diaconate of the Apostles.” This study also anticipates the change in Canon 1009 by emphasizing that “the unity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishops and priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the magisterium.” As for the ordination of women to the diaconate, it concludes, “It pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.” It leaves the ordination of women to the diaconate an open question. It is rumored that more than one bishop, from the United States and other countries, has raised the issue during ad limina visits to the Vatican.

Why Women Deacons?

Women already minister extensively in the church. Consecrated religious serve in various fields. Thousands of other women serve in diocesan offices; in parishes as administrators, pastoral associates, directors of religious education, in the whole spectrum of parish life; in hospitals; in prisons. In contrast to the women of ancient times, women today play a very important part in public life, holding high offices in government, business, the professions and education. Cultural reasons to exclude women from the diaconate, at least in the West, no longer apply.

Ordaining women as deacons who have the necessary personal, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral qualities would give their indispensable role in the life of the church a new degree of official recognition, both of their ministry and of their direct connection to their diocesan bishop for assignments and faculties. Besides providing such women with the grace of the sacrament, ordination would enable them to exercise diaconal service in the teaching, sanctifying and governing functions of the church; it would also make it possible for them to hold ecclesiastical offices now limited to those in sacred orders. And as the International Theological Commission document points out, what the Second Vatican Council was proposing was not a “restoration of a previous form” but “the principle of the permanent exercise of the diaconate [italics in the French original and in the English translation] and not one form which the diaconate had taken in the past.” Who knows what new and grace-filled enrichment of that ministry might grow from the ordination of women as deacons?

The ordination of women to the diaconate is separate from the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood, as this discussion has, I hope, shown. That issue was addressed by the 1995 declaration of Pope John Paul II. Regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate, it is up to episcopal conferences and bishops, to theologians and historians and to concerned Catholics to raise the issue for wider and more public consideration.

Listen to a conversation with Bishop Emil A. Wcela.

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Mike Evans
11 years 8 months ago
Our parish has 3 deacons but we are all getting rather long in the tooth and less able physically to serve as we once did. We have scheduled ourselves to assist at every weekend liturgy in both the main and mission churches. We preach once a month giving relief to our pastor who then has an opportunity to preside at the Sunday morning Spanish Mass. We assist often at daily mass, at funerals, preside at baptisms and weddings, and work with all the parish councils and committees. Each of us has a specialized ministry in work with the poor and ecumenical activities, in coordinating a wide ministry to the sick and hospitals, and in preparing parents for the baptism of their child. However, we could easily use several additional deacons, and women deacons in particular, would be extremely helpful. There are many roles in whole family catechesis, in marriage preparation, in preaching with a woman's viewpoint, in children's ministry and youth ministry where there gender insights would be invaluable. We, like many parishes, have an aging population where end of life and caregiving issues are important. And it is even more likely that we could attract younger women to the ministry of deacon, taking advantage of their physical vitality and energies. Today it takes from four to six years of formation before ordination to diaconate; the sooner we overcome the reluctance to ordain women to this critical ministry, the better.
Bill Freeman
11 years 8 months ago
Any wonder that the bishop who is recommending this is retired?  Australia, anyone?
Cody Serra
11 years 8 months ago
Only retired bishops seems to feel free to speak about the "forbidden" issues by our Church. What does it say about collegiality (non-existent)? What does it say about fear of reprimands from the Vatican? What does it say about a system of governance of absolute authoritarianism?  Where did Vatican II reforms go?

I still wonder how was it that the Vatican allowed the publication of Cardinal Martini's last interview. Maybe, in this era of technological communication and free press they couldn't stop it. 
11 years 8 months ago
The bihops is absolutely correct. The remark in the comments section, that he might reside in Australia, along with other things that are going on in the church "down there", makes me wonder if that's the only spot in the world where the Holy Spirit is being heard.
Anna Keating
11 years 8 months ago
Yes, yes, yes, of course!
sheila dierks
11 years 8 months ago
I would like to speak from the place in which I stand.
The material in this welcome article is based on structural rather than Spiritual tradition.  When we look at the now well-cemented tradition of ordination for men only (despite numberous scriptural and archeological suggestions otherwise) we are seeing through the lens of an institutional church, a church that is not currently using an Apostolic model, but rather an institutional model (top down unilaterally teach, sanctify and rule) that is reemerging as the central power attempts to repress the Spirit invited through Vatican II.
If Church models such as the Community as the Body of Christ or Servant Church, which sees the Divine rather than the Institution as the center of the church, we might well have continued or established and welcomed the gifts of women in a sacramental role.

Change of focus invites new insights. 

In a spirit-centered church, more interested in revelation than in institution, my vocation and that of many many of my sisters to priestly ordination, would at least had the blessed possibility of discernment. That would allow for the question of fitness to be engaged because it would acknowledge that through call and baptism the Spirit can indeed invite each of us.  Structure here trumps Spirit at every turn.
The people of God are often denied sacramental life based on rules, not call.

As Spirit would have it, my vocation was discerned and encouraged, blessed and journeyed with by the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, a tradition that is, incidently, in apostolic succession.  Now through Grace and their willingness, I am able to be in ministry to groups of people whom the Roman Church has managed to abandon: those who have marriage problems, those who are gay/bisexual/transgender.

There is much left to be learned from the ways in which the Spirit, who blows where She will, wishes to invite Her people into the work of this world.
Paul Ferris
11 years 8 months ago
I would like to add to Rev Sheila Durkin Dierkes great comments that many of the Protestant churches accept women into all ministries. Vatican II said that the Holy Spirit resides in non Catholic churches....this reality must be taken into consideration as well.
Jim McCrea
11 years 8 months ago
As welcomed as the good bishop's were, what this church needs is for ACTIVELY serving bishops to speak up in the same manner. Ex post facto bravery, while nice, is just that - ex post facto.
11 years 8 months ago
If the kingdom is wide enough for women in any ministerial role the male can do, then it's wide enough for women to be ordained as deacons too.  Let's just stop this arbitrary exclusion nonsense and start the formation process NOW before it's too late.
11 years 8 months ago
I have long struggled with the thelogy of the diaconate. IF the deacon's ordination is the first of the tripartite sacrament of ordination, as is currently taught, then a woman cannot be ordained deaconess. however, since there is no anpinting of the hands or head, may we assume that the permanent deacon is ordained in a loose sense of the word into ministry of Word and may celebrate the Sacrament of baptism in the ordinary form and thus  women may also so serve. I have absolutely no problem with the oordination of women to diaconate in that sense. Comparing the RCC and the role of the Spirit does not apply since those same branches favour rejection of the sacredness of life and marriage, therefore so much  for their Spirit-guidance and direction.
C Walter Mattingly
11 years 8 months ago
I for one would certainly welcome women deacons in our (perhaps I should add here, Catholic) church. If it were necessary to separate the diaconate from the sacrament of Holy Orders to gain the necessary consensus, then so be it. Women deacons, or the equivalent, have precedent within the history of the church. Let's build on it. Both he clergy, as Deacon Mike makes clear, and the laity could certainly use more help!
raymond rice
11 years 8 months ago
Bshop Wcela is a distinguished Theologian and Teacher. He is the jewel in the crown of Long Islands Diocese of Rockville Center. He leads with reason and I am so pleased that he is leadng in a direction that many feel by intuition is the Catholic Way to go!
judi raczko
11 years 8 months ago
I'm glad Bishop Wcela supports the move to ordain women as Deacons, however this whole trend of viewing women as "second class citizens" in the church seems wrong.  Women can be and are used to do so much, as noted, but are always reminded that they are simply not worthy to contribute in the same way a man is allowed to.  I completely disagree!  One statement supporting only men as Priests was "Bishops & Priests are to represent the person of Christ, the Head, but Deacons are empowered to serve the people of God in the ministry of the liturgy, word and charity"-what? Aren't we all supposed to be reflections of and represent Christ to everyone we touch, everyone we meet?  Aren't we all empowered, only by Christ, to serve each other in the ministry of the liturgy, word and charity?  I think everyone sitting around trying to dissect things to death are missing the forest for the trees....we are ALL children of God, men and women...who is anyone to tell someone how or in what way they are called to serve God?  All qualities, qualifications of ANYONE, man or woman, should be considered equally.  Who is anyone to forbid it to anyone?  If the concept of women Priests, and although currently under discussion Deacons as well, is so wrong, why then do we acknowledge and welcome women "Priests" on our altars to preach and minister to our own congregation when we participate in the Masses before Thanksgiving where ALL churches in the area, Episcopal, Lutheran, EVERYONE is welcomed and respected?  You just can't have it both ways. Catholic women are told they are not worthy, yet women who serve and represent Christ for their non-Catholic congregations are?  Absurd!

Call me simple, and I'm certain many would, but a child of God is a child of God, man or woman, and each is equally capable of hearing God's calling loud and clear-none should be prevented from following where that calling leads.

From the looks of things around here, the last thing that seems obvious is growth of the church, in fact it looks like the opposite.  It makes me want to ask the Church:  are you trying to promote growth or with archaic ideas and restrictions preventing it?  Especially with the subject of women.  Women are a viable, valuable and essential part of our society, our world, our church.  To ban them in any area in any respect is to thwart productivity and healthy growth.  You may as well deprive a plant of water and sunlight and expect it to grow as to deprive the church of the much needed energy, contributions and enrichment women can and are so eager to contribute and nourish our church with.  It is not alright to continue to use their talents, time, expertise and energy in areas that benefit a particular project or take up the slack due to dwindling vocations and out of one side of the mouth say that this is okay, and out of the other remind them that they may not fulfill their calling to the fullest if it be where it is considered to be an "only men allowed" area.  Women are not stupid.  We are fully aware that we are not second class citizens.  I would say to the Church:  Don't cut off your nose to spite your face.  Instead, let the Holy Spirit flow where she may and watch the fruits of the Spirit flourish as never before!
Terry Fritzsche
11 years 8 months ago

Women are doing diaconal service now. My husband and I were in Deacon Formation for 4 1/2 years, when he changed his mind. I was ready to serve as a "Deacon Couple". As a Catholic School teacher and Spiritual Director there are many things I can do. I lector, EM, am a Music Minister, serve on the Liturgy Board, and Pastoral Council. I give Retreats and workshops in my Diocese, and when allowed, conducted Word and Communion Services, when our priest was on Retreat. As a delegate for our Synod I spoke at the unofficial meeting, on the ordination of woman to Diaconate. "... the Catholic Church has been One, Holy, Apostolic Men's Club. It is time for the Ordination of Women!"

Deacons preach. We need to hear a woman's voice too! We have alot to say. Having been given the gift of an awesome education, I do not want to bury it. The Church would be thriving now, if women were truly allowed to use all their gifts and talents. The Spirit of Phoebi is alive!
judi raczko
11 years 8 months ago
So glad the Bishop is taking this first baby step supporting the role of women in this way, but calling it a "slippery slope" leading to the possibility of, God forbid, women Priests is wrong.  Instead, I think it is a necessary evolution paving the road to a much needed change in the way the church views women in general.
11 years 8 months ago
Bp. Wcela has presented a fine and reasoned explication of the question of women as ordained deacons, which should serve as the basis for parish and other group discussion on the matter. The most important point, somewhat missed by some of the comments here, is that deacons, while ordained to the one sacrament of order, are not priests and are not intended to be priests. In fact, it might clarify things if today's priest were not required to be ordained as deacons until after they were chosen to be pastors or bishops. For those who think the diaconate is a "second class" vocation, I would recommend their looking at the lives of the many deacons of history (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Radegund, St. Lawrence) and the deacons of today, whose lives are dedicated to the word, the liturgy, and charity. The diaconate is not below the priesthood, but stands beside it as a full and holy order with different aims and goals. Only in the diocesan bishop (and, to a lesser extent, the pastor) is the diaconate and the preisthood fully exercised in one person.
11 years 8 months ago
As Bishop Wcela points out, literally thousands of women are already functionally keeping our local churches alive and increasingly are serving in diocesan, regional, and (slowly,slowly) Vatican-level jobs and ministries. This is unprecedented in the history of the world and our tradition. It is a "new thing", a sign of the times and surely the work of the Holy Spirit. Even if some faded deaconess tradition were restored by the Roman church, it would also have to speak to the times-and so would probably look and be very different even from what we know today as the "permanent diaconate". While institutional legitimation would be great I am consoled that the eye of God sees the functional reality and names it accordingly.

What concerns me more immediately is the jeopardy in which we have placed the source and summit of our Christian life, the Eucharist. What we do about this will determine the contours of the church to come.
Richard T Rodriguez
11 years 8 months ago
It is obvious that the kind bishop is looking at the symbolic nature of things.  I highly recomment this approach and its thorough understanding.  This is where so many problems and blessings await us.  Whatever evolves, all should gain a thorough knowledge of religious symbols, theology, and ministry.  Seems we are moving to the same page.  Peace!
11 years 8 months ago
11 years 8 months ago

At one point in his Pontificate Blessed John Paul II said the deaconate was not a part of Holy Orders, but something altogether other.  It's been made to look "priestly" but it's not.  It's "ministerial" in service to Christ and his Church whom we are.  So Bishop Wcela's suggestion may be ecclesially sound.  

However, the same Holy father "definitively" declared that the Church does not have authority from Christ to ordain women to the priesthood, implying if she could she would.  So the case is closed.  I used to wonder if St. Paul gave some wriggle room on the subject, teaching that, "in Christ there is neither male, or female."  Isn't priesthood all about being "in Christ" or as they say, "in persona Christi."  But I guess not.  I'm not rooting for women priests, just doing some undefinitive musing, agreeing entirely with St. Augustine who said, "We must always FEEL with the Church."  I do, but where there's wriggle, I like to wriggle!

Incidentally, women in the priesthood is not the brainchild of the Women's Liberation Movement et al, but goes 'way back to 494 when Pope Gelasius I put an end to the practice that has crept into the Church in Southern Italy and Sicily.  Canon XI of the Fourth Laodicean Council also forbade the practice. 

Whatever the need, the Spirit will guide the Church. Hopefully the Church is attentively listening

Mary Sweeney
11 years 8 months ago
I find myself unable to encourage anyone, male or female, to become involved in the permanent diaconate in its present structure, at least as I understand it. To become an ordained deacon candidates must make a commitment not to marry. If they are married, and this explains why it must be a joint decision, they can of course remain married, but should their wife die, they cannot remarry and continue to serve as a deacon. Most, but not all, men will be survived by their wife. Should they be left a widower, they could have many legitimate reasons for seeking a partner. The Church as institution is not going to help them financially or with the necessities of daily living. It is not clear to me how someone who was called to the vocation of marriage is suddenly excluded from continuing to live that call. Did God make a mistake the first time? Have a change of heart now?

Given the above, I find it very hard to imagine why women would want to get involved in something which appears to me to be so unjust.
11 years 8 months ago

While a married man may be ordained, an ordained man may not marry. If a married deacon's wife dies, he may apply via his provincial council of bishops (the USCCB in the US) to remarry. Typically, this permission is granted if he has "legitimate reasons for seeking a partner", as the writer suggests.

Craig McKee
11 years 8 months ago
One might look at all of this historical data as an indication of initially institutional VAGINA-PHOBIA which was codifed and transformed into outright MISOGYNY, much in the same way heterosexual clerical CELIBACY was imposed by an increasingly Medieval GAY clergy - all of which was legitimized by appealing to SAINT PAUL, who, as we all know, had his own "thorn in the side" issues with MEN. Or am I missing something here?
Mary Sweeney
11 years 8 months ago

Thank you, Phyllis Zagano, for the clarification.

I'm not quite sure that needing to "get permission" makes the issue "go away" for me. I agree with Craig B. McKee that there is a dense, hidden, and complex multi-layered substratum to be explored.
11 years 8 months ago
While there is certainly the taint of mysogyny in Roman Catholic regulations regarding married clergy and women deacons, I think another facet of the married clergy question involves money. The prohibition against married pastors and bishops, which remains to this day in Roman Catholicism and is well known (at least on the episcopal level) in Eastern Catholic Chuches and Orthodox Churches) seems in large part to stem from the need for the community to have a bishop or pastor free from the obligations (especially financial) of family. It seems the need for a rescript for a widower deacon to remarry is more connected to the spread of the requirement of celibacy to all priests (beyond pastors and bishops) than to anything else. Of course, celibacy spread in many cases because of the application of cultic purity, as Bp. Wcela points out in his article. Bottom line: celibacy is not the only issue, but it does not contribute to an environment that welcomes women clerics. However, neither is celibacy necessary for many (if not most) clerics.
Lisa Weber
11 years 8 months ago
Thank you to Bishop Wcela for commenting on the subject of women deacons.  The discussion itself is valuable.  The primary value in having women deacons would be the permission to preach.  Seeing women deacons as primarily ministers to women might exclude women from being ministered to by priests or male deacons - not necessarily a positive step.

The Church needs to hear the voices of women.  Being the primary liturgy is the Mass, allowing women to preach is the most important aspect of having women deacons.
Paul Kelley
11 years 8 months ago
The article's first comment begins "Canon 1024 of the Code of Canon Law ...".Why should we place any authority on that canon? How did it come to be enacted? It seem to me that recently the Pope can amend and change or supplement provisions of canon law. The dissertation by the former bishop is very interesting on the history. However our actions and judgement should be based on the present circumstances and knowledge. I submit that these require that women should be made deacons and further an honest and open prayerful discussion should be commenced about women in the priesthood. 
Thomas Smith
11 years 8 months ago
In response to the article on "Ordination of Women to Deaconate - WHY NOT?
   A appreciate the scholarship involved in tracking down ordinations of women int he past. But I think that for today, we need only appeal to EVOLUTION! As we now know, evolution involves not only the anatomical structure of the human body, of plansts and aninale, etc, but to EVERY institution of human origins: whether of politcs, art, music, work, societies, etc. thus it can apply to all religions, christian included. It is now time for the women to be ordained to the deconate and even priesthood because of their special gifts, contributions they can made, and,even for the lack of male ordinands.
11 years 8 months ago

Well said Fr. Thomas #30. St. Catherine of Siena advised Popes, St. Joan of Arc led men in battle, they didnt need to be ordained to bless the Church with their gifts. Female diaconate should perhaps be explored. Yet predicatbly some of you of have devolved this discussion into women being priests. The Church as the bride of Christ can only bear spiritual fruit from a male ordained clergy representing Christ. Natural law; males and females procreate. A female priesthood creates a lesbian relationship with the Church that will bear no fruit.

Andrew Eppink
11 years 8 months ago
I don't think women s/b deacons for the same reason women are generally less suited than men for leadership in social organizations outside their 'purview' (for want of a better word) - biology, medicine, teaching etc. - nurturing situations generally, well adapted specifically to the nurturing quality of women, the inherent kindness, compassion, generosity - the femininity of women. While obvious exceptions exist men generally are better suited to leadership milieus requiring hard choices, usually involving the choice of least evil alternatives, a sad but true and accurate aspect of the human condition, at least as now constituted. All this was nothing but commonsense not 2-3 generations ago, but common sense and concurrent moral underpinnings are pretty scarce today.

An attestation to the extent that society has degraded is the current push for women in combat, as if combat were some neighborhood social gathering instead of the horrific reality it is. War, combat, is hard enough on men but is utterly destructive of the kindness, compassion and generosity of women, the femininity of women. Femininty must be nurtured and protected (from bad men, in far too many cases) a concept regarded as a quaint anachronism in contemporary society, much like character, integrity, honor and all the rest of it.

Deacons are more than peripherally involved in evincing the often exceedingly difficult moral stds which much be upheld for the evolution of a good, moral, stable society. Womens' femininity generally would stand in the way of asserting and living these hard truths. - e.g. abortion, viewed by far too many as a compassionate response to the exceedingly difficult circumstances a woman whose emotions have been played on by an evil and opportunistic man, professing undying love where none exists, finds herself in when she becomes pregnant. The way out, the way to remedy things per the dismayingly large number of people who evince this dismaying and evil mindset, is the destruction of the obviously innocent nascent child (children are obviously innocent whatever the circumstances of their conception - another obvious truism which wouldn't have to be explicated in a normal, much less evil society than ours), who is crushed, sliced and dismembered so as to 'remedy' the problem.

Things don't always occur in just this way as women, regrettably, in spite of their usually loving tendencies, are also capable of evil, sometimes grave evil. Indeed many abortions, maybe most, occur as a result of irresponsibile sexuality, convenience. Kill the child and the (trite) problem's gone. We're depraved.

It's not for nothing that moral and social norms have been so strongly effected in most societies over the milennia, they're the glue holding things together, and it's only now, in our current crazy, deranged, catastrophically evil times that they've ever been seriously questioned. 
Thomas Rooney OFS
11 years 8 months ago
I'm sorry, A.P. Eppink, am I understanding your position right? 

Women shouldn't be deacons - NOT on scriptural grounds (which, as the article points out, are shaky), NOT on canonical grounds (perhaps more terra firma here), but because their inherent biological femininity would make them "less tough" or Heaven forbid, more PASTORAL on abortion or other Church teachings? 


Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 8 months ago

She's a troll, dude. Don't feed the troll.
11 years 8 months ago

200 years ago no nation on earth had a woman president or prime minister; no university or college had a female president.

In the secular world todayI see online a 20th century list of dozens of female presidents or prime ministers of their country (I don’t see Hillary Clinton’s name: she is only United States Secretary of State), and of female university and college presidents.

In the Catholic Church todaysome still object to girls as altar servers.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini died 31 August 2012. On 1 September 2012 the premier Italian daily Corriere della Sera published what Cardinal Martini had given as the “interview to be published after his death.”  (Probably the Osservatore Romano would have just mentioned it as the very beautiful, personal, spiritual testament of the deceased saintly cardinal…). This is Carlo Carlo Maria Martini’s statement in his last interview: “The Church is 200 years behind the times.”

James Schexnayder
11 years 8 months ago
I am very grateful for Bishop Wcela's article on women and diaconate. From my early experience working with the training of permanent deacons in the Oakland diocese I witnessed the reality of wives of deacons working collaboratively in ministry with their husbands. I have also worked with women in team ministries on campuses and in parishes. These women were effective leaders, enablers of lay ministry, healers, and social justice prophets. Their gifts ought to be supported by the sacramental grace of diaconal ordination. What a wonderful sign of the Christ who embraces the fullness of humanity!
Sarah Siddell
11 years 8 months ago
H0. HUM.

I teach at a major Catholic university. Most of my Catholic students do not -according to their own reports- attend Mass regularly. Many of these young people simply are not interested the Church.

So you can argue as long as you like about whether female deacons can dance on the head of a pin. Fewer and fewer people are listening.

However, the young I teach seem to feel a deep hunger for the spiritual dimension of life. They are finding nourishment in Buddhism, Sufism and the Hindu mystical traditions.
11 years 8 months ago
I believe that there is an ironically relevant issue involved.  In 1972, when Pope Paul VI revised and defined Holy Orders, he chose to include deacon along with bishop and priest as a true Holy Order; it is often said he did so for ecumenical reasons as these were based on biblical terms and notions.  As a result deacon was put on the same ground as priest and bishop rather than with lector, acolyte etc., previuosly referred to as minor orders, which were redefined as lay ministerial functions.  If he had chosen instead to place deacon with the "minor orders", I suspect that we would already have women deacons.  I say this is ironic because Paul VI was looking to be more ecumenical but it seems it has turned out to be less so.  

JP II's cooments referenced in comment 20 above seem to be a move to draw a line between deacon and Priest/bishop, contrary to Paul VI.  Interesting. 
William Rydberg
11 years 8 months ago
I disagree on the basis of Holy Tradition as well as the teachings of the Ordinary Magisterium...
11 years 8 months ago


Re: Post #20, I add the following addendum to what I said.

But why stop with women as deacons? How about lay women and men in the College of the Cardinals?  The Cardinalate is honorary, having no sacramental, or intrinsic  connection to Holy   Orders  whose members function as Papal advisors and diplomatic envoys, etc., ecclesial jobs that laity can handle very well. Of course, some cob-webby church requirements would have to be negated, but it wouldn’t be the first time that our church wisely  negated some of her directives on the book. Is that suggestion absolutely too far off the wall? Yes, as I said earlier, May the Holy Spirit guide!

Helen Cohenour
11 years 8 months ago
To post #29 and #30. What sad commentary by both of you. This is exactly why you see churches filled with the elderly. Have either of you been in churches in Itlay, France, Germany. Ireland, etc.? They are mostly empty but if you do see people there you will notice they are elderly women. When will the men in our church realize that women are the backbone of the church and if you continue to push them out or treat as second class citizens you will soon see the fall of the Catholic Church. When will everyone realize that God is not concerned with gender?
11 years 8 months ago
The posts have gone off track, but it is important to note a few errors: first, the diaconate was always considered a major order. Second, the current law required anyone chosen as cardinal to be able to accept (or reject) episcopal ordination, so there is some wiggle room there, although the woman cardinal would have to be at least a cardinal-deacons. Third, those who note that the church is tanking are correct-and only a spectacular move, like restoring women to the da=iaconate, will bring people back to a church then newly recognizing that all are made in the image and likeness of God. Forget the naysayers-write your bishop today!
11 years 8 months ago

#39 As for churches empty have you been in churches here in the US? Many parishes are thriving. Numbers of male seminarians are increasing. The Church is booming in Africa. #40 How therefore is the church "tanking?"As Christ said the gates of hell will not prevail on his bride the Church.

Also how are women second class citizens when we have Mother Mary as co-redemptrix and patroness of the Americas? Catherine of Siena patroness of Italy, St. Bridget patroness of Ireland, etc, etc.? Just because there are roles and you can always get what in life doesnt mean you are being treated unfairly. Our American and Western culture is so obessed with what I want and me, me, that we lose sight of the Gospel message and dare I say; obedience. If Jesus can be such a model to us through his relationship to the Father can we not try and do the same?

11 years 8 months ago

As to the argument that Jesus ordained only males, it is also true that he ordained only Jewish males, some of whom were married. So today shouldn't we be ordaining only male jewish converts, both married and single?

And as to the argument about being the image of a male Christ, what happens in Baptism? Aren't we all baptized into the Trinity? We are all images of Christ, priest, prophet and king!

Chris Miller
8 years 7 months ago
..or why shouldn't all candidates to priesthood be required to convert to Judaism. If we think the priesthood is few in number now, that will probably finish it off. Pr Chris
11 years 8 months ago
#42 Baptism and Holy Orders different sacraments, apples and oranges comparison.
Frank Bergen
11 years 7 months ago
I come late to the article thanks to the habitually slow delivery of my copy of America.  I come somewhat reluctantly to commenting on this article because it seems as though Bishop Wcela is discovering that our part of the universe is heliocentric.  Ten years ago I began a delightful and fruitful collaboration with a marine biologist from Oregon State University who had become deacon, priest and bishop in our little - but perhaps prophetic - branch of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  I offer the life and ministry of my presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori as an argument trumping the Code of Canon Law, the Catholic Catechism and the pronunciamento of the Blessed John Paul.  Somewhere I've read, 'by their fruits you shall know them.'  That's fruits, not genitals. If the best argument against the full inclusion of women in ordained ministry is the 'iconic' one, then please enroll me among the iconoclasts.  Such argumentation is not serious, it is jejeune, unworthy of a first year student in a mediocre theology faculty.
Chris Miller
8 years 7 months ago
Frank. When I was among the first women to be ordained as a member of the clergy in the ELCA, there had just been a comprehensive study as to the grounds to be considered in making this step, there were three areas discussed: Biblical witness, historical precedent, and the life and blessings of the Church. Both of the first two categories, allowed by witnesses on both sides of the spectrum. Neither the biblical witnesses, nor the history of the Church are absolute on one side or the other on the issue, and the decision finally came down to the position of the "fruits" of such a step. The committee essentially concluded, if we take this step, how are we to evaluate our decision over time? They concluded exactly what you said: By their fruits ye will know them. The decision, if in God's favor, will be as fruitful for women pastors as for male pastors. Not better, not worse, but approximately the same. And that has been the finding of the Church over 40 years...the male and female pastors of the church, blessed with a variety of gifts and strengths, should lead their ministries in approximately equal outcomes. And that has been true. I wonder what if the RCC would sincerely pray for God's guidance on this issue and see what comes? We have pronouncements for and against, but it seems that the Church, even in the face of the rapid decline of priests to serve the faithful, is caught in simply saying "it can't happen". If the Church keeps praying for vocations, how can they be so sure that they are accepting all vocations that are sent.? PR Chris
Matt Brinkman
11 years 7 months ago

As a 21 year-old undergraduate student double majoring in Philosophy and Political Science, I think I should be more shocked by the level of heresy and DISobedience among not only the laity commenting here, but the clergy as well. Christ commands not to let one of these little ones fall into sin: that is the nature of heresy, to know that you disagree and openly spread your opinions. I know that my expectations for most of today's laity to understand theology, let alone a desire to study it, is appallingly low. All you people can do is focus on the cultural side of this Bishop-Emeritus' argument; if denying women sacred orders was solely on the basis of some concocted-misogynistic tradition, then you have a case.

However, the Scripture passages he quotes are unbelievably poor translations of the Latin vulgate (I'm a Classics/ Latin minor, so I read Cicero, Augustine, and Medievals for scholarship), not to mention well outside of the entire context. Phoebe is actually referred to as "ministra", not "diaconus", as his Excellency asserts. This could merely be stating her role as an EMHC, which is implicit in the name, Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, with those ordained the only ordinary ministers of the sacrament.

I am very confused as to why the Latin vulgate says in Timothy 3:12:

"Diaconi sint unius uxoris viri", which has been translated to English as "Deacons may be married only once". Odd, my Latin translation seems to read "Let the Deacons be husbands of one wife". In Latin, subject and object are so because of their endings, with "viri" meaning men or husbands in a plural nominative (its's the subject of the sentence) and "Diaconi" also plural nominative (subject/adjective agreement in gender, the rules of Latin) with "uxoris" being the singular genitive form of wife (literally "of wife"). It's written in the text folks, argue with St. Jerome if you don't believe me. 

 The book he references written by a professor of Harvard, (very promising deinde!), does not even have an imprimatur nor a nihil obstat; moral of the story, don't believe everything you read, use that natural light of reason God gave you!

I also thought it laughable, at best, that another point of justification was the fact that three different councils decreed against women ordination, and the fact that it remained a topic for 80 years justifies defying Church authority. The Church says that abortion is wrong, that rape is wrong, that God is Triune, that Christ was fully man and fully God, and yet Catholics disagree frequently and steadily with these things, does that justify their disobedience? If you think so, why are you Catholic?

Shall I continue? In CCC 1538 "Integration into one of these bodies in the Church was accomplished by a rite called ordinatio, a religious and liturgical act which was a consecration, a blessing or a sacrament. Today the word "ordination" is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishops, presbyters, or deacons, and goes beyond a simple election, designation, delegation, or institution by the community, for it confers a gift of the Holy Spirit that permits the exercise of a "sacred power" (sacra potestas)5 which can come only from Christ himself through his Church. Ordination is also called consecratio, for it is a setting apart and an investiture by Christ himself for his Church. the laying on of hands by the bishop, with the consecratory prayer, constitutes the visible sign of this ordination." 

St. Ignatius says in CCC 1554, "Let everyone revere the deacons as Jesus Christ, the bishop as the image of the Father, and the presbyters as the senate of God and the assembly of the apostles. For without them one cannot speak of the Church". 

1570 Deacons share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way.55 The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character") which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the "deacon" or servant of all.56 Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity. 

In the end, man and woman have uniquely separate roles within the Church; no one is greater than anyone else save Christ and Mary... the only perfect human without divinity is a woman, and people complain. I think the Church has always upheld the dignity of women, but that laity and clergy aren't too good at following directions and screw-up what was good (Vatican II might have been good, but everyone thought it meant relativism). I'll leave you to ponder the words of St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, and many others: "The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of rotten bishops".

Chris Miller
8 years 7 months ago
Matt. I was with you until you hit the Latin Vulgate as the text you want to use. You may be a classics scholar, but the originals of the NT are Greek, not Latin. The Vulgate is centuries after the early Church. The second thing that comes to mind is that maybe when you get a couple of decades of experience in life, you might become a little more willing to understand that life is not all black and white. I remember being 21, but it was decades ago. I hate to think that my "conclusions" from that period were demonstrative of me now. PR Chris
Greg Nowakowski
11 years 2 months ago
I run into this article by accident. The most of it I like the very last comment of Matt Brinkman. I agree with him on the subject of disobedience of laity and many of ordained people. Looks like most of them treat Catholicism as one of many belief systems. Maybe there is some knowledge about Jesus but almost no knowledge of Him and His heart. This dispute is as barren as dispute on stock market. Let me bring you a few parallels. Jesus as new Adam. Every time Jesus brought someone from death, He was telling that that person is not dead but asleep. Jesus dies on the Cross. Image of Jesus sleeping on the Cross. Adam is put to sleep. Adam's side is open when he sleeps. Jesus' side is open. A woman is created or of the Adam's rib. Water and blood gush from Jesus side. The Church is God's Bride (woman.) The Church is born at the Cross. The Holy mass is wedding feast of Christ offering His body to His Bride, the Church. Priest represents Christ and becomes Him at the moment of consecration. The Body and Blood Soul and Divinity is offered at the wedding to His Bride the Church. Since the Church is a woman (by nature where she receives Jesus) the Priest must be a man who by the role (Christ) and nature offers his body. A woman at the altar cannot be giving her body to the Church-Bride for her nature is to receive not give, and there cannot be weddings between a woman and a woman (do you see why there is such attack on marriage now?) Priest is married - to his bride the Church and we are his children that is why we call him father! A woman cannot be called father. Please, do not believe in the conclusions I made. Pray over images. Christ will show you the answer. Amen.
Lisa Belz
11 years ago
This is a well-written article. I was pleased to see that Bishop Wcela had used as a source the very scholarly book by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Ociek on a documentary history of women's ordination. Two things in Wcela's essay to which I would object on historical grounds is 1) the presumption that only men were presbyters in the ancient world and 2) that the historical Jesus actually ordained anybody. The Dead Sea scrolls mention women presbyters (4Q512), as do ancient inscriptions. It is very likely that women presbyters were outnumbered by men, but they did exist, nonetheless. As Wcela notes, the early Christians took the offices of "bishop," "presbyter," and "deacon" from the larger Greco-Roman world. Eventually, the priesthood would evolve from the office of presbyter. But it's not until the fifth century that we see anything comparable to the priests we have today in terms of liturgical and sacramental ministries. Regarding the historical Jesus ordaining anyone, if He had, the New Testament would have told us. But nothing in the New Testament and nothing in the first few centuries of early Christian literature tell us that the apostles were imagined in any way as "priests." It is not until the fourth century that a bishop becomes described metaphorically as a "high priest." Only when Christianity becomes an approved religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century does it begin to take on some of the cultural forms of (pre-Christian) Roman public liturgies in which male priesthood plays a key role. That's when there is a huge shift from the role of presbyter in the house churches (which did include women) to what becomes the sacerdos, or priest, who can now officiate in the public spaces of the large basilicas. Btw, pre-Christian Roman religions in the Latin West did not allow women to be priests for 99% of religious functions. This was because a proper woman could not be exposed to the male gaze, and any public liturgical role would make her the focus of male attention, which, for a married woman, was considered grossly improper.

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