Our parish has three deacons, but we are getting rather long in the tooth and less able physically to serve as we once did. We could easily use several additional deacons. Women deacons, in particular, would be extremely helpful. There are many roles in which their insights would be invaluable: whole family catechesis, marriage preparation, preaching, children’s ministry and youth ministry. We also could attract younger women to the ministry of deacon, benefiting from their vitality and energy.
Today it takes four to six years of formation before ordination to the diaconate. The sooner we overcome the reluctance to ordain women to this critical ministry, the better.
(Deacon) Mike Evans
I Feel Called
Thank you for the courage and wisdom to publish Bishop Wcela's article. For years I have experienced a call to the permanent diaconate. Bishop Wcela gives me hope that my sense of vocation will become a reality in this church I love.
I am a cradle Catholic and have lived through all the changes in the church before, during and after Vatican II. I was raised in a household where women were expected to share their gifts and talents. It had nothing to do with gender but with a sense of responding to the values of the Sermon on the Mount.
I never thought I had a call to enter a religious community or become a priest, but I have always had a nagging desire to serve the church in some ministerial role. When friends were ordained to the permanent diaconate, a light went on. Over the years I have seen the amazing gifts deacons have brought to our communities in the areas of liturgy, ministry of the word and charity. Having the voice, life experience and sensitivity of women in the role of deacon is essential if we are to grow and meet the needs of people in our churches, and even more important, those who are alienated from the Catholic Church.
We must allow the Spirit to drive away the fears that bind the creativity we need in our church. We need to look at our roots. In Bishop Wcela’s article we see firsthand the historical documentation that women were deacons. I look at the ministry of Jesus, a perfect example of persons being called, responding and entering into an inclusive and collaborative ministry. My patron, Mary of Magdalene, responded to the call to be a companion in ministry with Jesus. I challenge all of us to keep the dialogue open if we are to be a whole and holy body of Christ.
A Sign of Christ
I am very grateful for Bishop Wcela’s article. From my early experience working with the training of permanent deacons in the Diocese of Oakland, I have witnessed deacons’ wives 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!
(Rev.) Jim Schexnayder
The diaconate looks “priestly,” but it is not. It is “ministerial,” in service to Christ and his church. So Bishop Wcela’s suggestion may be ecclesially sound.
But why stop with women as deacons? How about lay women and men in the College of Cardinals? The cardinalate is honorary, having no sacramental or intrinsic connection to holy orders. Its members function as papal advisors and diplomatic envoys and so forth. These are ecclesial jobs that laypeople can handle very well. Of course, some cob-webby church requirements would have to be negated, but it would not be the first time that our church wisely negated some directives on the books. Is this suggestion absolutely off the wall? May the Holy Spirit guide!
Dignity of the Diaconate
Bishop Wcela has presented a fine and reasoned explication of the question. It should serve as the basis for parish and other group discussions. The most important point: Deacons, while ordained to the one sacrament of holy orders, are not priests and are not intended to be priests. In fact, it might clarify things if priests today were not required to be ordained as deacons until after they were chosen to be pastors or bishops.
Also, the diaconate is not a “second class” vocation. Look at the lives of the many deacons in history (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Radegund and 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. It stands beside the priesthood as a full and holy order with different aims and goals. Only in the diocesan bishop (and, to a lesser extent, the pastor) are the diaconate and the priesthood fully exercised in one person.
The author has written extensively on women in ministry.
Women, without ordination, are not “second class citizens.” We have Mother Mary as co-redemptrix and patroness of the Americas, St. Catherine of Siena as patroness of Italy, St. Brigid as patroness of Ireland and so forth. There are roles, and you cannot always get what you want in life. This does not mean you are being treated unfairly. Our American and Western culture is so obsessed with “what I want” 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 to do the same?
I am glad Bishop Wcela supports ordaining women as deacons. Aren’t we all supposed to represent Christ? Aren’t we all empowered, only by Christ, to serve each other in the ministry of the liturgy, the word and charity? Call me simple, but a child of God is a child of God, whether a man or a woman. Each is equally capable of hearing God’s call loud and clear. No one should be prevented from following where that call leads.
Is our church trying to promote or prevent growth? Women are a valuable and essential part of our society, our world and our church. Depriving the church of the much-needed energy and contribution of women is like depriving a plant of water and sunlight yet expecting it to grow. Let the Holy Spirit flow where she may and watch the fruits of the Spirit flourish as never before.
Mount Sinai, N.Y.
Work of the Spirit
As Bishop Wcela points out, literally thousands of women are functionally keeping our local churches alive and increasingly serving in diocesan, regional and 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 Catholic Church, it would have to speak to the times and so would probably look very different from the “permanent diaconate” of today. While institutional legitimation would be great, I am consoled that God sees the functional reality.
Let Women Preach
Women are doing diaconal service now. As a Catholic school teacher and spiritual director, I can do many things. I serve as a lector, eucharistic minister and music minister. I serve on the liturgy board and parish council. I have led retreats and workshops in my diocese. When our priest was on retreat, I led liturgies of the word and Communion services (when allowed). As a delegate for our synod, I spoke at the unofficial meeting about ordaining women to the diaconate.
Deacons preach. We need to hear a woman’s voice, too! We have a lot to say. Having received the gift of an awesome education, I do not want to bury it. If women were truly allowed to use all their gifts and talents, the church would be thriving now.
Elk Grove, Calif.
Origin of Holy Orders
Does Bishop Wcela believe that the sacrament of holy orders comes from Christ, or does he think it simply developed in the community? Because frankly, the latter is the Protestant theory of ministry. Holy orders, while having different ranks, is one sacrament instituted by Christ. If you choose not to believe it, that’s fine, but you’re not a practicing Catholic.
Spirit, Not Institution
When we look at the now well-cemented tradition of ordination for men only—despite Scripture and archeology that suggest otherwise—we are only seeing through the lens of the institutional church. The institutional model unilaterally teaches, sanctifies and rules from the top down.
If we had implemented models like “servant church” and “community as the body of Christ,” which see the divine rather than the institution as the center of the church, we might have continued—or established and welcomed—the gifts of women in a sacramental role.
The people of God are often denied sacramental life because of rules, not calls. There is much to be learned from the ways in which the Spirit wishes to invite her people into the work of this world.
Sheila Durkin Dierks