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Pope Considers Ordaining Women

St Olympias
St Olympias (c 361–368), Deacon

Earlier this year I wrote about the Pope washing the feet of women possibly signalling an openness to rethinking ordination of males-only in Roman Catholicism: Pope Takes One Small Step Towards Women Priests?

Now:

Pope Francis has announced he will create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church, signaling an historic openness to the possibility of ending the global institution’s practice of an all-male clergy.

Remember that in Roman Catholicism ordination is one sacrament with three steps. If women can become deacons, what is to prevent the rethinking of women as priests and bishops?

In 1994, Pope John Paul II, in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, stated that “the Church has no authority whatsoever” to ordain woman as priests. Many claim this was an infallible statement. One problem with infallibility, however, is that there is no infallible list of what statements are infallible and what are not.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1) Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν [καὶ] διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς

Read further articles here:
Catholic Women Deacons by Phyllis Zagano
Why Not Women? by Bishop Emil A. Wcela

For further reading:
Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry

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10 Responses to Pope Considers Ordaining Women

  1. Doesn’t “deacon” mean “helper”? So then shouldn’t the range of people a parish of any denomination be able to choose from (assuming they are respected, trained, capable, don’t have multiple wives, etc) be as wide as possible? Women, Salvation Army officers, Presbyterian missionaries, Anglican deacons, and so on. I can understand more vetting of those who might, say, preach… but I would like somebody to explain the problem with women deacons. Is it just a fear of “today deacons, tomorrow bishops” or is it some Biblical interpretation, or something else?

  2. Hi Bosco,
    I’m one of the hopefuls re: ordained women deacons. While RCs have 3 “levels,” “steps” of ordination, Pope Benedict XVI changed canon law so that ordination to the permanent diaconate is theologically different from the priestly ordination that encompasses the transitional deaconate. Many RC theologians–both “liberal” and “conservative”–have stated that Pope John Paul Ii’s statement on women’s ordination to the priesthood, leaves open the issue of women’s (reinstated) as ordained deacons.

    Blessings

    • Thanks, Laura. With respect, unless you can show some evidence of your statement, I think you are confused. Theologically, there is actually no such thing as a “permanent” deacon as distinct from a “temporary” or “transitional” deacon. A “permanent” deacon may go on to become a priest and a bishop. A “temporary” or “transitional” deacon might actually never be ordained a priest. I would be fascinated if you can demonstrate this to be incorrect. Easter Season Blessings.

      • Hi Bosco

        I agree with your point that there is no theological difference between “permanent” and “transitional” deacons, in the same way that all priests can be ordained as a bishop. To add to that, at least in the Episcopal Church, the ordination service is the same for “vocational” and “transitional” deacons, so the distinction is more one of practice than of theology.

        However in practice there is a distinction in the RCC in that married men ordained as deacons are not eligible to be ordained as priests. (An exception being a married deacon who pursues ordination as a priest after his wife dies.) So based on this, I can see a case for the RCC making it canonically possible for a woman to be ordained as a deacon while maintaining the restrictions on her subsequently being ordained as a priest.

        • Thanks, David. I agree with you that the Vatican could make a canonical ruling (as you say) that women would not be ordained priests. But that is quite a different thing to saying that ontologically/theologically they could not be be ordained priest. Married men are ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church under a variety of circumstances. To underline the point – the restriction you are suggesting would be a canonical decision, not a theological one, and could be altered in the future if it was enacted. Blessings.

          • This has been brought up by various RC bishops, and has not been the career ending touching of the third rail that discussion of ordination of women as priests has become.

            Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec brought up the issue at the synod of bishops in Rome last Fall, and a retired Auxiliary Bishop wrote about this back in 2012.

            http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2015/synod-should-reflect-on-female-deacons-says-archbishop.cfm

            http://americamagazine.org/issue/5152/article/why-not-women

            Of particular note in Bishop Wcela’s article is a quote from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “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.”

            It seems like the door is open to this idea, and probably needs time to work its way forward, but from what I have been reading, it is not a forbidden topic the way ordination of women as priests is.

          • Thanks, David. Your points fit in with my own (regularly-developing) understanding of ordination. People will find a lot about deacons and priestly ordination on this site. Blessings.

  3. I dislike when people who do not understand Catholic theology make such conclusions. In no way does the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate opens the door for women being ordained priests. One simple reason: deacons do not share in the sacramental priesthood. There’s nothing that a deacon can do that a lay person cannot (the only exception is preaching within mass).

    • Thanks, Marek. Yes, you are correct, there is a distinction in current RC theology within the three degrees of the one sacrament of Holy Orders, with the deacon not being a ministerial participation in the priesthood of Christ. There is also, however, within that same current teaching, that only a male (Latin vir) can validly receive the sacrament of ordination – which includes the diaconate. You are also mistaken that a deacon can do nothing that a lay person cannot do in the RC Church. He (sic.) can proclaim the Gospel at Mass. He can bless marriages. Blessings.

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