I am writing today to express my hope that local Churches would be able to call forth both men and women to serve as ordained deacons in the ministries of liturgy, Word and charity.
Jesus has entrusted the Church with the mission to embody and proclaim the Good News of the love and mercy of the Father to all nations. In our part of the world, we have both great missionary opportunities and formidable pastoral challenges. We need the gifts of every Catholic to serve this mission.
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I have the conviction that we need to hear the voices of women from the pulpit. We need to recognize the gifts of women for sacramental ministry, like presiding at baptisms and marriages. If women could be ordained as deacons, it would create an opportunity (outside of religious life) for women to make a life commitment to the Church, and it would expand resources for the mission of the local Church by allowing bishops to train, ordain and give faculties to women.
On several occasions, Pope Francis has encouraged study and discernment regarding women deacons. After he established a papal commission on the topic in August 2016, he told a German interviewer, “The task of theology is to do research to get to the bottom of things, always.… We must not be afraid! Fear closes doors. Freedom opens them. And [even] if freedom is small, it opens at least a little window.” In May 2019, Pope Francis said the initial report of the commission “could serve as the launching point for going ahead and studying, and giving a definitive response as to yes or no” on the question. In April 2020, in response to a formal request from the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon region, Francis established a new papal commission to continue the work of exploring this possibility in the church.
From meticulous scholarship that is publicly available, we already know that ancient and medieval liturgies document that women were ordained as deacons by their bishops within the sanctuary during Mass, in the presence of the clergy through the imposition of hands by the invocation of the Holy Spirit. These women, who were called deacons, self-communicated from the chalice, and the bishop placed the stole around their necks.
The Second Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent vocation, noting that some men already functioned as deacons and thus “it is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands…that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate.” We know that many women function as deacons today.
It’s a crucial moment for the whole Church to engage in a pastoral discernment about women deacons –involving prayer, dialogue, listening and a full assessment of missionary opportunities, pastoral needs and the gifts, charisms and actual ministry of women in the Church today.
I encourage you to learn more about the history and ministry of women deacons, to consider how our local Church would benefit from their ministry, and in the spirit of a synodal church, to publicly encourage dialogue on the topic. The people are hungry for such dialogue and ministry. Let us give them something to eat.
I am grateful for your prayerful consideration of these opportunities. If I can be of any assistance to you, please let me know. Meanwhile I will continue to pray for you and your ministry.
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Thank you for your work and support for women deacons!
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