CATHOLIC women deacons

helping women answer the call...

TALKING POINTS

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1. It's only right

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council recognized “there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office” and thus “it is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands which has come down from the Apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar, that they may carry out their ministry more effectively because of the sacramental grace of the diaconate” (Ad gentes,16).

Today the same is true of many women in the Church who lead parishes and serve as catechists and chaplains and in other ministries.

In response to missionary opportunities and pastoral needs, local Churches should be able to call forth both men and women as deacons for the diaconia of liturgy, word and charity.

2. Ordaining women deacons isn't new...

Scripture. The only person in Scripture with the title “deacon” is Phoebe (Rm 16:1), and the First Letter to Timothy lists characteristics of women who are deacons (3:8-11). A majority of Christian scholars for a thousand years believed women deacons were sanctioned by Scripture and had an apostolic foundation.

Tradition. Women deacons were ordained in the West until the 12th century, and still exist today in the East. Women deacons were sacramentally ordained by bishops in the sanctuary with an epiclesis and the laying on of hands. The Council of Chalcedon (451) required women deacons to be 40 and celibate. Pope Benedict VIII (1018) perpetually authorized a cardinal bishop to ordain women deacons. The Orthodox Church of Greece and the Armenian Apostolic Church, which have valid sacraments and orders, presently allow for the ordination of women as deacons.

Ministries. At various times in various places, women ordained as deacons assisted at the altar, administered finances, cared for sick and poor women, assisted women in baptism, proclaimed the Gospel, maintained order in the women’s part of the assembly, catechized children, and preached.

Recent developments. The Second Vatican Council suppressed the minor orders and major order of subdeacon, and revived the diaconate. For the first time in one thousand years, people are ordained solely and finally into a major order other than presbyterate. In 1974 a member of the International Theological Commission, Cipriano Vagaggini OSB (1909-99), published detailed research demonstrating the Church’s ancient tradition of women deacons, who were ordained within the sanctuary by the bishop, in the presence of the presbyterate, and by the imposition of hands. In late December 2009, Pope Benedict made changes in canon law to clarify the role of deacons. According to women deacons expert, Phyllis Zagano, the changes “may have ended the controversy over whether women can be ordained deacons.”

3. It's an open question

All papal and curial statements against the ordination of women specifically address the “ministerial priesthood” and “priestly ordination,” not the diaconate.

The International Theological Commission in 2002 concluded about the ordination of women as deacons: “It pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.”

There is no church doctrine against ordaining women as deacons. It relates to church law.

4. It would benefit the Church

Our mission. Having women ordained as deacons would allow the Church to expand its ministries of liturgy, word and charity. These ministries are modeled on servanthood of Christ, embody the Servant Church, and help the Church fulfill its mission to proclaim the Gospel and baptize all nations. 

Sacramental grace. Women already engaged in diaconal ministries like preaching, ministering the works of charity and leading a parish would be able to receive the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction, serve in offices currently restricted to clerics, and be officially recognized by the Church in a lifetime commitment to its ministry.

Pastoral need. The early Church called forth deacons out of pastoral need. In many places today facing severe shortages of clergy, women ordained as deacons could assist in the sacramental ministries of baptism and marriage, preside at funerals and give homilies. Women deacons could also exercise ministry in places where it is difficult for men to serve, like the homes and hospital rooms of women, domestic violence shelters and in women’s prisons.

Empower local Churches. The local Church should be empowered to call forth and ordain men and women who can effectively serve in this ministry. It would expand the resources of local bishops by allowing them to train, ordain and give faculties to women, and it would also expand the presence of ordained ministers in many spheres of life, connecting them with parishes, pastors and local bishops.

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