Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Female Deacons

My friend Charles has an excellent post over at the Catholic Explorers blog on the recent article by Phyllis Zagano on the possibility of a female diaconate. Check it out.

Charles asks, drawing upon the Zagano's arguments, whether or not there are duties which a deacon performs that could be done by a woman. I think there are, but they all seem to be the ones that any lay person could perform regardless of sex. And then there's the issue of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, of which the permanent diaconate is a part, which requires a male recipient to be licit and valid. Obviously the Catholic Church does not redefine sacraments, and even though the Second Vatican Council did allow for the return of the ancient practice of the permanent diaconate (as opposed to the transitional diaconate), this minor alteration was simply a renewal of a practice which simply fell by the way side in the early middle ages.

All in all, I think the argument Zagano tries to advance is juvenile, optimistic, dishonest and purely academic. There will never be female deacons in the fashion Zagano wants - especially since she seems to view the diaconate as a halfway house to priesthood. So what could a girl like Zagano do in this crazy Church of ours?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Posted on Thu, Apr. 19, 2007


For Catholics, women’s ordination may be here sooner than you think
Yes, I know all about the chances of snowballs surviving in the netherworld, but I still think Pope Benedict XVI is moving toward ordaining Catholic women.

Three times in the last year or so, the pope’s comments leaned in that direction. The telltale words are “governance” and “ministry.” Each is technically reserved to the ordained.

In the flood of ideas coming from the scholar-pope, the theme of charity stands out. Would a pope turning 80 on April 16 ordain women to minister in charity?

A year ago, a Rome priest publicly asked Benedict if women could be included formally in Church governance and ministry. Surprisingly, Benedict said yes. He said so again on German television last August.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, he threw a bouquet to women, recognizing their discipleship in the early church. Before 20,000 people in the Vatican’s General Audience Hall, Benedict recalled that Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, as well as Mary Magdalene, were close disciples of Jesus. He reminded the crowd that Thomas Aquinas called Mary Magdalene the “apostle to the apostles.” She did, after all, announce Jesus’ Resurrection.

The pope acknowledged St. Paul’s conflicting sentiments: In Christ there is neither male nor female, yet women should keep silent in church. Conflicting? Yes. Decided? No. That, Benedict said, should be left to biblical scholars.

And biblical scholars know well what women did in the early church.

Benedict did not use the word “diaconate” (the ministry of deacons), but he leans in that direction, coinciding with the historical record of women’s ministry. Women once were deacons. That is a historical fact.

Does history matter? Well, Benedict is a theologian with an eye for history. He knows that what the church once did, it can do again. He, too, knows about the piles of historical documentation of women deacons.

When Benedict talks about women, he always begins by deflecting the idea of women priests, pointing out that Jesus chose male apostles from among his men and women disciples. Such is the Catholic Church’s fundamental argument against women priests.

But that has nothing to do with women deacons. In fact, Benedict has now — three times — reiterated that women were actively engaged in Jesus’ ministry. And “ministry” is the key word when we’re talking about deacons.

Ministry is what deacons do: They minister in and through the word, the liturgy and charity. Deacons preach. Deacons participate in the Mass. Deacons manage the Church’s charity, or at least they used to.

Deacons watched over the stores and treasures of the early church. They cared for the poor and the orphaned, for the homeless and the widows with church funds, properties, and possessions. They even paid the salaries of the priests.

That may not be the case today, but it begs the question: why not? As Catholicism is increasingly bereft of priests it is concurrently flooded with deacons — there are over 15,000 in the United States alone. These are capable men, able to run a parish plant, manage Catholic charities, or oversee the cemeteries or the various aid societies of a parish or a diocese. They can free priests to do priestly — rather than diaconal — ministry.

If Catholicism were to return to its older tradition, that would add women to the mix. Then women could oversee church money and properties on behalf of the pastor or the bishop. What if women watched where the money went? Perhaps then there might be more money around for the poor and maybe fewer financial scandals.

And what if women deacons ministering in charity could preach each Sunday? Would not the church hear more about the way the gospel functions in the real world, here and now, in the 21st century?

It’s just a thought, but it might be Benedict’s idea too.

Religion News Service Phyllis Zagano is senior research-associate-in-residence in the religion department of Hofstra University and author of Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church.