Evanston, Illinois parish proposing woman deacon covered in the Chicago Times

We’ve mentioned this parish before, but today the Chicago Times has an article on St Nicholas Church in Evanston, Illinois, which is seeking clarification on whether women can be ordained to the diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church. It has some interesting details. You’ll need to register if you want to read the second page, unfortunately.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-women-deacons-20120821,0,5502778.story

Share:

55 comments

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #1:

      There is never an opportune moment. The masquerade ball of American episcopal indulgence in identity politics should not deter Ms. Mapes-Riordan from pushing this envelope. Was there ever a right time for Phoebe to challenge late antique Hellenistic-Roman social order? Would Pliny have mentioned the women leaders (ministrae) of the Bithynian Christians to Trajan if they were not integral to the leadership of that assembly? (cf. Epistulae 10.96.8 and quo magis necessarium credidi ex duabus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur […]) [my ellipsis]

      Given that the diaconate is not ontologically charged like the presbyterate and episcopate, the vir-centric language so often invoked to defend the male nature of the priesthood and episcopate appears to hold less weight with respect to the diaconate. Also, I do not see why the androcentricity of the presbyterate would be challenged if women were permitted to proclaim the Gospel, preach, and proclaim the dismissal, for example. It appears to me that while not a few clerics and theologians recognize the fine distinctions between the ontological implications of diaconal versus presbyterial actions (such as certain blessings), not a few would rather not distinguish these implications for many reasons.

      1. @John Quinn – comment #22:
        Precisely for the reason Fr Ruff alludes to earlier. Abp Muller’s advent at the CDF: he may be itching for a pretext to clarify this issue in the negative….

      2. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #24:

        Muller has also made it very clear that he would like to take the burden off B16 by making decisions for him, although of course keeping B16 informed.

        I suspect that B16 might be very pleased with an “infallibly defined” sounding pronouncement from Muller which of course would not bind any future pope from ordaining women as deacons but put the issue beyond discussion which is what has been done in the case of the priesthood.

  1. Archbishop Müller, new prefect of the CDF, recently has expressed strongly the sentiment that this is impossible.

    An interesting question would be the Roman Catholic position on those Eastern Orthodox women who have been ordained deacons in recent decades.

    awr

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #4:
        I don’t think that’s what the Orthodox hold, at least not those bishops who have agreed (eg in Greece) more recently to ordain women deacons – but I could be wrong about that. I recall reading that this was considered ordained and sacramental.
        awr

      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #5:

        I recall reading that this was considered ordained and sacramental.

        As Fr. Deacon Lance Weakland wrote in 2004 when the topic came to prominence following the action of the Greek Orthodox Bishops:

        2. The strict Scholastic concept of Seven Sacraments and only seven has not been generally adhered to in the East, so the ordination to deaconess can be seen as a Sacrament without being part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

      3. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #4:
        The ordinary should ordain her to the diaconate and let the chips to fall where they may. If the Orthodox can ordain women to the diaconate, the Roman Church surely can.

        Sure, there are Orthodox who will disagree on the validity of a such a rite, but then there are Orthodox who can’t agree on the nature of the Real Presence either.

      4. @Dunstan Harding – comment #8:
        The ordinary should ordain her to the diaconate and let the chips to fall where they may.

        Why?

        If the Orthodox can ordain women to the diaconate, the Roman Church surely can.

        Well, yes, but this is tautological. Futhermore, what an Orthodox bishop means when he says “I have ordained Phoebe to the diaconate” and what a Latin Bishop would mean are likely to be different things. The Orthodox bishop could be right and the Latin bishop wrong if they mean different things.

        Sure, there are Orthodox who will disagree on the validity of a such a rite, but then there are Orthodox who can’t agree on the nature of the Real Presence either.

        The Orthodox don’t even entirely agree on the usefulness of the category of “validity.” Disagreement about the validity of the ordination of women to the deaconate is another step entirely. However, to the extent that we can employ something analogous to the idea of validity, I think the largest disagreement wouldn’t be about validity of such ordinations, but about their nature.

      5. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #9:
        Why you ask. The bishop ought to push it to bring the issue out into the open. It will get Rome’s attention to be sure. Then everyone can argue whether she’s a deacon or not.

        You’re right the Orthodox bishop might well have something different in mind from his Roman counterpart. The Orthodox do have different ideas about validity and what is transmitted in ordination. For some, the Church itself is a sacrament dispensing grace as the occasion merits and not necessarily limited to seven channels of grace or sacraments. They’re more comfortable using the term “presbyter” than we are too. Which can mean a different view of authority and it’s limits.

        A eucharistic sacrifice made present by the actions of the presbyter may not be as fully developed in principle as it is in the west. The presbyter’s function in the church springs from an earlier, perhaps a Jewish concept of elder,or community leader.

        The presbyter is ordained to unlock the sacramental grace given to the Church by the Holy Spirit through his bishop’s ordination/authorization. He has no innate powers and isn’t viewed as the mechanism for producing the Real Presence, as western theologians view Latin priests. There’s also a suggestion which at times seems quite confusing that the Orthodox priest’s authorization isn’t indelible either. Some going so far as to believe heresy invalidates whatever authority the priest possesses in the church.
        It could also explain why some Orthodox theologians in the 19th century accepted the validity of Anglican orders and still do today.

        Which raises the question, were there presbyters or elders in the first century CE who had no authority to celebrate the eucharist, as opposed to presbyters who were granted such authority? It all brings us back full circle to, what’s an elder and what are his/her limits or powers? If they end, under what circumstances?

  2. Jordan

    I appreciate your perspective, but in case you are not aware, I would add there are those who would like to take a review of sacramental nature of the diaconate in order to define out of Orders certain classes of deacons (like the married permanent diaconate).

  3. Um, are the Orthodox musing amongst themselves that, ‘well, this is what the Catholics do’, or ‘this is what the Catholics [or Rome] hold’.
    I think that they don’t; at least not in deciding what they will do or hold.
    These are but more reasons why they are in schism, are they not?
    As for as what was done, or is purported to have been done, at some point in the Church’s history such is not ipso facto a reason for doing it in subsequent history. Many are the things taught and done that were found wanting and discarded.

  4. “The ordinary should ordain her to the diaconate and let the chips to fall where they may.”

    I wouldn’t think this would happen without the Holy Father laying the groundwork by an act of his supreme teaching authority. I’d be really surprised if any individual bishop would take it upon himself to do this (and be allowed to get away with it). Even if an entire conference of bishops desired to do this, I’d think they would ask the Holy Father’s permission.

    Even better would be its instigation by an ecumenical council (which presupposes the Holy Father’s confirmation, of course).

  5. I agree with Sister Sara Butler’s statement quoted in the article that “The theology of the diaconate needs to be thoroughly refined.” But not in the manner its been going in Rome regarding its essential linkage to the presbyterate and episcopacy. (I recoil at the image of cardinal-deacons attending the Bishop of Rome rather than permanent deacons from Rome).

    The church was only recently “allowed” women servers. There are still no women acolytes and no women readers in ministries. For that matter there are no lay-men acolytes and readers; typically only seminarians ascending the ranks.

    Isn’t it necessary to get the far less complicated restored ministries in order before attempting to sort orders? It seems to me one of the first steps in getting the theology of the diaconate correct is to let the ministries stand on their own historical and liturgical right. The diaconate will then be helped to do the same.

    If memory serves, didn’t the body of bishop’s in the Synod on the Word of God request that the ministry of reader be opened to women?

    1. J. Thomas – comment #12: Isn’t it necessary to get the far less complicated restored ministries in order before attempting to sort orders? It seems to me one of the first steps in getting the theology of the diaconate correct is to let the ministries stand on their own historical and liturgical right. The diaconate will then be helped to do the same.

      Fully agreed. I believe the institution of women in ministry would be a very positive development, as no longer would seminarians but laypersons of the parish would have absolute priority as proclaimers of the Word and altar servers. Even so, Pope Paul VI’s suppression of the minor orders in favor of instituted ministries (Ministeria Quaedam, 1972) [MQ] raises some interesting, although obscure, dividing lines between various Catholics over the inclusion of women in instituted ministry.

      As Karl remarks at comment #7: I would add there are those who would like to take a review of sacramental nature of the diaconate in order to define out of Orders certain classes of deacons (like the married permanent diaconate). I am aware that the SSPX, for example, openly disparages the married permanent diaconate. Perhaps some in the far liturgical right do not respect the ordination of married permanent deacons. The question of the validity and importance of the permanent diaconate has been well established in the mainstream postconciliar church. For this reason I am not as concerned about the diaconate, but rather the uncertain status of the subdiaconate.

      MQ §7 explicity excludes the instituted ministries to men (viri). Previously in MQ §4 Pope Paul affirms the suppression of the formal order of subdeacon while permitting episcopal conferences the permission to call acolytes subdeacons. While Pope Paul perhaps wished to conclusively qualify §4 with §7, the legislative and theological “defeat” of §7 would have not insignificant consequences. In my diocese the local EF parish succesfully petitioned the bishop to institute a layman as an instituted acolyte so that he could be a “permanent subdeacon”. Certainly, I would encourage a woman who has been instituted as an acolyte to sing the epistle at a solemn EF Mass should she wish to do so on her own initiative. I suspect that not a few EF Catholics would sharply disagree with me and rally against this development. MQ §4 and §7 are sticking points which, though perhaps not very relevant for the liturgical life of many assemblies, are quite relevant in the eyes of others who adhere to older traditions.

  6. The Orthodox Church of Greece (not the Greek Orthodox Church) voted to restore women to the ordinaed diaconate in 2004; the Armenian Church never abandonded the practice. The needs of the Church will determine the answer to what the Intl Theological Commission requeted: the discernement of the church. Snarky comments, such as saying that women who seek ordination are power hungry do not belong in the conversation. (Are men who seek ordination seeking power?) “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future” (Gary Macy, William T. Ditewig, Phyllis Zagano) will give anyone who cares to think seriously about the question a good start.

    1. @Phyllis Zagano – comment #13:

      Welcome to a hopefully more elevated discussion.

      Another good book is Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald an Orthodox woman theologian and psychologist.

      Fitzgerald argues on the basis of the liturgical texts, that the rite for women deacons is essentially the same as that for male deacons and that both are part of the Sacrament of the Priesthood, although deacons are ordained for service rather than for the presbyterate or episcopate. Fr. Taft in one of his classes indicated he agreed with her analysis of the liturgical documents.

      Orthodox are very traditional people. That has meant that in the past couple of centuries several women have been ordained as women deacons usually because a bishop needed a deacon in a women’s monastery and he had a ritual text that had been used to ordain women deacons.

      I have not encountered any male deacons yet in the Orthodox Church (I gather that in some places like Russia there are many of them). An Orthodox priest who taught a course here a few years ago praised the role of the deacon in the liturgy and how he liked to be the deacon at a pontifical liturgy. I asked him why there were not many deacons in Orthodox parishes. He could not give me a good answer (“we have other priorities”). I suspect it is because priests who now do the deacon’s parts (the many litanies) don’t want to give up that role. That could be an obstacle to women deacons, too.

      In the local OCA church the women pretty much dominate the choir, and the majority of the readers and lectors roles (which are much more extensive than our lectors roles, since there are many prayers and most of the psalms are chanted on a tone by the reader). Since over half of the OCA are former Catholics and Protestants (including half their priests) there could be an opening here. The local parish now has an extensive religious education program for children again run by women.

      I suspect it will be local need rather than top down activity that will bring about the use of the already existing liturgical text.

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #16:
        Jack–when you say that you have not encountered any deacons in the Orthodox Church, which Orthodox Church are you referring to? If it is the OCA, which seems to be the Church that you frequent, a quick perusal of the clergy listing on their website (OCA.org) will garner more than a few deacons.

        We also have to bear in mind that Orthodox Churches do not have “transitional” versus “permanent” deacons. A man is ordain a deacon and he may remain so all his life or may request and/or be called at some point in the future to be ordained to the priesthood by his bishop.

    2. @Phyllis Zagano – comment #13:
      The Orthodox Church of Greece (not the Greek Orthodox Church) voted to restore women to the ordinaed diaconate in 2004;

      As I’ve been trying to explain, that doesn’t really seem to be an complete presentation of what happened. A) It’s not clear that they started to do something in 2004 that they hadn’t been doing all along. Is there any evidence that there have been more frequent use of this office sense then? B) It’s not clear that the Greek move on the “ordained diaconate” means in the Greek context what it means in the Evanston case.

      The needs of the Church will determine the answer to what the Intl Theological Commission requeted: the discernement of the church.

      Can you explain what this means?

      Snarky comments, such as saying that women who seek ordination are power hungry do not belong in the conversation.

      No one’s made it about women seeking “power” until just now.

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #16:

        On the contrary, the decision of the OCG was pretty clearly to do something that had not been done regularly for a long time. (since Crusaders sacked Constantinople?)

        The theological discussion came down to the laying on of hands in ordination, with Orthodox theologians concluding that this essential rite of ordination was used for women while westerners, following Martimort, concluded it was not. Same evidence, but different conclusions.

        The West is at a disadvantage here, because we abandoned deacons, male and female, long before the East and so have little experience of the order. All we had retained until recently was deacons who were headed toward the priesthood, which makes it very easy to confuse diaconal and presbyteral qualities.

  7. “This is not an opportune moment to seek this clarification…”

    It depends on one’s perspective. If one is seeking a serious and spiritual discernment, I don’t think the CDWDS is prepared to offer it today or in the near future. If the intent is to seek a clarification against women deacons, then it is a very opportune moment.

    “These are but more reasons why they are in schism, are they not?”

    The quality of schism is mutual: “we” not “they.”

  8. Phyllis Zagano disagrees with Sr. Sara Butler? She is against the nuns?? I for one am proud to stand with our holy and prophetic nuns.

  9. It is not “the church” that hesitates to take prophetic actions like instituting male and female readers and acolytes….or the ordination of deaconesses. It is the male power structure that continues to believe that women are not suited for official positions in the governance structure if it means real power sharing. Can theological arguments be made pro and con? No doubt. But I know of no records of arguments pro and con when the people of the early church realized the need for sacramental ministers other than bishops. They were called presbyters or elders and today we call them priests. The true needs of Christ’s faithful should be the most important factor. Of course, we’re that the case we wouldn’t be prohibiting the ordination of married men who weren’t first Anglicans or Protestants.

  10. J. Thomas : I agree with Sister Sara Butler’s statement quoted in the article that “The theology of the diaconate needs to be thoroughly refined.” But not in the manner its been going in Rome regarding its essential linkage to the presbyterate and episcopacy. (I recoil at the image of cardinal-deacons attending the Bishop of Rome rather than permanent deacons from Rome). The church was only recently “allowed” women servers. There are still no women acolytes and no women readers in ministries. For that matter there are no lay-men acolytes and readers; typically only seminarians ascending the ranks. Isn’t it necessary to get the far less complicated restored ministries in order before attempting to sort orders? It seems to me one of the first steps in getting the theology of the diaconate correct is to let the ministries stand on their own historical and liturgical right. The diaconate will then be helped to do the same. If memory serves, didn’t the body of bishop’s in the Synod on the Word of God request that the ministry of reader be opened to women?

    On the topic of the Orthodox, I found that to be somewhat interesting and curious: they don’t (I may be wrong – please correct me) ordain women to the minor orders like reader and subdeacon (even if in some Orthodox parishes, women will chant, etc.) but they will (where it is practiced) ordain them as deaconesses.

    1. @Joshua Vas – comment #22:
      I’m not sure, either, whether women were admitted to ministries in the Orthodox church. But in both Orthodox ( I think) and Roman practice, medieval historical appearances aside, installations to ministries are not ordained. Only the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopacy are “ordered.” Of course, Eastern-Christian practice was not lock-step with the West so comparative analysis might not be instructive. The absence of women in ministries and diaconate might correspond to the evolving linkage of ministries and orders as “steppingstones,” and thus exclusively male. Moreover, ministries that developed more fully later (I’m thinking here of the sub-diaconate) wouldn’t include women if women had already been excluded from more ancient ministries.

      Helpful sources are rofessor Evangelos Theodorou of the University of Athens who analyzes the women’s diaconate in the Byzantine Tradition. And Christopher Page’s study The Christian West and its Singers . Reviewing the material evidence in Page’s monograph there is little evidence of women in ministries, e.g. Roman epigraphic remnants recording only male names as lectors. I think one might conclude that the woman deaconess allowed the Church’s ministry to function in contexts where male contact was forbidden or imprudent. This would explain why women only appear in liturgical ministry as deaconesses while generally excluding them from other roles according to the mores of the period.

      BUT, I would suggest there is no liturgical/sacramental/theological reason why women cannot be installed as acolyte and reader, even if historically there is reason to suspect they typically did not.

  11. What is interesting about the “Ordained” permanent diaconate is that there is nothing that they do that can’t be done by a lay person in certain circumstances. A lay person, under certain circumstances, can baptized and under certain circumstances can be the official “witness” for the Church for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony if a priest or deacon are lacking. They can preside at Liturgies in the absence of a priest or deacon, can proclaim the Gospel and give a “homily” if no priest or deacon is present. They certainly can bring Holy Communion to the sick and home bound. Certainly the laity can help the needs of the poor, especially in soup-kitchens and the like. The laity can “act” as adult servers at Mass and other liturgies, taking on the role of at least the “installed” acolyte.”
    All that ordination of a permanent deacon changes is that it makes them the Ordinary Minister of Baptism, witnessing marriages, proclaiming the Gospel with the faculties to preach, as well as hold the chalice at the “Through Him…” and distribute Holy Communion at Mass and to the sick and home bound.
    The only thing that a deacon can do that a lay person is not allowed to do even when no priest or deacon is present is to “bless” objects and people and offer Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament (although I believe abbesses in certain circumstances can offer a priestly blessing with the “sign of the cross” and in the Extraordinary Form, wear the bishop’s glove and hold a crozier in doing so if I’m not mistaken, at least I saw one do it in “The Sound of Music.”)
    Given the fact that there is a “parallel” non ordained “diaconate” a truly lay one, if you will, causes one to wonder why the ordained permanent diaconate was recovered in the 1970’s. Might it have been better to simply keep it as a transitional state to priesthood? And rather than bring back the vocational or permanent diaconate, simply open the “installed, official” order of acolyte to men and women, or that of sub-deacon, which men and women could easily do without too much of a blink of the eye?

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #27:
        I “wrote” that about “5:10 AM” “my time” and “wanted” to “highlight” that the “ordained” “dicaconate” has very little “difference” in actual “function” from a “lay person” who can do the “same things,” other than it makes the “ordained deacon” the “ordinary” “minister” of these “things.” But maybe it might have been “grammatically correct” to avoid the “quotes” altogether as not to “befuddle” those who see them and who won’t know that it was actually “5:10 AM” when I “wrote” the “comment.”

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #28:

        Fr Allan

        I wasn’t concerned about grammar. I was more concerned about acknowledging that they are not merely “ordained” but actually ordained, plain and simple, no hedging on that point.. And I know (since I rise around 4:30AM ET to get to the pool around 5AM) that you frequently are posting early in the morning, as do I… I wasn’t befuddled at all. In fact, I had anticipated the thrust of your very intentional point in a comment I had made previously. I just didn’t expect an illustration so quickly.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #25:

      As a deacon at a conference once told me, the deaconate poses real problems for pastors since deacons cannot easily be removed by pastors. He felt he had far greater ability to criticize his pastor’s thinking than the lay employees who had to worry about a pay raise and their job. So I can understand why a “pastor” might want to step back in time and eliminate the deaconate.

      On the contrary, what is needed in our parishes are more offices, whether they are ordained or not. In canon law people who hold offices such as pastors cannot so easily be removed.

      We need both change and stability in our parishes.

      I think the best model is to put in stability at the lower levels, e.g. deacons and other officers in the parish, while moving priests from parish to parish, essentially making them iterant ministers like the disciples, apostles, and prophets of the early church.

      Unfortunately today a new pastor can completely remake a parish by getting rid of almost everyone except the deacon(s). If we had more deacons, e.g. if many women pastoral associates became women deacons, it would be very difficult for the new pastor to control things, he would have to be a leader and persuade rather than a manager who simply says “yes” and “no.”

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #32:
        If men and women were officially installed as acolytes and by the bishop or as sub-deacons, the same scenario that you describe would present itself. However, there is nothing stopping a priest today from requesting from his bishop that a deacon no longer be assigned the parish, be “non-assigned” or transferred to another parish if the city happens to have multiple parishes. This is common in our diocese in some situations. So the suppressing once again of the permanent or vocational deacons has nothing to do with what you indicate. As an aside, every parish that I’ve been in since ordination has had deacons which I use to the hilt. My previous parish had five when I first got there. My current parish had three until one moved and I hope to have at least two to four men in our next deacon class.

      2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #32:
        Jack

        Well, there is the common misconception of the vertical chain of deacon up to priest up to bishop (a misconception borne of the stunting of the diaconate for so long in the West as merely a stepping stone to priesthood), as opposed to the triangle of deacon up to bishop and priest up to bishop, et cet.

        Of course, back in late Antiquity, deacons were administratively more “powerful” than priests. Anyone for archdeacons?

      3. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #36:

        Of course the archdeacons who administered the patronage system often became the next bishop!

        Much has changed both in the church and world since Camelot, if indeed it was a Camelot, all those laity headed for the deserts make one wonder.

        Today priests rather than bishops are the pastors. In some large parishes some deacons play a prominent role in organizing food banks and SVDP, and people much prefer that personal parish help to the large organizations.

        But the large organizations such as Catholic Charities which do all the heavy lifting are mostly government funded. The mental health board and United Way here both provide mental health funds for the poor served by Catholic Charities.

        However the persons with the most severe illnesses are in mental health agencies not related to any churches. There is where one has to go to serve the truly impoverished.

        When I was a voluntary pastoral staff member in the 1980s they wanted me to be a deacon and preach. Others had me apply for the many diocesan management positions that were opening. In answering the WWJD question it was clear that I should stick with the mental health system.

        It was a decision I do not regret. I was able to preach without words. When I placed an advertisement in the paper of a coordinator position including the words “a person who has experienced mental illness and could act as a role model for the mentally ill is highly desired,” I discovered I had announced to people with mental illness the equivalent of the “blind shall see.” This proclamation of the good news began without my knowledge.

        I think Vatican II was mainly about the laity and the world. If we are to update the personnel descriptions and programs of the parish it seems that it should be to serve those ends. The deaconate and lay ministry initiatives need to be tested by time against this criterion.

      4. @Jack Rakosky – comment #32:
        That is a very interesting point. We had a new pastor come in and wipe out the parish staff in a matter of six months. If these women had been deacons, it would have been an entirely different story!

      5. @Jack Rakosky – comment #32:
        Deacons seem to be moved with some regularity in the archdiocese in which I reside. Other dioceses may not but the local one here certainly does.

      6. @John Kohanski – comment #39:
        Deacons, like priests, are subject to assignment and reassignment by the bishop. Dioceses vary in their assignment policies for deacons. Ours (Chicago) has a policy of reassigning deacons every ten years, although numerous exceptions are made – an instance, I’d suggest, of the church trying to think more deeply about what it means to be a member of the clergy who is a spouse and parent.

      7. @Jim Pauwels – comment #41:
        True Jim–and one needs to bear in mind the secular life of the deacon. If he gets a new (secular) job, he may need to physically move and assignment at the parish where he serves may no longer be viable for him. Also, although one is ordained from a specific parish, the need may be greater at another for a deacon, and he (rightly) should be assigned there rather than his home parish.

        I could see women being somehow ordered for a diaconate of service but not necessarily one of liturgical service.

  12. Helfpul article from America Magazine by P. Zagano:

    http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2778

    Key – “…..asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the same question: Will the church return to the tradition of ordaining women deacons? He responded that it was “under study.” For how long?”

    Note – the Countcil of Trent discussed reinstituting the diaconate but left it to popes to determine when. Nothing happened for 4 centuries until Pius XII provided an opening and structure which John XXIII made happen via Vatican II. History indicates that we may be repeating that pattern in terms of re-establishing deaconesses. It is a question of *will power*; not theology, canon law, scripture, tradition, etc.

  13. This week’s letter from Anglicansonline offers some interesting observations on women as preachers. The writer mentions that s/he remembers the message better when women preach. Testosterone may even impede the work of the Holy Ghost.

    1. in response to Brian Duffy (#35): Thank you for this week’s letter. For greater context, I also suggest the editor’s previous letter on a woman preacher who has particularly changed his perspective.

      I must disagree that the Holy Spirit is “impeded” by the gender of the preacher. Do men and women preachers bring different sensibilities to the pulpit? This was certainly my experience when I worshiped with Anglicans. On occasion priests would speak of their struggle to gain respect as women and clergy in a Christian tradition where not a few clergy and laity still oppose the ordination and consecration of women to major orders. Has the Holy Spirit been instrumental in inspiring these priests to discuss their struggles within a Gospel context? I am convinced so. At the same time, I cannot believe that there is a different pentecostal inspiration based on gender. In my experience, both men and women have preached profoundly and differently on the same topic. I have greatly appreciated the sometimes divergent and sometimes resonant perspectives.

      Women deacons in the Roman tradition would provide a greatly needed diversity of homiletic perspective. Sadly, I suspect that not a few Catholics are not ready to listen to a woman elucidate the Gospel. And yet, the possible ordination of women to the diaconate is a pentecostal decision as much as a papal decision.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #37:

        I would honestly like to know: have you ever heard a strong sermon from a woman preacher on the subject of hell or the final judgment? And in what context? I have sometimes found myself sympathetic to arguments for married priesthood, but the advocates link it to a host of other changes they wish to make to our religion; and this puts me off again. I would like to believe otherwise.

      2. @Julius Penrose – comment #48:

        It’s important to establish distinctions with regard to homilies on hell or the final judgment. I have heard both men and women preach intelligently on the theology of the particular judgment, eschatology, and the passion. I have also heard verbal abuse from the pulpit. By “verbal abuse” I mean the use of damnation rhetoric (“fire and brimstone”) in order to intimidate or marginalize certain people. In the latter case, I stand up and leave as soon as I discern that the priest’s or minister’s intent is to destroy others’ integrity.

        I have never heard a woman give a “strong sermon” in the latter sense. Again, I will without reservation walk out on any preacher, regardless of gender, who demeans. In the former and much more positive case, I have been quite enlightened by women preaching on the mystery of Christian death. As I mentioned earlier, I do not think that the Holy Spirit moves men or women, clergy or lay, to speak according to their gender. There is no “gender essence” which preconditions a person’s preaching either before a liturgical assembly or in catechesis. I evaluate any preaching on its intrinsic quality and not on the biological characteristics of the preacher. To do otherwise strikes me as reductionist and also demeaning.

        Women and men do, however, experience life differently. This is also true for married men as opposed to celibate men. Certain issues where experience and moral theology very frequently intersect, such as contraception and sexual orientation, might become less abstract and more concrete if the criteria for ordination were broadened. While I am quite comfortable with ambiguity and even enjoy its contemplation, others take solace in moral dichotomy. I suspect that not a few Catholics resist even the talk of changes to Orders because changes would require that certain topics be brought into more personal consideration.

  14. The history of the restoration of the permanent diaconate, in my view, is one of the Holy Spirit at work in the church. It shares some parallels with the liturgical movement: rather than being directed from the exalted reaches of the Vatican, it bubbled upward from a number of independent, relatively grass-roots suggestions and initiatives that percolated a bit under the radar for decades; ultimately it was the Second Vatican Council that propelled it into the mainstream life of the church; and it was left to smaller units of the church (individual dioceses) to adapt the restored diaconate.

    I don’t know how well-known it is that World War II, and specifically the Dachau concentration camp, played a critical role in the renewal of the permanent diaconate. Priest and religious prisoners at Dachau were consolidated into the same cell block, and one of the prisoners, a German priest named Wilhelm Schamoni, published a book based on the notes he kept of some of the discussions that took place among the prisoners. The title of the book was “Married Men as Ordained Deacons”.

    Here is how Dr. (and Deacon) William Diteweg summarizes Schamoni’s reflections: “Grounding his work in a historical study of the ancient diaconate, Schamoni drew parallels to the postwar world, with the devastation of the war causing massive relocations of peoples, increased missionary activity, and the need for the traditional duties of deacons in administration, liturgy and sacrament. … he moved beyond the traditional functions of deacons to suggest that they could even counter “the fact that the clerical state has become a profession, a fact that has been allowed to become a cause for resentment, of estrangement from the church and of anti-clericalism …””

    I suppose the lessons for the woman at St. Nick’s that I would glean from this are: be patient; trust the Holy Spirit; and work with, rather than against, the church on this (as it seems she is already doing).

  15. Just a couple of relevant (I hope!) citations:

    “Some have suggested the establishment of a diaconate for women. Since such a diaconate existed once in the Eastern Church, no obstacle on the part of Church tradition precludes its establishment now. However, even in the early centuries, the empowerment of deaconesses was not on a par with that of deacons… Hence, this ecclesial office could hardly have been looked upon at that time as a recognition of women’s dignity. A similar problem would arise today. The feminine diaconate would, on the one hand, convey the impression that women may travel along the road that leads to the sacrament of holy orders, and on the other, it would emphasize even more forcefully the fact that the presbyterate lies beyond their reach.” (J. Galot, Theology of the Priesthood, Ignatius Press, 1986, pp. 263-64)

    “The female diaconate is thus tied to baptism of adults and to the strong separation between the worlds of male and female in the Orient. Since more liberal circumstances prevailed in the West, the office of deaconess could be dispensed with there. The appearance of deaconesses thus presupposes patriarchal conditions; their disappearance is not evidence of patriarchalism but more probably of its opposite.” (M. Hauke, Women in the Priesthood?, Ignatius Press, 1988, p. 441)

    I don’t think it can be denied that there are some interesting and contradictory dynamics involved in calls for the re-establishment of a female diaconate. (And I note no-one’s mentioned A.-G. Martimort’s Deaconesses: an historical study!)

    If/when it comes down to it, I think the Holy See is likely to put the kibosh on any suggestions made to it. And, certainly in the contemporary Western half of the Church, the call for deaconesses is ultimately a Trojan horse for that which the Church has already said She has no authority to do.

  16. I first posted this on the earlier blog post, but by mistake. So I guess that I’m now quoting myself, which is not in terribly good character 🙂

    Reply Quote

    First of all, not to be persnickety, but deacons can’t just run around witnessing marriages and baptizing on their own. They need delegation from the pastor to do so. Now if the deacon is assigned to the parish then obviously that delegation is going to be pretty regular, but it’s not like deacons or priests have the ability to run around dispensing sacraments willy-nilly.

    But this actually betrays a deeper problem. When the diaconate was restored as a permanent order in the Church it was done based mostly on historical research and theological reflection, but without much reference to contemporary Eastern practice. This is kind of a problem because Eastern deacons and Western deacons are very different animals. Western deacons function “on their own” quite a bit, even with permission: weddings, funerals, baptisms, Communion Services, benedictions, etc. Eastern deacons don’t. If you want to get a sense of how profound this problem is, while we (Westerners) view marriage as celebrated by the couple the Easterners do not. They view the nuptial blessing as the really essential bit. But deacons can’t dispense their own blessings in the Eastern Church. So what do you do if you have a good Irish Catholic bride whose father is a permanent deacon but who is marrying a Byzantine boy? You don’t have the father witness the marriage because then, by the groom’s accounting, they aren’t married.

    See, this looks easy; female deacons have been preserved in the East, at least in some quarters, so all we have to do is start ordaining them. But even with men this turns into a pretty screwy mess without too much effort. Of course Eastern and Western practice has always varied some, and each is entitled to their own tradition, but we have to be careful drawing theological conclusions too quickly either from discernible historical data alone on the…

  17. Vatican II was about empowerment of the laity, especially about empowerment of the laity in the world.

    There are many things both in the parish and in the world that laity could be doing that would develop their skills and talents in ways that would be very beneficial to themselves and others if opportunities for ordination should arise in the future.

    Two good examples:

    Little Rock Bible Study (which uses the Collegeville Scripture Study Series). This is an excellent model used in a wide variety of parish and community settings. Bible study is offered in many Protestant settings but people who have come from those settings appreciated the difference of this Catholic approach which is less centered on the personal skills of the Bible study leader.

    While the Little Rock approach sees the facilitators as being on the same level of the rest of the group, my research indicates that the project needs an overall leader with deeper biblical knowledge than is often available in our parishes. There are many Catholic Scripture study courses offered at colleges and seminaries locally, and across the country during the summer

    Divine Office (excellent internet resources especially DivineOffice.org). This is another good way to center people about the resources of the Church. I think of the Divine Office as Scripture formatted for prayer. We should use it more in families, small groups, and community groups. Again there are many courses in liturgy offered.

    Both examples offer opportunities that 1) build a solid foundation for ordained ministry and will be useful in the future, 2) are easily doable in both parish and community settings, 3) offer excellent ways of developing one’s own spirituality, and 4) provide a good way of getting feedback from people about one’s own talents and how to serve people best.

    We should be ordaining laity who have a solid track record of being able to use the resources of Catholicism in a wide variety of settings.

  18. I have been an Orthodox deacon for over nine years. The Orthodox Churches in America have many deacons. In the medieval era and afterwards, most Orthodox deacons were liturgical ornaments, men with sophisticated musical training who could fulfill the complicated requirements of the Byzantine hierarchical liturgy. Orthodoxy has largely retained this liturgically decorative role for deacons today (as have Catholics of the Byzantine Rite), though some parts of the Orthodox Church have attempted to retrieve a more robust pastoral role for deacons rooted in antiquity. This retrieval is connected to the liturgical movement, an increase in the frequency of communion in particular. My own opinion is that Orthodox deacons should exercise additional ministries to make a stronger connection between the liturgical theology expressed by the rites and actual pastoral ministry.

    There is no doubt that women were ordained to the diaconate in Byzantium, at the altar; I believe it is the eighth-century euchologion of Constantinople that contains the rite for the ordination of deaconesses, and Phyllis is correct in stating that the Church of Greece approved the ordination of women deacons for acute pastoral needs, particularly in remote regions. That said, it would be misleading to say that all Orthodox agree with the Church of Greece in ordaining women. In fact, the diocesan bishop of the OCA recently prohibited women from assisting in the distribution by holding the communion cloth. A robust and open discussion on diaconal ministry as a whole is needed in the Churches of East and West.

    One final comment. Speaking from some experience, diaconal ministry is not identical to liturgical presidency, neither ontologically nor functionally, though I know this is blessed in the Roman tradition under certain pastoral conditions. Perhaps it would be wise to distinguish the question on how women might serve as deacons from liturgical presidency so that deacons can be what and who they are called to be: deacons.

    1. @Nicholas Denysenko – comment #51:
      While not at all disagreeing with the tenor of your comments, I am somewhat uncomfortable with your reference to deacon musicians as ‘liturgically decorative’. Perhaps you did not intend a denigrance of music and its practitioners in the liturgy: you probably didn’t; but if there was the slightest tinge, I should want to stanch it. Certainly, music is of much greater inherent value to liturgy amongst our Eastern cousins than our own clergy, for, unlike in the west, a priest who can’t (or WON’T) sing is unheard of – as is any kind of liturgy that isn’t sung: it’s just culturally unthinkable. To me, your example of musicians as diaconal persons makes all the sense in the world, and, we should imitate it by ordaining qualified musicians to this order.

  19. Regarding preaching: women needn’t wait for holy orders to preach, and the church could work a lot harder than it does in many quarters to allow the voices of gifted women preachers to be heard.

  20. To #48, I recall one Episcopal female priest who could give some pretty old-timey hellfire-and-brimstone sermons. So there you go. I also have been given to understand that the first Episcopal women to be ordained were very staunch traditionalists in their liturgy and preaching.

    Though the male-only ordination rule is not about preaching ability, so that’s all really quite irrelevant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *