Cardinal Kasper Calls for Creation of New Office of “Deaconess”

Cardinal Walter Kasper suggested a new “diaconal” office for women at the recent spring assembly of the German bishops’ conference, German media are reporting. His proposal is for a “community deaconess” who would carry out pastoral, charitable, catechetic, and specific liturgical roles. This would be distinct from the office of male deacons, to be commissioned by a blessing rather than sacramental ordination. “I think when there is such an office that isn’t simply based on the classical office of deacon, we would have much more flexibility,” he said. The occasion was a study day at which the bishops discussed how to involve women more strongly in the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Kasper rejects women priests. “I think that nothing is to be changed that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood,” he said. This is “the unbroken tradition of the eastern and western Church.”

The “We Are Church” movement called once again for women priests. “We want female priests, bishops, and popes,” said Annegret Laakmann. She termed the bishops’ discussion “a sedative pill.”

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28 comments

  1. The bishops’ conference would do better to have study days in which they discuss what they’re going to do to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life, rather than this patronising window-dressing.

    Those who want the impossibility of women priests wouldn’t be happy with such an “office” (as perfectly illustrated by the quote from Wir sind Kirche); those who accept the Church’s teaching as expressed in Ordinatio sacerdotalis (amongst other places) wouldn’t be happy with what they see as a progressive trojan horse. Such a proposal would please no-one.

    How about we encourage the laity to take hold of their apostolate (cf. Christifideles Laici & Apostolicam actuositatem), and stop trying to clericalise them?

  2. Yes, I agree with Fran, Matthew and Todd that this is a badly directed initiative.

    I understand the arguments against ordaining women, though like Todd I think most of them are badly flawed.

    What I don’t understand, at all, is the logic for keeping women out of senior non-clerical roles in the Church and Church institutions. Yes, there are female university and hospital presidents. But in the Curia? Heads of dicasteries? “Cardinal” is not an ordained role, and there have been lay cardinals in the past, though I think a fairly recent papal document bans lay cardinals. Why not bring back a few lay cardinals and allow distinguished women to take such a role?

    In one of the interviews with Peter Seewald (I wish I could find it), Pope Benedict explains that the Church does not have the power to ordain women.

    He goes on to say that he would like to see women taking larger non-clerical roles, but that, sadly “only clerics can bind the Church” — I guess this means “enter into formal commitments on behalf of the Church”. Perhaps this is a reference to Matthew 18.18. He never explains the statement about “binding” though.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #4:
      “Cardinal” is not an ordained role, and there have been lay cardinals in the past, though I think a fairly recent papal document bans lay cardinals. Why not bring back a few lay cardinals and allow distinguished women to take such a role?

      Cardinal is not a role that requires the holder to be in major orders, but it has been a clerical role and “lay cardinal” is something of a misnomer, as they were, in fact, at least tonsured and, under the pre-1983 Canon Law, admitted to the clerical state.

  3. I disagree. There is a big need to institutionally protect the practice of women in ministry by taking seriously its ongoing nature and blessing to the church. Lay ecclesial ministry has gone on in the teeth of opposition for as long as it has existed. To establish a definite, sanctioned role for women in ministry will advance the cause of equality and justice for women in the church immeasurably.

    Bravo to Cardinal Kasper for not allowing the best to be the enemy of the good. To those who complain that women would behave just like men in that office, I say, then why keep them from it? Our structures have for too long protected only the men, with the possible exception of women religious, who also have had to struggle to be “allowed” to pursue their calling.

    1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #5:
      I agree with you when you put it that way, Rita. Currently I am very frustrated with the institution, so I am echoing Todd’s sentiments about the baptismal call to all. Frankly right now, I have had enough hierarchy.

      You are correct though, there are justice issues to be addressed. And the arguments against ordained women always seem flawed to me. And what really gets me in those arguments online is when someone brings up the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis matter. It feels like a lid on a pressure cooker to me.

      Yet, here I am, perhaps out of character for me, stating another position. Maybe it is just my mood today.

  4. “What I don’t understand, at all, is the logic for keeping women out of senior non-clerical roles in the Church and Church institutions.”

    To be fair there are & have been woman in leadership roles in the Holy See. Rosemary Goldie was the past undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity from 1966-76 and Benedict XVI himself promoted Flaminia Giovanelli to be undersecretary of the Pontifical Council of Justice & Peace. We also see Sister Enrica Rosanna as the undersecretary of the Congregation for Religious where Sr. Sharon Holland worked. Sr. Sara Butler should be noted in these discussions. along with Mary Ann Glendon. Sr. Sara Butler would be a good one to explain to interested parties on just why the Church’s position on holy orders is doctrinally sound.

  5. The Church’s position on women in ordained ministry is not a matter of doctrine, faith, or morals. It is administrative issue. Someone brought up the power of binding and loosing. Does the Church have this power, or is it enslaved to first century men?

    As for Rita’s disagreement with me, I can more easily respect that. The notion of “blessed” women deacons is a serious issue that deserves a serious and inteiigent discussion and discernment. I might be inclined to oppose Cardinal Kasper’s initiative today, but I’m also open to being persuaded, especially if women called to such a role were to weigh in.

    While I appreciate Daniel’s examples, we also have to concede that there have been men who have been unmitigated disasters. Finally, we don’t need it explained. The issue is far from settled. I’d be happy to engage a serious discussion on it. I wouldn’t mind doing some theological explaining myself.

  6. Rita: There is a big need to institutionally protect the practice of women in ministry by taking seriously its ongoing nature and blessing to the church.

    This certainly makes sense in terms of the long history of not recognizing publicly women religious.

    It began with people like Jerome, Chrysostom, etc who were eager to shut women religious up in their cubiculum (inner private room) of their family homes. They even discouraged them from attending the Divine Office in the churches.

    Then followed a Catch 22 mentality which said that women religious were really only women religious if they were cloistered. i.e. basically invisible to the world. There were constant attempts to make sure that they did not become canonesses, i.e. do offices in parish churches, or ministry to help people. Of course if the office of women deacons had developed they might have ended up doing both of these in the parishes.

    What happened through much of Church history was that bishops and male religious tried to push off the care of women religious on to each other. That meant that they often did not get much help and support from either.

    UNLESS, of course if they had been given money, in which case the women religious had to become very adept in playing off bishops, male religious superiors, royalty and aristocracy against each other in order to keep their independence and money.

    Once the Vatican finally granted status to women religious who did active things like teaching, then followed an attempt to make them do two jobs: a 9-5 full time active life surrounded with a full time contemplative life. That system was coming to its cracking point in the decades before Vatican II since the sisters were also going to summer school on their “20 year” degree programs. While Pius XII gets some credit for helping change things, the real motivation behind sister formation was the increasing state certification requirements. It was either let the nuns get education or pay the higher salaries of laity with degrees.

    So women in the church need basic human rights and job protections: a decent salary, job descriptions that acknowledge what they really do, etc.

  7. Todd Better to promote the baptismal call than another layer of church bureaucracy

    Again the history of religious provides us with an understanding and an answer.

    “Organizational Revival from Within: Explaining Revivalism and Reform in the Roman Catholic Church” By Roger Finke, and Patricia Wittberg Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion , 2001, 154-170 makes the case that reform and renewal within Catholicism has largely been the work of religious orders.

    Now, of course, when we look at modern men’s orders, those are largely priests. However for a large part of the history of the church even the male orders were composed of people who were not ordained.

    Moreover even in modern clerical religious orders such as the Jesuits, a founder such as Ignatius had all his basic insights when he was a lay person, and if you read O Malley’s First Jesuits they were very lay oriented.

    Bottom line: renewal and reform in Catholicism comes from the laity not the clergy!

    In fact women have played a large role, probably even larger than the men. Unfortunately women religious unlike male religious were much less supported and institutionalized by the clergy. The earlier history of their efforts is only slowly become unearthed. However the well documented history of women religious in last the couple of centuries shows how important they were, and how often they were not supported by bishops and priests.

    Historically this lay role was exercised through religious life largely for economic reasons. Poverty, chastity and obedience allowed a group of laity to become organized and effective.

    Today lay people have considerable resources (time, money and talent) so that we don’t have to become religious in order to effectively mobilize to reform and renew Catholicism. All we need to realize is that we should not wait for the clergy (pastor, bishop, pope) to do something, and if the Holy Spirit is with us the clergy will eventually come along too.

    When B16 become Pope, my first reaction was “not him” my second immediate reaction was “we (the laity) have won” since he won’t ordain married men or women. I am convinced that the exodus of vocations from the priesthood and religious life in the developed world is the work of the Holy Spirit. I think it is going to continue until laity reform and renew the Church from below by recognizing we don’t need the clergy or religious to do that.

  8. Todd Flowerday : The Church’s position on women in ordained ministry is not a matter of doctrine, faith, or morals. It is administrative issue.

    Todd, we have had this discussion before. Continually repeating the same unsupported assertion does not make it true – It merely suggests you know in reality it is false.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #12:
      What Todd states is not an unsupported assertion (what you say is). Experts such as Ladislas Orsy, SJ have written and in dialogue with Ratizinger have shown that JPII’s statment closing all discussion about ordination of women as *inventing* a new category in canon law:
      – dogma proclaimed ex cathedra
      – (new) definitive doctrines (e/g/ Ad Tuendam Fidem, Orsy lays out that if you take JP’s pronouncement and interpretation to its logical conclusion, then this MP has the same weight as an *infallible* dogma. Yet, they are not the same)
      – norms, laws, etc.

      Beyond the disputes around the *new* category, Orsy says about the MP:
      “Are two classes of Christians being created in the Roman Catholic Church, one with access to decision-making processes and the other excluded? Is this overshadowing the baptismal commitment? Is the distance between male clerics and the rest of the people of God increasing? Is the ancient adage: In necessaries, unity; in doubts, liberty; and in all, charity…still held in honor not only abstractly but in the concrete order?”
      Faith seeks understanding via questions. Fear of questions violates religious liberty; conscience; and communal faith.

    2. @Scott Smith – comment #12:
      Scott, ordaining women would not be immoral. What would be immoral would be taking initiative to subvert the current practice.

      Ordaining women is not a matter of faith. The particulars of who is ordained is irrelevant to the nature of God and human belief.

      Doctrine is what the Church teaches. At one point in time, all apostles were circumcized Jews. That changed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      I wouldn’t advocate the immediate attempt to ordain women. I have reservations that this step won’t be accomplished until Christendom has a greater degree of unity than it does. But there is nothing about the practice of forbidding women clergy that involves any teaching about God, or the orthopraxis of the faithful.

      The discussion seems far from dead. And others can skewer the present practice theologically far more effectively than I. That’s a problem, isn’t it?

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #15:
        Doctrine is what the Church teaches. At one point in time, all apostles were circumcized Jews. That changed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

        Is it clear that’s what the Church taught, that one had to be a circumcised Jew? I know this is tangential, I just think the example might not hold up to scrutiny…

  9. The long era of “lay cardinals” ended with the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which forbade them.

    Perhaps the Church needs to remember the example of Ambrose, who was ordained bishop without having previously been a priest.

    It is possible, though unlikely, that the cardinal electors in Rome could nominate as pope someone who was not a cardinal and perhaps not even a bishop…

  10. “I am convinced that the exodus of vocations from the priesthood and religious life in the developed world is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

    I think this is correct. The aim for any member of the faithful is the call to holiness. Ordination or religious life, by itself, contributes nothing that can’t be achieved by the cooperation with God’s grace in one’s immediate surroundings–any sourroundings, any age, any state of life, any history of sin.

  11. I think this is an awful idea and actually insulting to women … “deaconesses”? Has he never heard of the moral failure of “separate but equal”? He’s wrong, I believe, if he thinks this will somehow satisfy those who want women priests. But then I wouldn’t expect anything better from the guy who gave a speech to the C of E to doom women bishops … http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1644637/posts … (NT Wright set him straight).

  12. Bill @ 13. In my comment, I did not intended to make any assertion regarding the substance of the matter. I am carrying over an argument from a previous thread, about Todd’s odd view that the matter has nothing to do with “doctrine, faith, or morals”.

    Clearly, Todd could be wrong on this point, without making women’s ordination impossible (i.e. doctrine, faith, or morals could require women’s ordination). Sorry for the confusion!

    Todd @ 15. Your logical inconsistency proves my point. If “others can skewer the present practice theologically far more effectively than I”, clearly it has something to do with theology, and thus with doctrine and faith.

    If who we ordain has nothing to do with these things, why do we all care so much about it, or indeed ordain anyone at all?

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #18:
      Hi Scott,

      There are indeed theological reasons in favor of ordaining women. But in my view, the reasons against are not theological. This is not an inconsistency of mine, but rather those in the hierarchy who have, thus far, framed the debate.

      The most sound reason for not ordaining women is that it has never been done. And those who appeal to the metaphor of bride and bridegroom–not an unimportant one, I grant–have rather allowed that image to guide their practice, and not theology itself. It’s not that bride/groom/church/Christ is wrong. It’s that it doesn’t tell the whole story.

      As for your last question, we care because it touches on the institution, on women who perceive a call to lead, on supporters who have verified that call in other aspects of ministry, because there is a perceived shortage of workers, and because we still struggle with basic aspects of ordained ministry. We ordain to provide sacramental leaders for the local faith community, and to serve the greater Church.

      To be sure, at this point in time, I do not advocate for ordaining women. This is a grave matter which will need the broadest discernment of all Christendom. What I do say is that the Church’s official reasons, weak though they may be, are sufficient for me at this time.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #19:

        So you now agree that the question is a matter of “doctrine, faith, or morals”. Good – That is enough progress for one thread. Concession accepted.

  13. I think the name is wrong — Don’t make “deaconness.” What if a man wanted to do this sort of ministry, but not the clerical ministry of deacon or priest?
    I would prefer to see a recognition of lay ecclesial ministers, whether women or men.

  14. Read Acts. It seems pretty clear the first crisis in the Church was how to handle Gentile converts. And it is indeed true all apostles were Jews. That changed fairly significantly for First Century Christians, especially non-Gentiles. Can it happen again? Why not?

    Terri’s comment makes sense to me. No deaconesses, please. But a recognition of lay ecclesial ministry.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #22:
      I agree that it was the first crisis, and that the apostles were Jews, and all that.

      I’m asking whether you were implying that circumcision under the Mosaic law (as a necessity for membership in the Church) was a doctrine of the early Church when you said, “Doctrine is what the Church teaches. At one point in time, all apostles were circumcized Jews.”

  15. Jeffrey, I don’t think Jesus and the apostles had quite the same notion of doctrine as a function governed by the institution that we have today. I suppose if that is conceded, then it would not be “of the Lord,” and would be a matter discerned once in the past, and potentially not applicable in the future.

    Circumcision was less a doctrine perhaps than a practice. The status of women strikes me as similar. But again, others argue the point much better than I. That’s probably what some are afraid of and why a gag order was placed on the discussion.

  16. Jaye Procure : @Terri Miyamoto – comment #21: I think they already exist under the name of Pastoral Associates (or Pastoral Assistant). Male or female, they often act like deacons, right up to and including giving “homilies”…at least where I live.

    Where you live must be a very different place from where I live, and I live in a place that is thought to be rife with loose practices. How I wish we all had that opportunity.

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