German Catholic Bishop Opposes Women Deacons

Voderholz

From Germany, where theological discussions are carried out at a quite high level, another Catholic bishop has addressed the question of female deacons.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, appointed to the diocese of Regensburg as the successor to Gerhard Müller by Pope Benedict in 2012, holds that female deacons are not possible, katholisch.de reports. He recently said that the Church,

“in faithfulness to her biblical and early church origins, is not authorized”

to admit women to the three-level sacrament of Holy Orders (deacon, priest, bishop). Voderholzer stated that the question of female deacons has not yet been definitively clarified, as is the case with the impossibility of female priests.

Bishop Voderholzer expects no surprises from Pope Francis’s commission to examine the question of female deacons. He would remind us that the historically obscure office of deaconess does not correspond to today’s sacramental understanding of ordained ministry. (But that could be said of priesthood too, could it not?)

Earlier, speaking to an association of Catholic women, Bishop Fürst had called female deacons a “sign of the times.”

Bishop Voderholzer said that the women’s association would do better to speak out against “gender mainstreaming,” which he said calls into question the Christian doctrine of creation. He said that this would be,

“in my opinion (though it doesn’t conform to the zeitgeist), a sign of the times to which one should respond.”

Voderholzer counseled that we all wait to see what the pope’s commission decides.

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12 comments

  1. Regarding: “He would remind us that the historically obscure office of deaconess does not correspond to today’s sacramental understanding of ordained ministry.”
    – Perhaps the point is that the office of deaconess is part of the development of the offices of [male] ordained ministry.
    – That the sacrament of church is imbued with the Holy Spirit is cause enough then to ask if the constant resurgence of the question of deaconesses is not itself the Spirit requiring a correction, or an updating of the ordained ministry as sacrament?

  2. In his remarks about a female Diaconate, the Bishop has drawn attention to a more interesting matter, namely, the one about calling into question the Christian doctrine of creation in the light of gender mainstreaming.

    In an era where the fixity of things (such as male and female) is being questioned, I wonder whether this will be another opportunity for christian thinkers to engage with issues similar to those which preoccupied many in the nineteenth century when Darwin and evolutionary theory came along.

    God created all things and fixed them, the tradition had said. Evolutionary theory called that religious interpretation of nature into question. Now we are questioning whether gender is fixed or can be a matter of choice, or indeed natural ambiguity.

    If christians eventually reconciled themselves to seeing fluidity, development and change as a reality in past ages, will they be able to do the same reconciliation with these contemporary and future issues ?

    Or will we believers all have to be neo-creationists ?

    AG.

  3. “Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, appointed to the diocese of Regensburg as the successor to Gerhard Müller”

    … and is not Bishop Furst, the subject of the previous post in this series, the successor (or a successor) to Cardinal Kasper? But does succession really indicate anything about the successor’s leanings? In the US, I haven’t seen much that would lead me to believe that a predecessor has much influence in naming his successor.

    1. @Jim Pauwels:
      Hi Jim –

      Very good points, all. I thought the connection to Mueller would interest people, though you’re correct that successors do not necessarily have connections to or share positions with their successors. Having said that, I’ll add Kasper to the Fuerst post.

      Thanks,
      awr

  4. “Bishop Voderholzer expects no surprises from Pope Francis’s commission to examine the question of female deacons.”

    I’d think a good rule of thumb for this pontificate is, “Expect the unexpected”.

  5. While the mere fact of being a successor to a previous bishop does not of itself provide a basis for inferring shared theological positions, Cardinal Müller has spoken out, publicly stating that women cannot be ordained.

    Here is an interview stating his position from the year was selected as bishop of Regensburg and ordained a bishop: 2002. He has reiterated this position since being at the CDF. Here is the conclusion, the bottom line up-front, for which he argues:

    Q: Is it possible to separate the diaconate of women from the priesthood of women?

    Müller: No — because of the unity of the sacrament of orders, which has been underlined in the deliberations of the Theological Commission; it cannot be measured with a different yardstick. Then it would be a real discrimination of woman if she is considered as apt for the diaconate, but not for the presbyterate or episcopacy.

    https://zenit.org/articles/women-deacons-a-perspective-on-the-sacrament-of-orders/

    I don’t post this as an adherent of Cardinal Müller’s position. My personal view is quite open to the possibility, but it’s important to grasp the best positions from both sides of the issue.

  6. A crucial question in light of Gary Macy’s recent work, which builds on the work of Schillebeeckx, Congar and others, is what does it mean to be ordained? How has the Church’s understanding of ordination changed over time? Might a ressourcement be order?

    The truth is, the meaning of ordination has been quite equivocal over time. There is something deficient about seeing ordination as the conferral of supernatural power that can be universally exercised. The understanding of ordination exclusively in this sense did not begin until around the 12th century. Then there is the cursus honorum, a relic of the Roman empire the slow adoption of which represents a discontinuity from the early Church’s understanding of the offices that are understood to constitute the sacrament of orders, one that arguably blurred the distinctiveness of the different orders.

    When one considers the lengths to which the magisterium has gone to delineate diaconate from priesthood since restoring the diaconate as permanent order, one to which mostly married men are ordained, the ressourcement suggested above seems to be underway, albeit not in a radical manner. This bodes well for women deacons. The most recent of these efforts was Pope Benedict XVI’s motu, Omnium in mentem, promulgated in 2009. One of the changes to Canon 1009 was to clarify that, unlike priests and bishops, deacons never act in persona Christi captis.

  7. “Then it would be a real discrimination of woman if she is considered as apt for the diaconate, but not for the presbyterate or episcopacy.”

    In good male fashion Muller is simply protecting women from the horrible discrimination that would follow if they were allowed to become deacons. Better that they remain non-apt in all regards, as now, where there is no discrimination.

    1. In #8, jeff armbruster states,

      In good male fashion Muller is simply protecting women from the horrible discrimination that would follow if they were allowed to become deacons. Better that they remain non-apt in all regards, as now, where there is no discrimination.

      Jeff, I know from when I worshiped with Anglicans that women priests who have endured exclusion and humiliation for their gender have displayed a great resiliency. Were women permitted to become Catholic deacons, I suspect that you will be surprised at their tenacity and ability to minister despite the anger and prejudices of others.

  8. The so-called “unicity of orders” argument comes from a misunderstanding–misrepresentation, actually–of the cursus honorem. Because there were no seminaries, candidates for the episcopacy were chosen from among the deacons. Soon, as the preisthood developed, so too were candidates for priesthood chosen from among deaonns. As the diaconate died out as a permanent order, only those destined to become priests were ordained. Since women were not destined to become priests, they were ordained as deacons with increasing rarity in the West through at least the 12th century, and there are papal letters giving bishops permission to ordain them. What the church has done the church can do again. See the scholars represented in Women Deacons?: Essays with Answers (Lit Press, 2016): https://www.litpress.org/Products/E8337/Women-Deacons

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