Viewpoint: Advancing the Roles of Women in the Church

by M. Francis Mannion

The Church continues to be at a loss as to how to advance the roles of women in its administrative structures. While the Church does not see its way to the priestly and episcopal ordination of women, some responsible scholars have argued that there exist no doctrinal reasons impeding women from being ordained to the diaconate. Likewise, the question of appointing women to the College of Cardinals–since this does not require holy orders–has been raised intermittently since the Second Vatican Council.

Since the Council, women have become diocesan chancellors, and can do much of the work formally assigned to vicars general and moderators of the diocesan curia–offices currently tied to holy orders, but not necessarily so in the future, I would argue. Women canon lawyers can informally coordinate the canonical affairs of a diocese, including the marriage tribunal, where their gifts would be most profitably employed. Women now chair many of the advisory commissions of dioceses. They also hold positions of considerable importance in the agencies of national bishops’ conferences.

Some women already hold prominent positions in the offices of the Holy See. While there are presently canonical impediments (which could be changed, since they are man-made), the possibility of appointing women as prefects (heads) of some Roman congregations (departments) might be further explored.

Were a woman to be appointed prefect of the Congregation for Religious, that gesture would surely be taken by women religious as a powerful gesture of goodwill and could reduce considerable tension in a very troubled area. (Women religious are now ultimately under the leadership of men!).

Appointing women as presidents of the pontifical councils for the laity, the family, social communications, Christian unity, peace and justice, inter-religious dialogue, and culture–for which holy orders are not even now a prerequisite–seems highly desirable.

In the opinion of some, there exists no fundamental theological impediment to the appointment of women as papal nuncios and apostolic delegates within the Church’s diplomatic corps. Such roles need not be tied to ordination.

While the Holy See and bishops around the world would balk at the idea of having women play a central role in the appointment of  bishops, perhaps the Church could separate out the role of  apostolic nuncio (which deals in great part with the Vatican’s relations with governments) and assign it to lay persons, while the role of  apostolic delegate (which deals primarily with matters like the relationship of the Holy See to local Churches and the appointment of bishops), could remain attached to holy orders.

Could such new roles for women in the Church be institutionalized? I believe so, and history provides some useful precedents.

For instance, soon after the fourth century, canonesses constituted an order of exemplary women dedicated to the Church. They were not nuns or sisters in the modern sense, but laywomen who owned property, lived in their own houses, did not wear religious insignia (except at formal ecclesiastical events), did not profess vows–and could be married.

Such an office–restored and updated–could be for life, have a formal blessing by the bishop, involve ceremonial insignia and dress, and the holder given a place of honor in the liturgies and gatherings of the Church.

There is, I believe, nothing theologically radical or unorthodox in these proposals. They could be effected with profound respect for the Church’s hierarchical order and would involve no change in the fundamental doctrine of the Church. And they would go a long way toward showing that the Church is serious about advancing women’s roles–something to which Pope Francis has repeatedly committed himself.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.


  1. Thanks Msgr. Mannion for your excellent observations and insights into the future role of women in the church structure. For too long the canonical concept of jurisdiction has been an impenetrable fortress for clericalism. Some hierarchy even speak of jurisdiction as if it has the permanence and inviolability of a sacramental seal. As you point out, much of the canonical rules that exclude lay persons from significant leadership roles could be changed with a sign of a pen. I’m afraid that if significant changes are not made, and laity remain excluded because that’e the way it has been, good-willed people will continue to walk away.

  2. “impediments (which could be changed, since they are man-made)”

    I think all the impediments to all of the positions, including those of deacon and priest, are man-made. The most simple solution would be to treat women and men the same – all as people.

  3. This is very thought provoking, and I too thank Msgr. Mannion for what is written here.

    Some time ago I would have said, just ordain women. Some time after that I would have really been on the bandwagon for women deacons, as I struggled with my own vocational call. Today I am grateful for the freedom that I will likely never be ordained; that is a gift to me.

    Having said that, I think that a great deal of the problem of the role of women ends up in the “either/or” dichotomy, and so few ideas, such as these are ever discussed. Of course, this is the challenge of discussing any of it, but let me not derail myself with that point.

    What are the myriad ways we are called to be Church? Some things have changed before, and some things will change again. Must it be just a new iteration of what we already know? Or will something new be born in the dynamism of the Spirit?

    With all due respect to Crystal Watson and no doubt others, the reflexive notion, with all attendant good intention that we simply treat all the same, feels a bit like a trap to me. Having started my former corporate career in the very late 70’s, when women were first coming into power, I saw what that wrought – it was not always good. Now of course, that had to happen for new ways of being to emerge. And we see that it is not always a smooth new way in this era of “lean in” and that is attached to these “strategies.”

    This reminds me that whatever roles and hierarchies exist, it is the relationship to power that must be addressed. Ordaining women will bring us far in some ways, but that will not address the problem of power. Who we are in Christ is the source of the power, and in there we must find a just solution for the role of women in the Church.

  4. A very intriguing post, about real, structural possibilities right here and now (or at least: close to right here and now). Thank you.
    I had to smile just now when thinking about changes that would become necessary in the Vatican if larger numbers of women walked its halls (e.g., a vast increase in bathrooms for women, given that we use them more than men — which also points to the fact that “all are equal” does not cover all eventualities).

  5. Msgr. Mannion offers some excellent possibilities for first steps. There remains something of a problem in the larger/overall structure, however, with its lack of horizontal accountability. As I remind my parish musician pals all the time, there are only two people on earth who can tell your pastor what to do: the bishop and the pope. The lack of concrete, systemic, horizontal accountability showed itself (and continues to) in the handling of sex abuse cases. That doesn’t mean it is the only area in which matters of authority, responsibility, and accountability need to be addressed.

  6. All might not be equal in bathroom use, as Teresa notes, but all are equal in the eyes of God. The fact that the church doesn’t get this is beyond sad and says a lot about why the church has become so irrelevant to so many people.

  7. Coming from a diocese that had a religious sister as chancellor long before anyone would have imagined it could have happened, I am all for using the talents of laymen, both men and women, in positions such as those proposed by Monsignor. Taking clerics out from behind desks and sending them back to the altar, the pulpit, the confessional, the hospital, etc., back with the sheep, would be good for the Church, the world, and for them. However, doesn’t advocating a title (canoness), and honorifics along with the title, seem to be against the way that the Holy Father wants the Church to move? Even the title “monsignor” has been greatly curtailed, if I’m not mistaken. Careerist ambitions in the Church don’t necessarily reside only with the clergy. Let’s not tempt fate.

  8. About a decade ago at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association there was a symposium about the experience of women clergy from different denominations. They were not very happy. Although ordained they remained in many cases second class clergy. Beyond that many reported themselves very unhappy with clerical culture. As Francis has noted, clerical cultures are maintained not only by the clergy but also by the laity. So if we ordain women, it will just be a beginning, a lot more change will be needed.

    A good example of the complexities of gender and professional cultures comes from the corporate world. In recent decades many corporations have promoted more feminine styles of leadership, e.g. being listening and supportive. Male leaders who incorporate these styles into their repertory often get excellent evaluations and promotions. Women with the same feminine leadership skills get unnoticed. Women’s networks advise women, especially in dealing with male supervisors, to document in their goals and objectives all their plans and instances of being listening and supportive if they expect to get the same notice as their male colleagues when they exhibit those behaviors. On the other hand women who exhibit traditional male leadership styles of being critical and analytical are often faulted they are not listening and not supportive. So while officially the ideal is to have both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine leadership skills in the appropriate places, women find it much more difficult than men to get recognized for both skills. Their culturally feminine skills fail to get noticed, and their culturally masculine skills attract negative attention.

    Francis has given us two golden opportunities: first he has encouraged us to reform our clerical culture; second he has encouraged us to recognize the gifts of women. We should take these opportunities now, not wait for some future symposium of ordained Catholic women to report problems similar to the Protestant women clergy.

  9. All very good comments and my goodness I am surprised that Msgr Mannion has suggested these… has he caught the Francis fever 🙂 ?

    I am conflicted. Today I think that female deacons are not only possible but will happen in the not too distant future.
    Female priests? I once agreed but based on personal experience with the “culture” of female priests and power structures I am not so sure I support it at the present time.
    My brother in law was ordained at the Episcopal Cathedral in Philadelphia a few years ago. I was honored to participate by proclaiming a reading. The cathedral was newly remodeled and the nave is set up with the bishops chair at one end and an ambo, not a pulpit but an actual ambo, at the other end of the nave. Needless to say as a R. Catholic giving a reading staring directly down into the eyes of an episcopal bishop and wondering if he knew I was R. Catholic was a bit nerve wracking. However, I commanded everyone’s eye contact and made us proud!
    Anyhow, the female priests far outnumbered the male priests and it seemed that the two groups of priests were competing. It was clear the female priests “ran the show”. There was an Anglican “canon” who had been in charge of remodeling the cathedral and who was flying back to London immediately after the Eucharist. I heard him say to one of the other male priests that he was ever so pleased to get the heck out of here and away from these women!!!

    The lesson I learned was that the power culture can corrupt and it goes both ways. Some female priests were “self important” and some male priests who were in the minority were sadly resentful. The great Episcopal experiment wasn’t so great after all in this case. It seemed the motivation for having female priests was not to recognize their qualities but to share the power and wealth, didn’t feel Christlike at all, rather it was like payback time! It was PALPABLE and I was shocked! I cannot see it being that bad in the R.C. we’re not political with lots of feminism mixed in.
    I pray not anyhow!

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #10:
      Dale – wonder if this tension isn’t just part of the process…..change, as you well know, can be described as going through phases/steps. Some of these steps: resentment; fear; acting out behaviors; loss of control with the resultant pushback to hold on to power; etc.

      With Crystal – not sure there is any *gradual* or *informed* way of doing this. Folks react despite best intentions. But, isn’t it more important that we recognize the dignity of folks; their gifts, etc. and not relegate these by gender, etc.?

  10. The decision about whether women should be priests should not be about how well men and women share institutionalized power … that’s as irrelevant as it would be in deciding if men and women should both be cops or teachers or doctors. It’s about one thing …. the idea that priests are called in vocation by God. A lot of people think God calls women to be priests, including many male priests (William Barry SJ, Francis Clooney SJ, Robert Egan SJ, etc.).

  11. Oh I agree with you Crystal. In principal it shouldn’t be but reality is another matter. I find in the Episcopal tradition there is lots of knee Jerk “equality” themes ie female priests, female bishops, practicing gay bishops, whatever is in vogue and all in place not because they have discerned the need to include women based on sharing scriptural goals but rather to make or “force” a more equalized church sometimes, I think, at the expense of Christ. Regardless of how high browed I think that I and my church are above that sort of power struggle it could happen resulting is some very heavy handed responses from Rome, justified or not. Whether we like it or not we have to study this and deal with the power culture.
    Make no mistake we have a power culture now, it’s all mostly in the hands of the clergy that happens to be all male!

  12. Well sure, that’s human nature. In teaching, for example, there are still more male philosophy professors than female professors and there are still power struggles between them. But that would never cause universities to say “hey, we’d better only hire male professors.” The only way this stuff gets better is to face it. There are reasons why in civil society that’s not just thought a good idea, but it’s the law.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #13:
      Crystal, perhaps you were primarily addressing Dale, but I never suggested not to ordain women because of power alone. I do think that issues of hierarchy and power need to be addressed. Alan Hommerding addressed this in his comment above, more eloquently than I.

      To just go ahead and do it without regard to other institutional change would seem reckless to me.

      While I accept the teaching on this at the moment, although with some duress, I can’t help but see it in a larger light. There are many justice issues now, but I am not so sure that other ones won’t emerge. There will always be justice issues where humans are concerned.

      Whenever change comes, I always believe that it has to change for everyone in some fashion, lest one side feel victorious. My sense of equanimity, which may not always serve me well, points me this way, for good or ill.

  13. It’s very interesting to read all these suggestions and to muse about why NONE of them are being taken up.

    Sexism takes many forms. The fear of women, as well as competition with them. The desire to demean women as an exercise in ego, as well as obliviousness toward their gifts, their humanity, and their potential for contributing to the common good outside of the traditionally prescribed roles of wife and mother, religious sister, or church volunteer. The unwillingness to listen to what women have to say about their own experience, as well as male attempts to define and control that experience.

    Men and women need one another, and are grace for one another. Yet one of the aboriginal tendencies to sin is to think we have no need of one another. Need always includes the admission of weakness and incompleteness. By placing these attributes of weakness as “special to women” or seeking (as, let’s face it, some do) a “world without women” as a preferable world, closer to God, one flees from one’s very humanity. It’s a profound problem.

    I think the above suggestions in the post are rational. But what drives this situation is something irrational. Fear, distrust, flight from one’s self, ego, and an imagination that is captive of such sinful habits.

  14. Fran, yes, I was responding to Dale on the power issue.

    Rita, I do think the idea of giving women jobs in the curia is a good idea. I just meant that women being priests is another issue and it won’t be resolved by giving women curia jobs, anymore than telling a man who wants to be a priest that he can instead have a curia job would satisfy him.

  15. The suggestion that a possible practice in a small portion of the Church in the 4th century (“Canonesses”) be brought forth the the 21st century is absurd. There is no doctrinal reason women cannot be returned to their rightful place as ordained deacons, who can be married or celibate, religious or secular. To establish a second-class “rank” for women is to underscore the widespread psychosexual dysfunction of the clergy who oppose ordained women (I heard once, in a seminary classroom, that ordaining a woman was like ordaining a lamp post or a cat.) Pope Paul VI asked the question in 1972 and the response was in the affirmative: women have been and can again be ordained as deacons. See

    1. @Phyllis Zagano – comment #21:
      Phyllis, the practice was not as small as you suggest. Beguines fit the description of this role. Today’s apostolic women religious also. There are even those of us committed to a religious life of service in the world and in the Church–we don’t need ordination to follow our highest calling. And wouldn’t necessarily welcome it.

      But I do agree with the rest of your comment here. It is a sad and curious blend of misogyny and prejudice that interprets any advance for women as that foot in the door, and we’ll never be able to close it again.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #33:
        But Beguines were not cannonesses, though, Todd, nor are women religious today cannonesses.

        I would welcome a source that clarifies what Msgr. Mannion means.

      2. @Bill deHaas – comment #37:

        Both of these references discuss ordination, deacons, abbesses, but not cannonesses, which was what I was asking for.

        I know Gary Macy and am familiar with his work. For those who haven’t read him, these references are useful and excellent.

        But I still am lacking a source for cannonesses as FM has proposed them. Wikipedia treats cannonesses under the canons regular (Augustinians) but these members of Augustinian women’s communities are not what FM means, I am pretty sure.

      3. @Rita Ferrone – comment #35:
        Sure. But there are no canonesses today. And like you, I’m not sure what the history of this practice was.

        I think Jack has nailed the issue central to me: how to engage the baptized and enliven the basic state of Christianity for discipleship and service. I made a personal commitment to Christ decades ago. I don’t need or want ordination as a deacon, nor selection as a canon, nor certification as a lay minister.

        The issue of women is tied up in the issue of the role of the baptized. And one thing that prevents us from looking openly and fearlessly is the institutional fear and hatred of women. Not everyone, to be sure. But a living addiction in the heart of the Body.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #40:
        Todd – agree with this slant – currently, almost all leadership is defined or limited to male/ordination.
        VII moved to put baptism at the center (and to begin to refocus on ordination as service – not necessarily leadership (male only)) We haven’t started that journey yet. Can remember some theologian (Congar?) who refused to use the terms *laity* and *ordained* – rather, we are all *baptized* and then we speak of roles, ministries, including ordained.

        That is also a way to move forward without focusing on gender.

      5. @Todd Flowerday – comment #33:
        Sorry, you are incorrect. Beguines lived alone or in groups. They were not “canonesses”–they had no formal attachment to the diocese.

      6. @Phyllis Zagano – comment #70:
        Thanks, Phyllis. I am somewhat familiar with the Beguines. But there are similarities given your listing of how canonesses served–those women I am not familiar with. Beguines could marry, and largely served the poor in populated areas. I’m not sure that high to late-medieval Catholics had the same sense of diocesan structure and hierarchy as we do today. Would they have said they served with or under or for a bishop? Perhaps if the bishop were sympathetic to their charism.

        The point being that women have served off the official radar in many ways and in similar forms through the centuries. And men have tried to stamp it out. Sexism and misogyny live, unfortunately, yet today. The lament has a hauntingly familiar tone no matter what age we listen to.

  16. I don’t see why women couldn’t also be cardinals, as well as deacons. They don’t have to be bishops — Cardinal Newman successfully petitioned to remain a priest, and even after 1983 canon law decreed that a priest, once made a cardinal, had to be ordained a bishop, Cardinal Dulles was excused from this. There were once cardinals who were deacons, or even only in minor orders. And why not some women on the Pope’s council of advisors?

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #22:

      You oversimplify the matter severely. Women as cardinals (even if not ordained) leads to some far-reaching theological and canonical issues.

      1) Bl. John XXIII ordered the change so that all cardinals would be bishops in order to underscore the connection of the College of Bishops (an institution of Divine origin) to the College of Cardinals (an institution of ecclesiastical origin). To my knowledge, no Cardinal under 80 has successfully made the petition to be dispensed from Episcopal Consecration since his time. (Worth noting, even the great Cardinal Ottaviani was more than content to remain a priest until this was mandated.)

      Creating women as cardinals would severely undermine this connection between the College of Bishops and the College of Cardinals one would propose they, contrary to Divine Law, also be made bishops.

      2) All of those cardinals you refer to that were “even only in minor orders” (i.e. “lay cardinals”) were still clerics. Currently, the clerical state begins only at ordination to the Diaconate. Even if one were to say “well then just ordain them as Deacons”, it would very quickly bring us back to all the other problems above. If one were to say “well then just change when/how the clerical state begins”, it would bring about all sorts of other questions and issues when Canon Law speaks of “clerics”. And if neither of those, then there would need to be some discussion about what it means to have a cardinal that is truly a layperson (male or female).

      This is not to say a female cardinal is utterly *impossible*, but it brings far more difficulties than most of its proponents readily admit.

      1. @Matthew Morelli – comment #26:
        Why does there have to be a close connection between the college of bishops and the college of cardinals?

        Wagons in a circle?

        Seriously, wouldn’t it introduce some salutary checks and balances if there were some other people in the mix?

      2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #27:

        Why does there have to be a close connection between the college of bishops and the college of cardinals?

        Bl. John XXIII, in his motu proprio Cum gravissima explained that it is because of the gravity of the tasks taken on by the Cardinals.

        My point to Jonathan was not that it’s impossible — but rather that these issues must be addressed by those who want to propose such a novelty as female cardinals — especially since the emphasis at Vatican II of the role of the College of Bishops in the Church and the episcopal dignity of individual bishops. They can’t be dismissed by a simple wave of the hand or some weak utilitarian or pragmatic arguments.

        You want the novelty, so you make the case:
        Why shouldn’t there be a close connection between the College of Cardinals (an institution of ecclesiastical origin that takes on numerous grave tasks, not the least choosing the new Pope) and the College of Bishops (an institution of Divine origin, which is intimately connected to the College of Apostles)?

      3. @Matthew Morelli – comment #28:
        I’ve never felt the idea of women Cardinals would solve a lot of problems or contribute mightily to the health of the Church, I’ll be honest. A job to be locked up for a few days every time a pope dies (not a frequent event) and cast ballots? Seems like there is an awful lot to do the rest of the time, for which women are able and willing, and prevented from doing.

        That said, it seems to me fairly easy to argue for it. The order of the baptized was divinely authorized by our Lord himself. Unlike the college of bishops, which is only authorized by analogy with the Twelve, the baptized as a body are very explicitly charged and gifted in Sacred Scripture with the mandate to keep together as One as Jesus is united to his Father. They therefore have a close relationship to the Pope, whose task of “confirming the brethren” is one of uniting. The baptized also have been enjoined by Popes since the Council to see their calling as a work of paramount importance, namely, the spread of the gospel throughout the world. They are thus uniquely suited to judging the needs of evangelization of the world, which the selection of a Pope ought to serve.

        The close connection to the College of Bishops will not thereby be lost. It can be easily maintained by having 2/3 of the College of Cardinals drawn from the College of Bishops.

        How’s that?

      4. @Rita Ferrone – comment #34:

        How’s that?

        I’m not really convinced — particularly because your explanation (Laity having close relationship to the Pope) completely disregards the notion of the fact of the laity being connected first and foremost to their own diocesan bishop, who is in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter.

        Add to the fact that the Cardinals, by their very name and origin, were and are the “hinge” clergy of Rome (with the name coming from the Latin cardo, meaning “hinge”), it seems the laity (male or female) have no business being counted among their numbers.

        That all said…

        Though that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for some sort of advisory body of the laity to assist the Pope in light of their baptismal call and judge the needs of evangelization in the world — and I think that gets closer to the “checks and balances” idea that you spoke of, too (though neither the Cardinals nor any other body would have the power to ‘overrule’ the Pope). The College of Cardinals in past ages was referred to as the Pope’s “Senate” (a term absent from any current law in force) — but it would seem appropriate to have a body of laity to advise that would be like the council of the plebiscite in ancient Roman times (or in more modern terms, a “House of Commons” to go along with the “House of Lords”). Imperfect analogy, of course, but it begins to give us a direction (and one that would find wider appeal than the Pope creating a layman or laywoman as a Cradinal).

        I think the points of of Msgr. Mannion’s article that are truly valuable are the places where he notes the curial offices that currently exist where laywomen could serve.

        When we start speaking of changing offices that are very closely tied to Holy Orders (Cardinals, Prefects of Congregations, Apostolic Nuncio) we start treading into territory where any benefits to be gained will be undermined by the infighting that will inevitably ensue.

      5. @Matthew Morelli – comment #39:
        I like your idea of an advisory body or a senate. We need some structures, not just vague protestations of good will.

        At the same time, I find the injection of the term “diabolical” into the discussion @ #41 (clearly to describe the advocates of women’s ordination and not those who oppose women’s ordination) inflammatory and unhelpful. It’s not unreasonable to discuss what we think will happen in this or that situation, or to predict this or that outcome of some change in sacramental polity. But once one resorts to naming one’s interlocutors as advance guard for the Prince of Darkness, you are pretty much entering into polemic.

      6. @Rita Ferrone – comment #51:

        I said the concept was diabolical, particularly for the reason that it will inevitably bring doctrinal confusion and ecclesiastical infighting — both of which are diabolical as well. I would rather not direct such an adjective at individual persons (though if one takes personal offense to it, he or she should perhaps reflect on WHY that offense is taken).

        But part of what makes it diabolical is that it also becomes all-consuming in a discussion about the role of women in the Church, and stifles what could be legitimate and fruitful discussion about the role of women in other structures and functions.

        An example of such stifling can be seen in Dr. Zagano’s comment #21, rejecting another ordo (in this case canonesses) as a “second-class ‘rank'”, when in her mind, only ordination* seems acceptable. I think we would do better to promote situations where lay women (and lay men) can be given roles that they are qualified for, are capable of receiving, and that further the Church and her mission. While I don’t agree with every one that Msgr. Mannion suggests, I think he is moving in the right direction.

        *and in this case, it seems she speaks of ordination equivalent to the current practice of Diaconal ordination (the very kind that has been excluded as a possibility by Abp. Muller and the ITC, among others) — if she is speaking about ‘ordination’ in some other, equivocal sense, then she should clarify that.

      7. @Matthew Morelli – comment #55:
        As I said, inflammatory and unhelpful.

        By these measures, any discussion that is not resolved in a short time, and about which people hold passionate opposing views, is diabolical.

        Phyllis can speak for herself, but I find her views no more emphatic than any academic when speaking about a subject within their own discipline and research area. You may feel that certain proposals are worthy, but if within the context of her research and writing she sees fit to dismiss them, I would listen to her very seriously… and remain free to form my own opinion.

        It’s hardly diabolical.

      8. @Rita Ferrone – comment #57:

        By these measures, any discussion that is not resolved in a short time, and about which people hold passionate opposing views, is diabolical.

        Not at all. There are many issues that can be discussed and disagreed upon passionately that the Church is relatively neutral about that would not fit that category (many of the liturgical matters discussed here provide a host of examples).

        The reason this issue becomes problematic is that it reaches to the consititutive nature of a Sacrament, and whose acceptance could lead to widespread questioning of whether a pope who were to declare that women could become deacons (in the current understanding) would automatically lose his office — a crisis of Sacrament and a crisis of Ecclesiology.

        Though you might find it ‘inflammatory and unhelpful’, I stand by my comment.

        That said, pursuing the matter further is unhelpful to all involved, so I will refrain from posting on this thread again.

      9. @Matthew Morelli – comment #55:
        Mr. Morelli – another article and further clarification even of your ITC remark:

        – “….Joseph L. Imesh, bishop of Joliet, who went so far as to deny any historical record of the “laying on of hands” for women deacons.

        Scholarship has corrected Imesh’s mistaken view of history. Many academics agree that Pope Paul VI asked the International Theological Commission for a study of the diaconate in the early 1970s. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the ITC got around to publishing anything on the subject. The document has a strange history, one that’s been shrouded in mystery since Paul VI first issued his request.

        While ITC member Cipriano Vagaggini published research on the diaconate in an Italian journal in 1974, the ITC didn’t produce its own work on that subject until about 1997. Along with Vagaggini, that ITC document affirmed what Bishop Imesh had denied years earlier: history supports the argument that women could be sacramentally ordained. Yet while news reports appeared about the document, it was never published by the Vatican. Rumors abound that it had even been assigned a Vatican document number when publication was stopped.”
        – “…..that “deaconesses” are not deacons—flows from a selective analysis of some historical sources that seeks to demonstrate a minor nonsacramental order for women that would not include women in the major order of deacon today, a concept undermined by later (and even by earlier) scholarship”
        – “The final conclusion—that the church’s “ministry of discernment” should be applied to the matter—can be read as both pastoral and doctrinal judgment: bishops and the faithful should consider the question of women in the diaconate, as does Cardinal George and at least a few other cardinals before him, including O’Connor, Basil Hume, and Carlo Maria Martini. While the 2002 document did not rule out the question, it…

      10. @Matthew Morelli – comment #56:
        Gosh, I am amazed at the lack of understanding of the history of women in the church. Women were–and can again–be ordained as deacons. Ordination to the diaconate does not imply eligibility to be ordained as priest. Cardinal Muller and others tend to argue that women cannot image Jesus, which is true. But the sign and symbol of the sacrament is Christ, and all persons can image Christ. This notwithstanding, the constant tradition of the Church regarding a male-only priesthood can hold. Please read scholarship, not blogs.

      11. @Phyllis Zagano – comment #71:


        The scholarship as it currently stands does not in fact require your conclusions, and many scholars do in fact take a contrary view.

        Can we please not pretend otherwise?

      12. @Scott Smith – comment #74:
        Scott – the same useless comment could be directed to you…at least, Phyllis is basing her positions on actual historical facts; not what some choose to ignore, demean, or push to some imaginary sidetrack.
        Found your comment to be disingenous – can you please not pretend otherwise!

      13. @Bill deHaas – comment #77:

        Phyllis has a considered opinion, which I was not and am not dismissing.

        However, I felt she was presenting her (scholarly) opinion as fact (or at least as a scholarly consensus view), which it is not.

        I believe her comment was therefore misleading, and I wanted to correct it.

        Nothing disingenuous about that, though on reflection it is getting pretty far off topic, so I will drop it.

      14. @Scott Smith – comment #78:
        Thanks, Scott….guess any interpretation can be characterized as opinion – (whether scholarly or not). But, we have a system in place (historical analysis based upon documentation and historical facts upon which an interpetation is formed and then vetted by peer review). For what it is worth – Ms. Zagano’s works meet the above system and process thoroughly. Can’t say as much for folks such as the ITC – they weigh in on others work without necessarily doing the research and scholarly analysis that is necessary and their final conclusions are closer to someone commanding on high rather than any type of peer review. In fact, ITC’s conclusion has been peer reviewed by various national theology groups and they find the ITC conclusions to be wanting. Given subsequent comments by Benedict as a theologian, IMO even he realizes that the ITC conclusion is not the final word.

      15. @Bill deHaas – comment #82:

        I will grant opinion might not be the right word – Scholarly interpretation may well be better. Thank you for the fraternal correction!

        That is, I accept that Ms. Zagano’s views have reached peer reviewed standards, and therefore are able to form part of the scholarly discourse.

        However that means rather less many people might think.

        For example, the Jesus mythicist Dr Richard Carrier is about to publish a peer reviewed book which indicates (very much against the scholarly consensus) that the probability that a real historical Jesus ever existed is something like 1/13,000.

        Scholarly consensus (to the extent it exists) is a much better guide for people who are not specialists (such as myself).

  17. Does anyone want to take a bet about how long it would take, in the event Rome accepted female deacons/ deaconess, before a large number of people, who currently reject or downplay the principle, started talking about the unity of holy orders?

    My money would be on it being a very short time indeed.

    1. @Scott Smith – comment #23:

      Does anyone want to take a bet about how long it would take, in the event Rome accepted female deacons/ deaconess, before a large number of people, who currently reject or downplay the principle, started talking about the unity of holy orders?

      My money would be on it being a very short time indeed.


      But here lies one of the problems — women as sacerdos (either as presbyter or bishop) has been definitively (and some argue infallibly) rejected, and no small number of canonists and faithful Catholics hold that a Pope who attempts to declare that women can be ordained to the sacerdotal orders falls into heresy and ipso facto loses his office, rendering the declaration invalid and the See vacant.

      For those who hold the unity of holy orders to be true, an argument that logically follows from that is that the Pope who attempts to declare that women can be ordained to any order (since the diaconal and sacerdotal orders are united in one Sacrament) likewise would lose his office.

      Regardless of the end result concerning either women as deacons or the unity of holy orders, one of the fruits of such a decision is likely to be widespread confusion and schism, not unlike what we saw during the Great Western Schism. It makes the issue of women’s ordination something that can rightly be called “diabolical” — following the very one whose nature is to divide God’s people.

      1. @Matthew Morelli – comment #41:
        You say: But here lies one of the problems — women as sacerdos (either as presbyter or bishop) has been definitively (and some argue infallibly) rejected, and no small number of canonists and faithful Catholics hold that a Pope who attempts to declare that women can be ordained to the sacerdotal orders falls into heresy and ipso facto loses his office, rendering the declaration invalid and the See vacant.

        Sorry – going back to Paul VI and the Papal Bible Commission, most theologians, etc. this JPII/Ratzinger take can easily be overcome – it was an opinion, with the least level of authority by a pope.

        Really – the Great Schism – your opinon and this statement says more about you than any reasonable position, etc. Yep, govern by fear, threats, or by proclaiming authority and the question is closed. Now, what would have happend at the Jeruslem Council if they had decided that gentiles could not be christians without first being Jews.

      2. @Bill deHaas – comment #45:

        Sorry – going back to Paul VI and the Papal Bible Commission, most theologians, etc. this JPII/Ratzinger take can easily be overcome – it was an opinion, with the least level of authority by a pope.

        The “JPII/Ratzinger take” is supported by the longstanding Tradition, and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church — I will trust them any day over the confused scholars and theologians of today. Also, how can you claim that the opinion of the PBC has “the least (sic) level of authority by a pope” when you seem to be rejecting the actual authoritative statement of a pope.

        Really – the Great Schism – your opinon and this statement says more about you than any reasonable position, etc. Yep, govern by fear, threats, or by proclaiming authority and the question is closed. Now, what would have happend at the Jeruslem Council if they had decided that gentiles could not be christians without first being Jews.

        An ad hominem attack and a contrary-to-fact hypothetical? Surely, Bill, you can do better than that…

      3. @Matthew Morelli – comment #46:


        These last few posts underscore a particular wisdom demonstrated by Msgr. Mannion — he wisely avoided the issue of women’s ordination altogether — a move that would be well-taken by any who truly wish to “advance the roles of women in the Church.” Since WO is such a lightning-rod topic (both for those who support and those who oppose it), it undermines other ways in which the gifts of women could be used, and turns off those who might otherwise be open to women in some (but not all) higher roles in the Church.

      4. @Matthew Morelli – comment #46:
        Talk about lack of historical knowledge and an ad hominem against any theologian who dared think something contrary to your opinion.

        Read above – #37. There is much historical evidence and also evidence that the church after the year 1000 took a turn and suppressed its own tradition.

        You obviously know little about the role of ordained women in various roles in the church in its first ten centuries. Talk about sweeping generalizations; ignoring actual documentation, historical data and facts.

        As you say, you can do better than that.

      5. @Bill deHaas – comment #52:

        Read above – #37. There is much historical evidence and also evidence that the church after the year 1000 took a turn and suppressed its own tradition.

        Linking me to a Google Book that is not present in its entirety is hardly helpful. The part that is available demonstrates a historicity that is uncertain at best — especially in terms of what “ordination” meant for the “ordained” deaconesses and virgins.

        Also, in my comment #50 (which the moderation queue has at the moment) I mentioned that the ITC (who is far more qualified than I am on the matter) has also looked at those ancient resources and rejected this order of “ordained” deaconesses as being equivalent to the ordained Diaconate.

        P.S. The fervorino, while worthy of note and respect, seems unlikely to be part of the Ordinary Magisterium — if it were, it would be recorded and conveyed in full to the Church, and not given in summary and excerpt as it actually is.

      6. @Matthew Morelli – comment #54:
        Here you go:

        Even restricting the discussion to the ITC (really? sorry, the church develops well outside of any narrow ITC group)

        Key Points:

        – Building Fences to Keep Out Women?

        The following timeline presented by Gary Macy13 shows a curious sequence of events.

        In 1992, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was released in French, with several notes about deacons.
        Cardinal Ratzinger assigned the topic of the diaconate to the International Theological Commission (ITC) as part of its 1992 to 1997 agenda.
        In 1994, John Paul II promulgated Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on restricting presbyteral ordination to men alone. He wrote: “At the present time in some places it is still considered open to debate … I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”14
        In 1995 a dubium (a doctrinal question) was submitted to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asking if Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is to be held definitively, since the word “infallible” was not used. Ratzinger responded, “It has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Lumen gentium, 25).15 Theologians are still arguing about this particular use of the word “infallible,” which stretched the infallibility claim beyond any previous applications. And the Vatican is increasingly censoring and silencing theologians who pursue the tradition of Catholic intellectual inquiry.
        In 1995 a plenarium was held in Rome to review drafts of the documents on the diaconate. Reportedly the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons was raised but not resolved, presumably because the International Theological Commission (ITC) had yet to finish its work on the diaconate. The ITC ended up getting a five-year extension to explore this question.
        In 1997, the pope promulgated the Latin edition typical of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which included over one hundred significant changes to the text. One directly affected the diaconate. The French version says that all the ordained—bishops, deacons and priests—receive from Christ “the mission and faculty (sacred power) to act in the person of Christ the Head.” But the subsequent Latin version introduces a distinction, saying instead: “For Him [Christ] bishops and priests receive the mission and faculty (sacred power) to act in the person of Christ the Head, while deacons receive the strength to serve the people of God through the ministry of Worship, Word and Charity in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate.”
        In 2002, the ITC completed its 10-year study of the diaconate and presented its report to Cardinal Ratzinger, who authorized its publication.
        In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI released motu proprio (that is, a document issued by the Pope on his own initiative) the apostolic letter Omnium in mentem, “On several amendments to the Code of Canon Law.” One of these amendments contained a clarification on the canonical standing of the deacon.
        In 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith promulgated “Norms on Graviora Delicta,” noting among them that “attempted ordination of women is included as a more serious delict.”16

        Leaving us with:

        is Benedict XVI’s intention to open the door for women deacons, but never for married or female priests? He does draw a clear boundary, returning to the ancient church’s distinction between clergy, bishops, and deacons.

        This appears to throw your assumptions into dispute – it is a helpful clarification especially in terms of how the church develops its understanding of questions vs. your appeal to authority, creeping infallibility, papal centralization, rule by curia.

  18. Crystal, the point I was trying to make earlier was that if we ordain women to the priesthood, and I see no reason why it cannot be done, we need to first prepare the way so to speak and do it in such a way that we have mechanisms in place to solve any issues that may arise. And we have to do it for the right reasons, to bring the strength and wisdom that women possess and not to somehow eradicate sexism. On the surface, what I experienced at the Episcopal Cathedral revealed that ordaining females was not well thought out. Rather than preparing the way, it was voted on, legislated and voila we now have women priests, legislated for equality and not because of the tremendous strength and wisdom that women bring. It was like when a political party wins, we won now the other party pays dearly. Maybe that’s the “Episcopal way” and God bless them but it certainly was foreign to me.
    Regardless, the power issue ALWAYS goes both ways. Indeed it doesn’t take much imagination to see some male Catholic priests “lording” over female priests and Catholics switching lines at communion to go to the “real” priest, ie male (heck they do that now to avoid lay ministers) and to avoid Masses presided by females and so forth. And there is the possibility of treating female priests gratuitously. I attended the Episcopal Church in Connecticut where my brother in law serves, there are 5 male priests and one female priest. (I specifically wanted to attend when she presided and it was something to see a female in a chasuble, and my 3 kids ate it up!). However, in that male priest dominated church guess how often she presides? Not as much as the male priests. There is even some resistance among the older parishoners to “take her seriously” which is an absolutely terrible issue. Guess what? I was told she is quiet and unassuming in order to not create waves! And I might sadly add that I can see this happening at some Catholic churches too. The issue of “power” needs to be studied and in my opinion “neutralized” before we proceed with ordaining females to the priesthood. Otherwise we will have a mess on our hands, not because female priests are wrong, but because we are treading in new territory, territory that will not be easily shared in our “male only” clerical culture.

  19. Dale,

    Yes, I think I understood. But preparing the way won’t really work … no matter how much preparation, it will be something of a mess and some people will be unhappy. But in the long run things will work out. There are women pastors/priests in many denominations – Methodists, for example, and UCC, and they seem to have survived.

    I think your experience at the US Episcopal Church might have been an exception. I’m not an expert on the Episcopal Church but I visit the Episcopal Cafe and (female priest) Susan Russell’s blog and I don’t get the sense that having women priests has been a disaster … their presiding bishop is a women! 🙂 Women priests were not really forced upon them – those elected to the house of bishops and the house of deputies (which includes lay representatives) vote on issues like this at the general conventions. In contrast, the Church of England has tried to “prepare the way” on women bishops and they have had nothing but trouble trying to make conservatives happy.

    Susan Russell’s blog …

    1. @crystal watson – comment #29:
      Good points Crystal, but there is a wide range of history to consider. I’m not sure that some of what Dale says is so easily attended to.

      That is not to say that all the potential messes have to be cleaned up first, but there are many considerations.

      Which is why I remain convinced that whatever the way forward is, it is not a replication of what we have alone. What is God asking of us? That is the question I pray with all the time.

      And to Rita’s comment, sexism is alive and well and a huge problem. Some of the best priests I’ve ever known were often so sexist and misogynistic, without ever knowing that they were. That’s leads to charitable correction, also easier said than done.

      As for Susan Russell, she is an amazing woman. I had the good fortune to spend an hour with her in late 2012. I appreciated her strong affirmation of my own Roman Catholic faith, along with the most powerful blessing that I think that I have ever received.. While she is a strong presence in the TEC, it is not a universal given that women in TEC are fully accepted. The Episcopal diocese here in Albany ordains women, but is very theologically conservative otherwise. There is no one size fits all.

      As for when the ordinations began in TEC, there were many challenges from what I understand. Again, that is to be accepted. My entry into faith blogging was in the midst of many Episcopalians, Susan Russell among them; it is from there that I learned so much, and they remain treasured friends.

      So it goes – peace to all.

  20. The diaconate is the first of Major Orders within the Sacrament of Holy Orders and is reserved for men. The Pope or Bishops or the Church can NOT change that!! Sorry but I dont make up the rules.

  21. The central question is not the role and powers of the pope, the cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, or men and women but rather the role and powers of the baptized.

    Francis has repeated several times the Japanese experience in which the baptized maintained the faith for about 250 years without the benefit of the clergy. They baptized, catechized, married and buried the faithful.

    We also have the witness of many monastic hermits and communities that existed in the first millennium without much of a role for the ordained. The divine office was central to many of these monks and communities in a way that the Eucharist was not.

    Finally the role of congregations and denominations in faith transmission in our own time may be greatly exaggerated because it has been confounded with the role of families and ethnicity. Recent evidence for transmission of faith, especially for importance of God and religion, has shown very strong family effects across generations, e.g. effects of grandparents, and no diminishment in recent decades.

    The main thrust of Vatican II that needs to be brought to full fruition is the universal call to holiness and mission of all the baptized. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity has a vision of the baptized endowed with charisms both ordinary and extraordinary, providing evangelization and Christian leadership, both personally and in groups, in both ecclesial and civic environments, working both independently and collaboratively with the clergy.

    This healthy vision of baptismal Christianity tends to get lost when we focus upon a narrow range of internal (largely clerical issues) e.g. the Eucharist, church attendance, priestly and religious vocations, qualifications for ordination, church governance and a narrow range of moral behavior. Francis is trying to get us away from sickly self- centered clerical preoccupations.

  22. Well the canoness issue is complex.

    Women in the church who wanted to lead lives of prayer and/or service to others have always had difficulty being recognized officially as “religious” or being ordained as deacons. That was clear last year when I began to read both the ancient and recent history of “women religious’ around the time I became interested in the popular phase “We are all nuns” used to support women religious.

    You can get an intuition of the problems from this:

    There has been a constant attempt to suppress and hide what sociologists would call the religious virtuosity of women. Clearly in the case of men, the clergy dealt with lay religious virtuosity by recognizing the vocations of hermits and male monastic communities.

    But many of the church fathers were very strong on isolating women in their homes. Jerome even translated the Greek word for going to your room as cubiculum, the inner room not accessible to the general public, Some of the church fathers even encouraged ”virgins” not to come to church services such as vigils but to stay home in their cubiculum and pray. Similar things happen when women tried to serve others especially men. The general idea was to keep the women with the women and shut up, hence cloister. This has persisted into modern times in either denying the title of women religious to those who did not observer cloister, or requiring active communities to lead a double life of service and cloister.

    The issue is not however simply denigration of women; it is also denigration of baptism. All the charisms of religious life are charisms flowing from baptism not from holy orders. Even most of the contributions of ordained male religious flow from gifts given the baptized.

    So before we decide who gets ordained we have to recover the ability of the baptized to assemble for prayer in the Divine Office, and to minister to others without involving the clergy. This is essential to rooting up clericalism.

  23. I think the way to proceed on this is to first start with the role of the ordained deacon. I cannot fathom why this would be a problem for some. It is actually in scripture, Romans 16:1, Phoebe the deacon who took St Paul’s letter to the Romans. Without Phoebe a big piece of the epistles would be missing. Now some think “deaconess” is more appropriate and were actually somehow assistants who helped females undress/dress during baptism when they were fully immersed. But they are incorrect, according to the NAB the term used in Greek for Phoebe is the same term used in Timothy when describing the role of deacons. So lets start there. When women become a presence at the altar three things will happen. One, we will probably be in awe at that sight of them at the altar, Two, we will greatly appreciate their presence and contribution and wonder how we ever got along without them and third pave the way for female priests.
    During this process we need to study the definition of the priesthood. Namely, what exact role does the priest play in the deacon/priest/bishop hierarchy. Not so much in a sacerdotal way but rather how does the role of a priest relate to the role of a bishop? Most Catholics don’t realize that a priest doesn’t possess full apostolic authority, only a bishop has full apostolicity. And Apostolic succession refers only to bishops, not priests/presbyters.
    Therefore, why can’t a female “share” in that apostolicity through her/by virtue of her baptism? Does one have to be a male to share in it? I don’t believe ,anymore than you need all males, with long beards who are Jewish and all are married!
    The rub really comes down to female bishops. But I suspect we will all be dead and in Praytellblog Heaven when that issue comes up.
    We have to start somewhere and I think this would be a good working model to begin with.
    Just my long and winded opinion and thoughts on the matter.

  24. “Schism. It makes the issue of women’s ordination something that can rightly be called “diabolical” — following the very one whose nature is to divide God’s people.”

    Fear of upheaval can’t stand in the way of doing what’s right. Think how upsetting to some was racial integration of schools or the acceptance of gays in the military, but those things happened because it was just that they should.

    I think it is only people raised Catholic who don’t see how absurd it seems to everyone else, almost all other Christian denominations included, that this church says women cannot be treated equally with men. The arguments for this discrimination are laughable – the church’s own pontifical biblical commission said there was no reason this should be so – and it seems apparent to pretty much everyone on the outside that the reason women are not ordained is sexism. And that’s unjust.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #41:

      it seems apparent to pretty much everyone on the outside that the reason women are not ordained is sexism. And that’s unjust.

      It’s only unjust if there is nothing in the constitutive nature of the Sacrament of Holy Orders that prevents it. If Sacred Orders being reserved to men alone is part of Divine Law, then no amount of human disrespect or disregard is enough to change it — for it is unchangeable. Whether and how it is part of Divine Law is left to Magisterial teaching.

      And as far as fear of upheaval goes — from the earliest days of the Church, it was clear that division was one of the greatest evils (think of what Paul says to the Corinthians in I Cor 10 and following). If one is going to make a decision that could lead to some sort of division, one better be VERY CERTAIN that the decision is the correct one.

      Re: What “other Christian denominations” think: As has been mentioned in this thread and seen elsewhere, there is hardly a united front even among our Protestant brethren, for whom ‘ordination’ means a very different thing with lesser stakes, as to whether or not women should be ordained. Not that the opinions of non-Catholics should affect what we do – who are they to judge?

      Re: the PBC: The determination was that there was nothing in Scripture in itself that suggests women can’t be ordained. This is very different than them saying that Scripture says they can be ordained, had been ordained in the past, or must be ordained. Additionally, the PBC lacks the authoritative status it enjoyed in times past — since 1971 it has not been part of the Church’s Magisterium.

    2. @crystal watson – comment #42:
      Crystal, while it is very true that “Fear of upheaval can’t stand in the way of doing what’s right.” Yet, when you say this, “I think it is only people raised Catholic who don’t see how absurd it seems to everyone else, almost all other Christian denominations included, that this church says women cannot be treated equally with men.” Well, you kind of lose me there.

      If you are going to make an enormous change, then it better be for some reason other than how “absurd” it seems to others.

      Which is why it is not so simple as ordain women and get on with it. How do we hold concern for the Body and justice in tension in a way that works?

  25. “For those who hold the unity of holy orders to be true, an argument that logically follows from that is that the Pope who attempts to declare that women can be ordained to any order (since the diaconal and sacerdotal orders are united in one Sacrament) likewise would lose his office.”

    I don’t agree with that at all.
    Even B16 recently clarified that the office of diaconate isn’t the same sacerdotal office as that of presbyter. On Dec 15, 2009 he released “Omnium in Mente” with clarification/ changes in canon law for deacons. It clarifies the role of the church’s ordained ministers presented in the Catechism which says that the task of governing on behalf of Christ, the head of the church, is proper only to bishops and priests. The new version adds the phrase: “Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbytery receive the mission and faculty to act “in the person of Christ the head” while deacons are enabled to serve the people of God in the diaconate of the liturgy, the word and charity.”
    Because of this clarification there is nothing to suggest any heresy or damage to the papal office if females are ordained as deacons.

    1. @Dale R. Rodrigue – comment #47:

      Even B16 recently clarified that the office of diaconate isn’t the same sacerdotal office as that of presbyter. On Dec 15, 2009 he released “Omnium in Mente” with clarification/ changes in canon law for deacons.

      Which has nothing to do with the question of whether WOMEN can be ordained as deacons, nor anything to do with the unity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

      If the clarification actually suggesting that “there is nothing to suggest any heresy or damage to the papal office if females are ordained as deacons”, one might think that he would have addressed the 2002 ITC document that strongly tends to exclude diaconal ordination for women on the grounds that
      1) the rite of institutions and function of ‘deaconesses’ was not the same as ordained deacons and particularly
      2) that despite the distinction mentioned in Omnium in Mentum (which was acknowledged by the ITC doc), both are embraced within the unity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

      Additional commentary can be found here:

    2. @Dale R. Rodrigue – comment #47:
      Thanks, Dale – it only reveals his lack of knowledge in this area and thus his meme which ignores historical fact, documentation, and good theology. Earlier he referenced the Fathers of the Church – oops, we also have Mothers of the Church and a strong female theology and service tradition in both the early centuries through the beginning of the Middle Ages.

      It reminds me of a comment by Fr. Z – “informal, off-the-cuff context: his daily fervorino at his private Mass during which he says nothing that forms a part of his Ordinary Magisterium.” Yep, refers to Francis and note Z’s *dismissive* not part of the ordinary magisterium….really?

  26. The ITC document about the diaconate concludes with the following:

    With regard to the ordination of women to the diaconate, it should be noted that two important indications emerge from what has been said up to this point:

    1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church – as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised – were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons;

    2. The unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium.

    In the light of these elements which have been set out in the present historico-theological research document, it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.

    1) “not purely and simply equivalent” is not the same as “not equivalent”

    2) “it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question” sound swishy washy, but is actually very powerful in the context of OS “the Church has no authority…”

  27. There is a theology that says ordination “configures” the ordinands to the person of Christ who is prophet priest and king. This means the ordained can “teach, sanctify and govern.” If Fr Mannion’s is suggesting that women be given positions where they will “teach sanctify and govern” then ordination will become irrelevant. The only way to keep ministry rooted in Christ will be to ordain women.

    IOW, a theology of ordination as well as of baptism has to be developed that makes sense in a modern context. Without such a theology, the Church does face the diabolical schismatic tensions described above; the Church will split into those with an archaic philosophy versus those with a living faith. The only question is about which group the Pope will

  28. To illustrate the complexity of the canoness issue.

    All quotes from Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia

    (Referring to 4th century) Consecrated virgins and widows particularly, a group distinguished in episcopal letters as canonesses, apparently an honorific term, busied themselves in the controversies of the days. p.47

    (Basil) set an example in numerous pastoral letters to ascetics of various suits, including some urban women styled Kanonikai. P.84

    Most consecrated women lived alone or with a few companions, usually close with.. their bishop. Even their large communities were extensions of households, not designed to survive their wealthy patronesses. Virgins attached themselves to bishops, appearing as a group to chant in public processions…contemporary authors wrote little about these woman, but their association with episcopal liturgy suggest they may be related to the kanonikai…and to the canonesses who proudly and persistently defended their special status in the later Middle Ages. p.92

    In 796 the Council of Frankfurt offered consecrated women a choice between the Benedictine rule or the canonical life, theoretically splitting contemplative devotion from active practice of hospitality and charity. Scholars have long debated about the history of the canonical way of life. Basil of Caesarea used it to describe Kanonikai…. Other scholars prefer to date the institution from the first appearance of the word “canon” in western sources: an English penitential by Egbert of York p.177

    In 803 the Council of Mainz directed women who made a profession of the Benedictine rule to live “regularly” and the rest to live “canonically” under the diligent care of a custodian. In the same year, the Council of Tours recognized “those who have lived the canonically life from antiquity” and instituted reforms for clerks, canons, and sanctimoniales canonicae (canonical nuns). Canons and canonesses had begun to claim ancient association with the rule attributed to Saint Augustine. p177

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #62:

      The old system mixing men and women, pastoral and contemplative works, disappeared in the wake of Carolingian reforms. In 816 at the Council of Aachen Benedict of Aniane attempted to make canons and canonesses virtually indistinguishable from monastics. Still many old double monasteries insisted on the difference. They claimed three distinctions between themselves and nuns. First, they performed a variety of public liturgical and charitable services. Second, they did not take permanent vows of chastity and could leave and get married. They retained the right to their own wealth entrusted to others to administers. p.178

      Virgins who did not participate in a castimonial ritual might live on as canonesses or quasi-nuns in the convent indefinitely. In Yorkshire as late as 1267, episcopal visitors complained that lay sisters wore the black veil of nuns. Canonesses always maintained that they took no permanent vows and retained both their property and their freedom to marry. The Roman synod of 1059 criticized secular canonesses as degenerate requiring them to conform either to the Benedictine or Augustinian rule. p. 191

      Canonesses identified themselves with secular clergy and its liberties. An institute was generally attached to a cathedral chapter or large parish church. Canonesses became known as choir ladies. The evidence of canonesses chanting services, making processions and playing ceremonial roles is largely negative. If the ceremonials prohibited in the twelfth century were ever performed, it must have been in the heyday of canoness prestige in the late ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries. p.197

      1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #63:

        Charity was part of the special vocation of canonesses and the rule of Saint Augustine which they embraced. The Council of Aachen had determined that every canonry should have a hospice for travelers, asylum for the poor and unfortunate, shelter for virgins and widows supported by the church, a hospital and an orphanage. p.205

        Recently, however, scholars have become more sensitive into the vast histories that left no written record and are readier to conceive of a common origen for the canonesses and the Bequines. Both groups had property (or the right to earn money), houses and servants, the right to leave and marry, a semi-enclosed life and a common routine of work and prayer in architecturally similar enclaves of small cottages and chapels. p.206


        To put all this into perspective, remember that the religious virtuosity of women existed from NT times in household churches, particularly in the forms of female heads of households, widows, and virgins.

        Remember also in the ancient and even medieval worlds, the women head of large households had considerable power, since the male head of household basically managed relationships with the public world.

        Monastic households originated out of ordinary households and for a long time were treated much like single sex households.

        Males who did almost all the writing were mainly concerned with the public world of males not the household world of women.

        In this book it is very evident that both bishops and male religious generally did not want to deal with women religious, except if they had a lot of property,. Then women religious had to play elaborate games to pit bishops, religious men, and male aristocrats against each other in order to create a space for themselves and keep their property.

  29. I think we know which way Pope Francis would go. He seems to have completely adopted JPII’s view of women, the scary logical extension of which is that women and men actually have different souls (Edith Stein’s influence) – yikes!

    1. @crystal watson – comment #66:
      Sorry, Crystal – disagree and find your conclusion to be too extreme – especially connecting to the questionnable JPII Theology of the Body stuff and its mysognist conclusions.

      One thing Francis has called for is more development and reseach into a theology of women – you may see that negatively but it is a far cry from JPII or that genders have different souls.

  30. Bill,

    I could be wrong. I hope I am. But I was basing my opinion of this upon what Francis wrote about women in a couple of places.

    In this interview … … he talks about Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Marian theology. Balthasar has written a pretty complementarianist paper on why women can’t be priests …

    And there’s this NCR article about Francis’ book, “On Heaven and Earth” … … it goes into how Francis references JPII’s Mulieris Dignitatem and the “feminine genius” idea, etc., in his own beliefs about women. I seem to remember him also mentioning JPII’s ideas on women in another of his interview, but can’t recall which one right now.

    I didn’t say that Francis believes that women have different souls, but that Stein did and maybe JPII did … I hope Francis does not. One can google the connection between Edith Stein’s beliefs about women and their role in the church and JPII – here’s one paper …

    1. @crystal watson – comment #68:
      Thanks, Crystal – again, don’t disagree with your links but also don’t think that these references tell us much about Francis – either now or in the future.
      Let me also relate one other story – Bergoglio had a good friend leave the priesthood and get married. Years later this friend died and Bergoglio used to call and talk with his widow every Sunday evening for years. That has to count for something.
      But, yes, look where he comes from; the culture, etc. OTOH, one could find just as many or more links to his statements about appointing women to positions in the church; about the fact that 80% of most church activities are female driven and attended.

  31. Peter and the Apostles and their successors have been given the power of the keys. They can do a wide range of things that serve the interests of the mission given to them by Christ. In the beginning there were just bishops and deacons, but when the need arose they began the practice of ordaining helpers for the bishops who would eventually be called priests. They were able to modify the third commandment of the decalogue so that Christians could keep the “Lord’s Day” holy instead of the sabbath. They were able to suspend virtually the whole “Law” when it came to requirements for the gentiles. I’m just getting warmed up and I’m only barely into the second century. How about their suspension of the Lord’s command regarding how governance was to be exercised, so that they could begin to Lord it over their subjects? If the leaders of the church understood themselves primarily as servants, and read the signs of the times in light of the gospel, they can certainly ordain women as deacons if not priests and bishops. The fact that bishops have chosen to close and consolidate thousands of viable parish rather than review the requirements for ordination is scandalous and contributes to the exodus from the church of so many people who can no longer handle the cognitive dissonance. Having an argument over what theologians thought ordination meant in the 13th century is beside the point.

  32. Bill,

    Interesting story about Franciss – thanks. I should make clear that I do *not* think Francis is a misogynist who dislikes women. I think he does like them.

    But his remarks about them … that they have a special genius, that they need their own kind of theology, that them wanting to be priests is machismo, giving the example of Mary for women to follow, etc. He’s paternalistic, perhaps because of his culture.

    The divide between feminism and sexism is, I think, all about one thing … accepting women, like men, as people. In church that would mean there are no special jobs for men and other jobs for omen. God is an equal opportunity employer 🙂 I don’t think Francis sees women as people in the same way men are.

    1. @crystal watson – comment #79:
      “The divide between feminism and sexism is, I think, all about one thing … accepting women, like men, as people.”

      Crystal, I agree.

      You’ve said this several times in different ways, and always I come back to the simplicity and soundness of it. Thank you for not wavering.

      Women are people. It is so simple, and it’s missed too often.

  33. Hi Fran,

    I meant that I think to most outsiders, the church’s unwillingness to ordain women seems absurd. Those within the church have more of an understanding of the history of the issue – so to them it’s probably not absurd, though many think it’s wrong.

    What is it that you are worried about? What bad thing will happen if women are made priests? Is it that you think God will be angry with that decision? Is it that you think there will be a schism?

    I don’t think God will be mad – Spiritual director William Barry writes very movingly about how he thinks women are being called by God to be priests …

    I don’t think there will be a schism – surveys and polls have shown a majority of Catholics want women to be priests. Yes, those in the Global South will drag their feet, but I don’t think they will schism …. let’s face it, they have no other place more conservative to go.

Leave a Reply

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