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Women Deacons Coming Soon?

According to a preeminent U.S. expert on women deacons, all a Bishop has to do to ordain a woman to the permanent diaconate is petition Rome for a special canonical permission. In an extensive interview in the January 3 issue of U.S. Catholic, Dr. Phyllis Zagano comments: “All a bishop has to do is ask for derogation from the law, as recommended in a 1995 document of the Canon Law Society of America, which parsed how it could happen. You need derogation from the law to install a woman as an acolyte, derogation from the law to install a woman as a lector, and derogation from the law to ordain a woman as a deacon. I think that bishops could ask for a regional permission … or even a sub-regional permission.”

Zagano knows of several women who are already in discussions with their bishops: “Some are mirroring deacon formation programs by attending Catholic master of divinity programs. And two in particular I can think of are in touch with their bishops and the deacon formation people, and have spiritual directors from the deacon formation list, and they are going forward. These are professional women between the ages of 35 and 50 with children, supportive husbands, some of them working in Catholic ministries or locations, and some volunteering in their churches, being put forth by their parishes in one case.”

Two eastern churches in union with Rome, the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Orthodox Church of Greece, both permit the ordination of women to the diaconate.  In March 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said it was proper to ask if the church could offer “more positions of responsibility” to women, and in 2009 he approved changes in canon law that Dr. Zagano believes may open the way for women deacons.

German lay organizations call for women deacons.

On November 16-18 the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) voted in favor of discussing women deacons with 129 in favor and 16 opposed. But the secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference accused the group of jeopardizing ongoing reform dialogue, saying the “decision to include women’s diaconate…is not conducive to dialogue.”  Alois Gluck, president of Zdk pointed out that the German bishops had already called for a theological examination of women deacons thirty years ago. (The Tablet, 11/26/11).

Finally ending the silencing of Catholic women?

In the United States, 80 percent of 30,000 paid lay ecclesial ministers and 66 percent of 2600 chaplains are women. Yet none are permitted to preach and proclaim the Gospel at Mass even though 48 percent have a Master’s degree or better and 51 percent have their highest degree in a ministry related field, according to a 2005 National Pastoral Life Center study1.  Opening the permanent diaconate to well-qualified women would enrich the entire Catholic community who can then hear the Gospel through the lens of female experience. It would also allow women to serve as ordinary ministers of Baptism and Marriage, and serve as single judges on Church tribunals.

Resource: Women Deacons: Why Not Now?

This Spring, FutureChurch will launch a new education and advocacy resource designed to help Catholics learn the rich history of female deacons, why the Church should consider restoring the female diaconate, and a discernment process to surface women candidates to present to the bishops of their dioceses.  It will include special essays and prayer services about early women deacons such as Phoebe and Olympias. Phoebe was a leader of the Church at Cenchrae and probably carried Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 16:2). Olympias was a fourth century woman deacon and a friend and patron of St. John Chrysostom. As Bishop of Constantinople, John put her in charge of all the deacons assigned to the great basilica of Hagia Sophia.

FutureChurch’s electronic postcard campaign

FutureChurch’s electronic postcard campaign asking the Vatican to restore the tradition of women deacons has received over 3,000 responses to date. We hope many more will come before delivering the list of signers to Vatican officials in March 2012.

Continue discussion of Church teaching.

Along with the Catholic Theological Society of America, FutureChurch believes further discussion, study and prayer about present church teaching on the non-ordination of women to the priesthood is important and necessary. We have extensive parish/small faith community education resources available in the A Million Voices segment of our website. (See 1997 CTSA statement and resolution).

Focus on FutureChurch

Winter 2012


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