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Catholic groups launch conversation about female deacons

DeaconChat highlights women who have “considered a call to the diaconate to share that discernment with the wider church.” Screenshot from Catholicwomendeacons.org

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Several progressive Catholic groups are launching an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons.

Their actions follow the appointment of a panel of experts set up by Pope Francis to consider the controversial question.

The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, FutureChurch and Voice of the Faithful have launched DeaconChat in a bid to promote education and dialogue on the topic.

“Pope Francis wants to hear the voice of the faithful,” the Rev. Bob Bonnot, head of U.S. priest group, told RNS.  “The church is not a clerical monopoly.”

Deacons are one of the three “orders” of ordained ministry in the church, after bishops and priests, and can fulfill some but not all of the duties of priests, including preaching, conducting baptisms and serving Holy Communion.

Pope Francis greets participants in a special audience with members of the International Union of Superiors General in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on May 12, 2016. Francis said he is willing to create a commission to study whether women can be deacons in the Catholic Church, signaling an openness to letting women serve in ordained ministry currently reserved to men. Photo courtesy of L’Osservatore Romano

“Women convinced of a call to ordained service as deacons, supported by many men, including our priest members, deserve to be heard,” said Bonnot.

Last year, the pope met with the International Union of Superiors General, an organization composed of leaders of the church’s women religious, and later appointed members to the panel.

Bonnot said Francis is giving the issue a serious hearing.

“He has asserted often that we must find ways to enable more women to play servant-leadership roles in the church. This is one possibility that could touch the church from the Vatican to grass-roots parish ministry.”

Francis has previously ruled out the ordination of women as priests, saying “that door is closed” in July 2013.

But if the pope endorses women deacons, Bonnot said, more education and dialogue will be needed within the church.

“If this step is taken, people must understand where the idea of women deacons comes from in the church’s tradition and why it is a well-grounded way to strengthen pastoral care,” he said.

Donna B. Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, said the initiative was “designed to foster educational efforts to enrich dialogue.”

Voice of the Faithful is a lay organization established in Massachusetts in 2002 as a response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and now has more than 30,000 members around the world.

“The program has three important components: learning, sharing and connecting,” she said.

FutureChurch supports a greater role for women in church leadership amid concerns about the declining number of priests.

“We hope Catholics in the United States and around the world will be inspired to start a conversation in their parish,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of FutureChurch.

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

31 Comments

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  • Women have been conducting these services ever since I was a toddler.. My mother often preached to me, fed me crackers and dunked my head in the sink. As for women being priests, forget it. They are just not smart enough according to St. Augustine..

  • It’s time, and past time, for women to be ordained as deacons and also as priests in the R.C. church.Jesus would have no problem with that. He was always dialoging and interacting with women, contrary to the customs of his time. In fact, far from being upset about women serving as priests or deacons, Jesus would probably be scandalized that the RC Church has no female priests or deacons 2,000 years AFTER Jesus walked this earth. If that”s not sinful, I don’t know what is!

  • Since you know Jesus’ thoughts and what He would do regarding women deacons, please explain why he did not choose women to be apostles.

  • I think ordaining women deacons is welcome, even great development. My only caution is that Catholics don’t create another cadre of clerics in the edifice of celibate clericalism and patriarchy. Catholics NEED ministers of the sacraments and the Gospel. The PEOPLE need to call women and men to ordination and ministry to THEIR needs.

  • The pope will not “endorse women deacons.” When asked in May 2016 if there could be a study of the role of women deacons in the early Church, he agreed. “In fact, talking about preaching during the eucharistic celebration, he let them know that he was not considering this possibility [of women deacons] at all.” (cruxnow.com) If they had listened to the pope’s complete response to the question of studying the issue, “they would have heard the pope reassert all of the theological ideas that prevent women from any form of equality in the Roman Catholic church.” (ncronline.org)

  • Remember, we cannot pick and choose the parts of scripture we want to believe. If we try to do that, we place ourselves above God. It matters not the least that it has been 2000 years since God directed us on how the hierarchy of HIS Church is to be laid out and He didn’t say then that that hierarchy would change as history progressed. Please re-read 1st Tim chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1.
    If you don’t believe in all of God’s word, how can you believe in any of God’s word?

    Just sayin,
    TBC

  • “The PEOPLE need to call women and men to ordination and ministry to THEIR needs.”

    Why have imperfect people decide when a perfect God is fully capable of deciding?

  • Women can be deaconesses but that does not require an ordination. Tbis is just another back door attempt to get woman ordained as priestess. Nothing more.

  • You have never read Augustine have you? It requiresore than a third grade knowledge of reading. But if you can read higher maybe you should read what he says a out his mother who also is a saint.

  • The Bible has been interpreted many different ways over the centuries. (We do pick and chose; we always have.) We are in the 21st century now. It is time to re-evaluate the role of women in the Roman church. As an Anglican, I have experienced woman as deacons, priests, and even a few bishops. I confess it took a little getting used to but there is no way I would go back now.

  • Female deacons would most certainly cause a Church schism. I don’t think the Holy Spirit will allow it to happen.

  • Those constituent churches of the Anglican Communion that ordain women, which permit lay celebration of the Eucharist, or practice intercommunion with denominations that lack even pretensions at valid orders differ so fundamentally from the Catholic Church as to the nature, purpose, and origin of Orders that there is really no basis for discussing the Catholic perspective with them.

  • The Church will certainly not ordain women deacons into the first of three degrees of the single sacrament of Orders called “deacon”.

    There is a possibility that something akin to the “ordination” to service that some, such Phoebe, underwent in the early Church could be reinstituted.

  • Catholics really don’t need “an initiative aimed at giving lay Catholics and clergy across the U.S. a
    direct say on whether the church should ordain women deacons”, and if they did, this would not be it.

    Three of the groups mentioned have been excommunicated en masse in some dioceses and none of them have any meaningful relationship to anyone in authority in the Church.

    The polity of the Catholic Church does not provide any “direct say” on matters of doctrine, but the Holy Father and bishops entertain polite reasoned letters outlining rational positions.

  • First deacons. Then it will be priests. Then Pope. Pope means papa. Boy that will be awkward. Better leave well enough alone.

  • He didn’t? Could it not have been easy for the men writing the N T simply to exclude them. We know that Peter had issues with Mary M, for example.

  • Jesus was too busy watching thousands of children raped from start to finish from his front row seat for the last couple thousand years to bother with something so insignificant.

  • Large numbers of youths and young adults are leaving the churches in which they were raised and not returning. As a result, in the U.S., the percentage of adults who identify as Christian is falling about 1 percentage point a year. A main reason for this drop is discrimination by various denominations on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. It is up to the church leadership to decide whether to reverse this trend. See http://www.religioustolerance.org/femclrg1.htm

  • Because the angel at the tomb said: “Why look for the living among the dead?” And later at the ascension, “Why do you stand here looking up to heaven?”

  • This made me lol once I understood what you were trying to say. I interpreted from your quote that you are saying that God is dead, that Catholics should no longer be Catholic. The part that made me laugh was that an angel would say to “not believe in angels” practically, as I don’t know anyone who believes in angels but not in God, but you never know.

    Actually, if I interpreted you correctly, then you are clearly taking things out of context. “Why look for the living among the dead?” isn’t contexted that they are hoping that the dead is alive, but were looking in the tomb assuming Jesus was still dead when he was no longer so. A fuller quoting: ““Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen!” (https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Luke%2024.1-8)

    The other quote: ““Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.” ” (http://biblehub.com/acts/1-11.htm)

  • You “interpret” wrongly! The angels in the resurrection and ascension narratives are pleading with us to embrace the challenge of this world, with the gifts that have been given to each of us, accept our commission to spread the Good News: Jesus is not in the tomb, or in heaven. “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

  • Lol, are you trying to say that Christianity was and is actually an atheistic humanism? Woah!

    Let me burst your bubble. Jesus called Himself God by implication (according to an implication of the Bible’s own words). Not a metaphor for God, but actually God. Evidence for the Bible saying the literal words “Jesus is God” or “Jesus is the Son of God” seems to be little, but there seems to be lots more evidence implying that Jesus is God. Some of this evidence is given in http://www.cmausa.org/!UserFiles/SR_MAR14Claim.pdf, noting that I don’t necessarily see all of it as useful for our purposes, but at least some of it. Another website to note is https://www.rationalchristianity.net/jesus_claim.html.

    One complaint I found is that only John directly seems to say that Jesus is God (Source not Named). They then imply that Jesus isn’t God, because the other author’s say anything when they should (Same source that isn’t named), though I think this is because those researchers are lazy, fail to do their homework, and/or prejudge and pre-impose the 21st century American and/or Western culture onto the 1st century Jewish and Roman culture. The reason is because of the named sources I give above.

    When you are a son of something, the substance gets passed down onto you. So, like the son of a human is human, the son of God is divine/God. “As a result [of claiming this], the Jewish leaders tried to kill Him because in “calling God his own Father, [Jesus was] making himself equal with God” (John 5:18 NIV)”(http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/bible-answer-man/read/articles/did-jesus-claim-to-be-god-8825.html)

    Jesus also says that you have to eat His body, eat His flesh (see John Chapter 6). When his disciples questioned this, Jesus only doubled-down on this, as though He really meant it, implying that He was saying to take Him literally. Many of His disciples left right then and there because of the whole controversy. If He didn’t mean it, then why needlessly lose many of His own disciples? The Last Supper reinforced this, which is continually re-presented in the Mass which Catholics around the world do on a regular basis to this day.

    So when the angel says that Jesus is in Heaven, the angel is really saying that Jesus isn’t in Heaven, kind of like sarcasm? There appears to be absolutely no evidence of sarcasm here, nor no reason for the angel to have sarcasm here. The passage doesn’t tell you at all to not take this literally, and I don’t see any other passage in the Bible that would indicate otherwise.

  • I guess Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene could forgive you for being such an intentional dolt … but I cannot.

  • Matt, when you insist on putting your head in a hole, remember which part of your anatomy is most exposed.

  • Well, God has made a decision on what He wants. It is just that He doesn’t force it upon others but we have to ask Him for His help. Of course, if you don’t believe in the Christian God but are, say, a deist, then that is different, but please don’t say that things about Christianity that mislead people to believe ideas about Christianity that aren’t true.

  • With that comment, you have just proven you are an anti-Christian. One of the most fundamental aspects of Christianity is the “Our Father” prayer, which is itself Biblical within one of the most major and fundamental books of the Bible (Matthew 6:9-13). In it, it explicitly states that we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses/faults as we forgive those who trespass/fault against us.”

    If you are a Christian, you are basically asking God to condemn you. If you are not a Christian, then you are saying you disagree with the Christian notion of forgiving others. Therefore, you are against Christianity. This is a non-negotiable, fundamental aspect of Christianity that is practically, ethically, philosophically, and theologically fundamental to Christianity.

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