Woman Deacons (help)

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Hi, I hope there isn’t already a thread out there that addresses this issue, but I was looking for your advice.
I go to an all-girls “Catholic” high school and, not surprisingly, there is a very strong feminist presence. The issue women’s ordination has come up a few times, and although I explained why we can’t ordain women preists, someone asked about women deacons and I wasn’t sure what to say or even what the Church’s position on that is.
Any help on this subject would be appreciated!
 
The Catholic Encyclopedia article on deaconesses gives the Church’s position on this one hundred years ago.

Today, however, the Church’s position seems to be much in dispute. Ordination of women deacons is against current canon law, but this would seem to be a matter of ecclesiastical law (and thus potentially subject to future change) as opposed to the ordination of women priests, which is against divine law and thus unchangeable.
 
There were, in fact, deaconesses in the early Church. These were not “female deacons,” however. They were forerunners of the modern nun; liturgically, they assisted at the baptism of women, at a time when these were often done in the nude!

However, deaconesses were not ordained; they never received the sacrament of Holy Orders. This can be seen from the canons of the First Council of Nicea:
Canon 19. Concerning the Paulianists who have flown for refuge to the Catholic Church, it has been decreed that they must by all means be rebaptized; and if any of them who in past time have been numbered among their clergy should be found blameless and without reproach, let them be rebaptized and ordained by the Bishop of the Catholic Church; but if the examination should discover them to be unfit, they ought to be deposed. Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.
Hope this helps.
 
Catholic2003:

I have to disagree. The ordination of women as deacons has no historical precedent whatsoever. It completely contradicts the Church’s 2000-year Tradition. A Vatican Commission investigated the the subject of women dacons some years ago, and concluded that they were not the same thing as the anceitn “deaconesses.”
 
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DominvsVobiscvm:
However, deaconesses were not ordained; they never received the sacrament of Holy Orders.
The Catholic Encyclopedia says otherwise:
Further it is certain that a ritual was in use for the ordination of deaconesses by the laying on of hands which was closely modeled on the ritual for the ordination of a deacon. For example, the Apostolic Constitutions say:
Concerning a deaconess, I, Bartholomew enjoin O Bishop, thou shalt lay thy hands upon her with all the Presbytery and the Deacons and the Deaconesses and thou shalt say: Eternal God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the creator of man and woman, that didst fill with the Spirit Mary and Deborah, and Anna and Huldah, that didst not disdain that thine only begotten Son should be born of a woman; Thou that in the tabernacle of witness and in the temple didst appoint women guardians of thy holy gates: Do thou now look on this thy handmaid, who is appointed unto the office of a Deaconess and grant unto her the Holy Spirit, and cleanse her from all pollution of the flesh and of the spirit, that she may worthily accomplish the work committed unto her, to thy glory and the praise of thy Christ.

Comparing this form with that given in the same work with that for the ordination of deacons we may notice that the reference to the outpouring of Holy Ghost in the latter case is much more strongly worded: “fill him with the spirit and with power as thou didst fill Stephen the martyr and follower of the sufferings of thy Christ”. Moreover, in the case of the deacon, prayer is made that he “may be counted worthy of a higher standing”, a clause which not improbably has reference to the possibility of advance to a higher ecclesiastical dignity as priest or bishop, no such praise being used in the case of the deaconess.
 
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DominvsVobiscvm:
A Vatican Commission investigated the the subject of women dacons some years ago, and concluded that they were not the same thing as the anceitn “deaconesses.”
I have been unable to find the report of this commission anywhere. Do you have an online reference, or some other source?
 
Here is one document:
cwnews.com/news/viewrec.cfm?refnum=16377

Vatican Caution Against Preparing Women For Diaconate

VATICAN, Sep 17, 01 (CWNews.com) - In an unusual document signed by the heads of three Vatican Congregations, the Holy See has cautioned strongly against programs that would prepared women for the ordained diaconate.

The Vatican “notification”-- issued jointly by the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, and the Clergy-- says that such programs create “hopes which are lacking a solid doctrinal foundation and which can generate pastoral disorientation.” The document is signed by the prefects of those congregations: Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, Jorge Medina Estevez, and Dario Castrillon Hoyos, respectively. It was specifically approved by Pope John Paul II prior to publication.

The Vatican officials said that there are many other ways in which the Church can promote the dignity of women and their participation in the Church without ordaining women deacons. There has been substantial debate among Catholic historians and theologians as to whether women were ordained as deacons in the past. A Vatican commission has been studying the question of female deacons for seven years, and is expected to conclude that study later this year.

The full text of the latest Vatican notice follows:

"1. Our offices have received from several countries signs of courses that are being planned or underway, directly or indirectly aimed at the diaconal ordination of women. Thus are born hopes which are lacking a solid doctrinal foundation and which can generate pastoral disorientation.

"2. Since ecclesial ordination does not foresee such an ordination, it is not licit to enact initiatives which, in some way, aim to prepare candidates for diaconal ordination.

"3. The authentic promotion of women in the Church, in conformity with the constant ecclesial magisterium, with special reference to (the magisterium) of his Holiness John Paul II, opens other ample prospectives of service and collaboration.

“4. The undersigned Congregations-- within the sphere of their proper authority-- thus turn to the individual ordinaries, asking them to explain (this) to their own faithful and to diligently apply the above-mentioned directives.”
 
The Catholic Encyclopedia says otherwise:
Actually, Catholic2003, read the article again, even the one that you posted. While the deaconesses were installed by a formal ritual, it was not the Sacrament or Orders. For instance:
Comparing this form with that given in the same work with that for the ordination of deacons we may notice that** the reference to the outpouring of Holy Ghost in the latter case is much more strongly worded**: “fill him with the spirit and with power as thou didst fill Stephen the martyr and follower of the sufferings of thy Christ”. Moreover, in the case of the deacon, prayer is made that he “may be counted worthy of a higher standing”, a clause which not improbably has reference to the possibility of advance to a higher ecclesiastical dignity as priest or bishop, no such praise being used in the case of the deaconess.
and
The subject of the precise status of the deaconess is confessedly obscure and confused, but two or three points at any rate seem worth insisting on. In the first place there were no doubt influences at work at one time or another which tended to exaggerate the position of these women-helpers. This tendency has found expression in certain documents which have come down to us and of which it is difficult to gauge the value. Still there is no more reason to attach importance to these pretensions than there is to regard seriously the spasmodic attempts of certain deacons to exceed their powers and to claim, for example, authority to consecrate. Both in the one and the other case the voice of the Church made itself heard in conciliar decrees and the abuse in the end was repressed without difficulty. Such restrictive measures seem to be found in the rather obscure 11th canon of Laodicea, and in the more explicit 19th canon of the Council of Nicaea, which last distinctly lays down that deaconesses are to be accounted as lay persons and that they receive no ordination properly so called /] (Hefele-LeClercq, Conciles, I, 618). In the West there seems always to have been considerable reluctance to accept the deaconesses, at any rate under that name, as a recognized institution of the Church. The Council of Nismes in 394 reproved in general the assumption of the levitical ministry by women, and other decrees, notably that of Orange in 411 (can. 26) forbid the ordaining of deaconesses altogether. It follows from what has been said that the Church as a whole repudiated the idea that women could in any proper sense be recipients of the Sacrament of Order. None the less in the East, and among the Syrians and Nestorians much more than among the Greeks (Hefele-LeClercq, Conciles, II, 448), the ecclesiastical status of deaconesses was greatly exaggerated.
 
A rationale for this apparent exagerration of the role of deaconesses in the East is given by EWTN’s Anthony Dragani (himself a Byzantine Catholic and a doctrinal candidate of systematic theology):
Historical evidence does suggest that there was an “ordained” order of deaconesses. However, the fact that the form of ordination was used (laying on of hands, recitation of a blessing) does not necessarily mean that the Mystery of Holy Orders was being conferred.
In either case, deaconesses in the Eastern Church did not function in the same role as deacons. While deacons occupied a liturgical role (preaching, serving at the altar, reading the Gospel), deaconesses occupied a role of service among the women in the community. There was a significant distinction between a “deacon” and a “deaconess.”
In the Eastern Christian Churches the status of deaconesses is somewhat harder to discern than their status in the Latin Church. While in the West they clearly were not ordained, in the East an “ordination ritual” was used to install deaconesses, and the bishops would lay hands upon them. This ritual was in many respects very close to the ritual used for the ordination of male deacons.
However, too much should not be read into this. In the Byzantine tradition a specific ritual can be used for achieving very different purposes. For example, infants and adult converts are sealed with the Holy Spirit through the Mystery of Chrismation - what Latin Catholics call Confirmation. An identical ritual was also used to reconcile apostates to the Church. These apostates had already been Chrismated previously, and the performance of this second ritual of Chrismation was not intended to re-seal them with the Holy Spirit. It was actually an exercise of the Mystery of Reconciliation.
Another example: in the Byzantine tradition a ritual was sometimes used in monasteries to join two monks in “spiritual brotherhood.” These monks would be joined for life, and were to watch over one another’s spiritual well-being. This ritual was in form almost identical to the ritual for Marriage. Thus, some modern commentators have tried to claim that this was a Byzantine “homosexual wedding ceremony.” It was nothing of the sort, and intended something completely different from marriage. But the fact was that virtually the same ritual was used for two very different purposes.
Thus, although the ordination ritual for deaconesses was very close to the ordination ritual for deacons, that does not necessarily mean that the same result was intended. In my humble opinion, the ordination ritual for deaconesses was more of a “blessing,” and was not a sacramental ordination. Also, deaconesses were not equivalent to male deacons. While the deacons exercised a predominantly liturgical role, the deaconesses exercises a ministry of service among the women of the community. They did not have a liturgical function.
Cmom:

The findings of the International Theological Commission on this issue, published in 2002, can be found here.
 
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DominvsVobiscvm:
Actually, Catholic2003, read the article again, even the one that you posted.
I stand by my original statement that the Church’s current position on women deacons seems to be much in dispute.
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DominvsVobiscvm:
While the deaconesses were installed by a formal ritual, it was not the Sacrament or Orders. For instance:
Comparing this form with that given in the same work with that for the ordination of deacons we may notice that the reference to the outpouring of Holy Ghost in the latter case is much more strongly worded
: “fill him with the spirit and with power as thou didst fill Stephen the martyr and follower of the sufferings of thy Christ”. Moreover, in the case of the deacon, prayer is made that he “may be counted worthy of a higher standing”, a clause which not improbably has reference to the possibility of advance to a higher ecclesiastical dignity as priest or bishop, no such praise being used in the case of the deaconess.
The first bold statement indicates that male deacons were held in higher esteem than female deacons, but that is no reason to doubt the validity of the sacrament, as it had valid matter, form, intent, and minister. The second bold statement indicates that the Church knew all along that it was impossible to ordain woman as priests.

EWTN’s Anthony Dragani gives one side of the debate. The fact that he quoted no official magisterial support for his opinions indicates that there is another side to the debate. Here is another EWTN article that explicitly argues against the other side of that debate (represented by the Canon Law Society of America). This sure looks like “dispute” to me.
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DominvsVobiscvm:
The findings of the International Theological Commission on this issue, published in 2002, can be found here.
This is an interview with the general secretary of the International Theological Commission, not the report itself. For some reason, the report doesn’t seem to have been placed on the www.vatican.va website.
 
I stand by my original statement that the Church’s current position on women deacons seems to be much in dispute.
In a sense, you’re correct, in that no solemn pronouncement has been made against it. However, the universal Tradition of the Church points against it. If you read everything else I cited from the Catholic Encyclopedia, especially the decree of the First Council of Nicea, you will see that there is no historical precedent for ordaining deacons.

The link I provided from the ITC was merely a summary of that Commision’s findings, which were negative regarding the ordination of women as deacons.

The link you yourself provided makes a very good point in this matter:
While I would not claim that the opinions of learned commentators are declarations of the teaching Church, I cannot see how they can be simply brushed aside, as CIOWPD appears to do. If the Church does admit women to diaconal ordination, it seems to me that this action—given the definition of the sacrament of orders we see in c. 100—would give rise to the formidable challenge of performing the difficult mental gymnastics involved in asserting that women can validly be admitted to one grade of orders while at the same time reaffirming the infallible teaching of the Church that they cannot be admitted to the others.
So, until we hear otherwise, I think we’re safe if we stick to what 2000 years of tradition has to say on the matter. I don’t see how much good can come about to us speculating further.
 
🙂 It was mentioned that only men are allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. The question is whether women are allowed to be ordained to the Diaconate. One thing that I think has been overlooked in this forum is that the three orders of Bishop, Priest and Deacon share in the ministerial priesthood of Christ.

The Bishop has the fullness of the ministerial priesthood in that he is the ordinary minister of all the Sacraments. Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders.

The Priest (presbyter) has less of the fullness of the ministerial priesthood. He is the ordinary minister of the Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick.

The Deacon has even less of the fullness of the ministerial priesthood than the Presbyter. He is the ordinary minister of Baptism and Marriage.

The answer to the Question whether women can be ordained to the Diaconate is No, because if women cannot be ordained to the Priesthood they cannot be Deacons because Deacons share in part of the Ministerial Priesthood.
 
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