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- The Crossroad Publishing Company
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About the Author
Richard Rohr is a well known lecturer who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. He has been a featured essayist on the NPR program This I Believe, a guest on the radio show Oprah and Friends, and he appeared in the documentary ONE, featuring spiritual teachers from around the world. He is a regular contributor to Sojourners and Tikkun magazines, and he is the author of numerous books, including Adam’s Return, The Enneagram, Everything Belongs, Simplicity, and Things Hidden. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church
By Phyllis Zagano
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2000 Phyllis Zagano
All rights reserved.
Preparing the Argument
The Church must formalize the ministry of women.
* * *
This discussion is aimed at supporting the needs of the Church.
Church is a living reality made possible by the Easter that followed Holy Saturday. This work is meant to bring us to another Easter in the Church, one when women will minister in a new and an old way, as ordained deacons. It is an argument constructed in love and in hope, but one that acknowledges some of the anger among women in the Church. It is not a separatist argument, though it recognizes that separatism exists. It is rather an argument to help the whole Church rediscover its past and understand a reality already present.
This work, therefore, is an attempt to expand what Pope John Paul II has called for: deeper and more meaningful "feminine participation in every way in [the Church's] internal life." John Paul II continues:
This is certainly not a new commitment, since it is inspired by the example of Christ himself. Although he chose men as his Apostles — a choice which remains normative for their successors — nevertheless, he also involved women in the cause of his kingdom; indeed, he wanted them to be the first witnesses and heralds of his resurrection. In fact, there are many women who have distinguished themselves in the Church's history by their holiness and hardworking ingenuity. The Church is increasingly aware of the need for enhancing their role. Within the great variety of different and complementary gifts that enrich ecclesial life, many important possibilities are open to them. The 1987 Synod on the Laity expressed precisely this need and asked that "without discrimination women should be participants in the life of the Church, and also in consultation and the process of coming to decisions" (Propositio 47; cf. Christifideles Laici, no. 51).
The Pope makes a serious call to meet a serious need. Women clearly are not well-integrated into the Church's structure, primarily because even offices that may be filled and ministries that may be performed by women are provided or assigned to women only when a qualified man is not available. Hence, it is no secret that a goodly number of the women of the Church are unhappy with it. Tensions rest in women's refusal to accept the residual notion that only a man is created in the image and likeness of Christ. There is too much evidence that Christ did not abide by such barriers, too much evidence that he stretched his culture as far as he could, too much evidence that his stretching was in fact retracted. The Pope, in his allocution on women's role in the Church, further stated:
This [the inclusion of women in ecclesial life] is the way to be courageously taken. To a large extent, it is a question of making full use of the ample room for a lay and a feminine presence recognized by the Church's law. I am thinking, for example, of theological teaching, the forms of liturgical ministry permitted, including service at the altar, pastoral and administrative councils, Diocesan Synods and Particular Councils, various ecclesial institutions, curias, and ecclesiastical tribunals, many pastoral activities, including the new forms of participation in the care of parishes when there is a shortage of clergy, except for those tasks that belong properly to the priest. Who can imagine the great advantages to pastoral care and the new beauty that the Church's face will assume, when the feminine genius is fully involved in the various areas of her life?
The Pope's hopeful words address a serious situation. Not only is there a shortage of persons committed to the pastoral care of souls, the lack of women in leadership roles in the Church sends mixed signals to the whole Church, and beyond, to the world it expects to evangelize. It is a painful reality that there will be little progress, not only for women in the Church or for women with the Church, but also for the whole task of evangelization, until the role of women in the Church is clarified.
There are inherent systemic difficulties.
A substantial cause of the difficulty of "making full use of the ample room for a lay and a feminine presence recognized by the Church's law" is the resistance offered by a solely male and predominantly celibate male clerical system. This system does not easily allow for ordinary professional relations between its members and the rest of the Church, and especially between its members and women. Clearly, the underlying difficulty of the ordinary relations between the sexes in professional Church work must be resolved. The real needs of the People of God cry out for such resolution, as the Catholic bishops of the United States have well recognized:
The face of the Church reveals the pain that many women experience. At times this pain results from the flawed behavior of human beings — clergy and lay — when we attempt to dominate each other. Women also experience pain because of persistent sexism. At times this sexism is unconscious, the result of inadequate reflection. A Church that is deepening its consciousness of itself, that is trying to project the image of Christ to the world, will understand the need for ongoing, prayerful reflection in this area. Such a "persistent sexism" has been institutionalized by default in a system that prefers men to women specifically by preferring those in clerical orders to those not in clerical orders, and by not allowing women to become clerics.
It is truly an uncomfortable fact that many people simply do not take the Church seriously, and part of the lack of credibility is a cognitive dissonance between what the Church apparently teaches and that which it in fact practices. That is, the dignity of the married state and its equality to virginity, and the equality of all, male and female, are fully discussed in Church documents but not symbolized by membership among the Church's clerics. This is not to say that ministry by male clerics (married or celibate) is ineffectual, for such is not the case. It is simply to point to the variegated pattern of the Church as the body of Christ, and the need for its ordained ministry to better mirror the People of God. Despite the growth of the permanent diaconate, the Church is still perceived as controlled by celibate men. But if the Church is to present itself as witness to Christ in the unfolding century, it might well examine its own understanding of the various talents it has within it and recognize that the varied talents of varied people can be used to argue more strongly for its tenets.
An argument for women's ordained ministry addresses the needs of the Church.
This book comprises an argument for the restoration of the female diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church as a response to the needs of the Church, both as an evangelizing reality and an organizational bureaucracy. The analysis and argument presented here is intended to speak to the principal unity required of all Christians who are believers in the power of God through the Church as established by Christ. The effort here is to think with the Church, and in fact with the "hierarchical Church," as it has come to be called, as well as with the People of God. It is therefore an effort to think along with the Magisterium, as it reflects the Spirit's movement in the whole Church.
There is a need for a "hierarchical Church" as an organizing and bureaucratic reality, which should be understood as a theological reality. In these pages, however, the term "Church authority" replaces "hierarchical Church" as the conveyer of the Magisterium.
Whether "Church authority" or "hierarchical Church," the reality denoted is at odds both with secularism and with a secular faith in its bureaucracy. The International Theological Commission noted that "secularism, in the radical sense, excludes every idea of Church as a hierarchical structure." That is, secularism finds the world in and of itself an idol, and as a closed system it rejects the transcendent to an ultimate rejection of all authority, but especially of ecclesial authority. Beyond and by deduction, then, neither must there be a "secular faith" in the structure of the Church as structure. The Church is both human and divine. As a human institution it has flaws past and present, but these do not affect the deposit of faith except insofar as they are contravening attitudes to basic teachings. To create an idol of a structure is such a contravening attitude. Hence, the living faith requires a living structure, capable of change.
In no way does this argument for change counter the Magisterium. Rather, it intends to point a way by which women can continue to serve the Church in union with Church authority if the whole Church, on behalf of the People of God, will return to ordination as a means of formalizing the ministry of women.
Once established, the argument presented here moves from analysis of the ontological equality of men and women to the present teachings relative to ordination of women to priesthood, which do not apply to the questions surrounding diaconal ordination for women. Then, the diaconal service of women is examined, including evidence from scripture, history, tradition, and theology. The continued service of women in diaconal roles supports the final point, that the ordained ministry of service by women is necessary to the Church. The argument's conclusion is that the ordination of women to the diaconate is possible.
The Church's categories create a separatism.
The question of whether the Church is a participatory democracy is one raised often by Americans who recognize more the political analogies of Church than the eschatological realities of ecclesia. There is no attempt in this work to create a democratic principle for moral or doctrinal argument, despite work that is a precursor to a call for such experimental democracy in what is coming to be known as "The American Catholic Church." The present case asks that the Church make better use of its own people if it is to serve them through belief in Christ, independent of the political exigencies of a given nation. The Church is, in fact, in clear danger of becoming a congregationalist, nonsacramental entity by default.
The Church's teaching, sanctifying, and governing needs are met primarily by ordained males. The Church needs more workers. Obviously, the Church carefully guards its heritage, and in its wisdom it does have means by which the nonordained can in fact share in the teaching, sanctifying, and governing roles usually restricted to clerics. But clergy form the core of those who teach, sanctify, and govern. It would not be helpful, therefore, to see the rich and varied possibilities for lay ministry as replacing the need for ordained women.
At the outset, it is well to recognize that there is some confusion relative to terminology. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church published by the Second Vatican Council in 1964, uses the term "lay" in two distinct and seemingly contradictory ways. In the first use, in chapter 4, "The Laity," "lay" refers to all persons who are neither clerics nor religious:
The term "laity" is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in Holy Orders and those who belong to a religious state approved by the Church. That is, the faithful who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ, are placed in the People of God, and in their own way share the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, and to the best of their ability carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.
In the second use, in chapter 6, "Religious," "lay" is used as distinguished from clerical:
[Religious life] ... has its own place in relation to the divine and hierarchical structure of the Church. Not, however, as though it were a kind of middle way between the clerical and lay conditions of life. Rather it should be seen as a form of life to which some Christians, both clerical and lay, are called by God so that they may enjoy a special gift of grace in the life of the Church and may contribute, each in his own way, to the saving mission of the Church.
The result of these disparate uses creates a sense of three separate types of persons: the cleric (a member of the clergy), the religious, and the lay person, or laic. In terms of Canon Law, and certain Conciliar and later documents, the tripartite separation is correct: "clerics" and "religious" are specific categories for whom special accommodations are made, and "the laity" is everyone else. But when "cleric" or "clergy" is placed in apposition with "laic" or "lay," even within religious life, the distinction is only between those ordained and not ordained. That is, the rights and duties of clerics do not accrue to religious unless those religious are ordained. In the case of women religious, all are lay, and hence their ministry is restricted along with that of any other lay person. Note that Pope John Paul II pointed to Christifideles Laici in commenting on the need to increase the role of women in the Church.
The very title of the 1994 Synod on Consecrated Life indicated an expansion of the term "religious" with the use of "consecrated" (to make allowances for other forms of consecrated life), and the 1996 Apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, drawn from the synodal propositions, presents three aspects of religious life or consecrated life — consecration, communion, and mission — by which the life is to be viewed. The language of Vita Consecrata presents three groups — the laity, the clergy, and the consecrated — as participating in the life of the Church.
Naming distinctions among laity, clergy, and consecrated persons can create confusion, and some degree of separatism. In one mode, separating clergy and religious (consecrated persons) from "the laity" creates an apparent equation between the clergy and the religious state (consecrated life), which in effect creates an apparent equation between male dedication to the Church (predominantly as clerics) and female dedication to the Church (as the predominant membership in religious institutes and institutes of consecrated life). This apparent equation is based on perception, not on reality. In actual practice, religious (most often women) and clerics (that is, unmarried clerics) often ally themselves with each other and consider themselves in a separate category from the laity in general and, often, from married deacons. That is, there is an unofficial line of demarcation between those dedicated to the Church as celibates (as religious or clerics) and seculars dedicated to the Church (even married clerics).
Women do not have an avenue for two-sided commitment.
To be clear, the possibilities for men in the Church (as delineated by Canon Law and the Councils) include secular or religious service as bishop, priest, or deacon, or lay person, including specific functions to which only men (religious or lay) may be "installed." That is, while in necessity any lay person may perform the functions of lector or acolyte, only secular or religious men, but not women, may be installed as lectors or acolytes. Secular men may be ordained to the diaconate after marriage, and widowed deacons may not remarry, although some have gained exception to that discipline. There are no restrictions as to marriage for secular men installed as lectors or acolytes, although those most usually installed are already in the seminary career path and expected to promise celibacy before ordination to the transitional diaconate.
The possibilities for women (as delineated in Latin Canon Law and by the Councils) include status as a secular lay person or laic (a lay woman and a member of "the laity") or as a religious lay person or laic (a laywoman and a member of a religious order or institute). The distinctions between clergy and lay persons of import here involve all women, whether members of institutes of consecrated life or not, because the present discussion centers on the inclusion of women (religious or secular) in the clerical state.
The ability to perform some of the functions of clergy, even of those clergy historically in minor orders, have been denied women in modern times. For example, while Canon Law provides that all lay persons may serve as lectors and acolytes, certain of the functions of acolytes were until recently routinely denied women where they involved altar service, despite Canons that expressly pointed to the contrary. Some conservative bishops still maintain older interpretations of Canon and liturgical law.
While the Church today protects women in marriage, and attempts to ensure that a two-sided commitment is permanent, it restricts the possibility of such a covenant with the Church. The primary model for women's permanent commitment to Christ through his Church is profession in an institute of consecrated life. While there are variations, including commitments made in secular institutes or societies of apostolic life (often confused with the active or "apostolic" religious orders or institutes), women most commonly live vowed communal life in religious orders or institutes, having professed solemn or, more ordinarily, simple vows according to the norms of their group's constitutions.
Excerpted from Holy Saturday by Phyllis Zagano. Copyright © 2000 Phyllis Zagano. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: PREPARING THE ARGUMENT,
The Church must formalize the ministry of women.,
Part Two: THE ARGUMENT,
The restoration of the female diaconate is necessary for the continuance of the apostolic life and ministry of the Roman Catholic Church.,
I. Men and women are ontologically equal.,
II. The Church has given reasons why women, although ontologically equal to men, may not be ordained to priesthood.,
III. The judgment that women cannot be ordained priests does not apply to the question of whether women can be ordained deacons.,
IV. Women are and have been called to the diaconate.,
V. There are stronger arguments from scripture, history, tradition, and theology that women may be ordained deacons than that women may not be ordained deacons.,
VI. Women have continually served the Church in diaconal ministry, whether ordained to such service or not.,
VII. The ordained ministry of service by women is necessary to the Church, that is, to both the People of God and the Hierarchy.,
Part Three: CONCLUSIONS,
The ordination of women to the diaconate is possible.,