If Catholic Women Could Be Deacons

Source: The New York Times


Pope FrancisPope Francis at a meeting of female Catholic leaders.L’Osservatore Romano

At an assembly of leaders of women’s religious orders, Pope Francis said he would set up a commission to study whether women could serve as deacons, ordained ministers in theRoman Catholic Church who assist bishops and priests. Some saw his remarks as a possible opening in the church’s all-male clergy.

Should the Roman Catholic Church allow women to become deacons?


Women Should Be Deacons in the Catholic Church

Christopher_hale-thumbstandardLast week, Pope Francis told a group of Catholic women that he would set up a commission to study the role of female deacons in the early history of the Catholic Church with an eye toward reinstating a modern version of the diaconate open to women.

To me it’s clear: The people of God need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ preached from the lived experience of more than half its members.

As a traditionalist dedicated to conserving some of the earliest traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, I think this is a wise decision. Like their male counterparts, female deacons would be able to baptize, preside at marriages, funerals and other liturgies, and preach homilies during Mass.

To me it’s clear: The people of God need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ preached from the lived experience of more than half its members.

After all, that was the way it was in the beginning.

After Jesus’ death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to remove his body. On the way there, she encountered a gardener. The gardener revealed himself to be the risen Christ. As Mary ran to tell the other disciples the good news, she held within her the very reason of the church: to share God’s saving love in Jesus. In that moment, she was Jesus’s first evangelist and — perhaps — the church’s first deacon.

Critics of the women diaconate will argue that such a move will both suggest the church will one day ordain women to the priesthood. This slippery slope fallacy is the result of bad theology and a profound misunderstanding of the intrinsic nature and primary mission of the diaconate.

Make no mistake: Deacons aren’t “mini-priests.” Their role and function is different in kind from that of priests. Benedict XVI made that particularly clear in 2009, when he changed church law to clarify that, unlike priests, deacons do not act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during liturgical celebrations.

Rather, deacons have a particular nonliturgical focus on service to God’s people — particularly those who are most excluded. St. Lawrence, one of the church’s earliest and most famed deacons, vivified this reality.

During Rome’s persecution of Christians, the empire’s prefect demanded thatLawrence bring the church’s treasure to him for confiscation. So Lawrence went around and gathered all the poor and sick people that Rome ignored and the church supported, and brought them to the prefect and said, “this is the church’s treasure.”

Lawrence’s subversive act ended in his martyrdom at the hands of the emperor. Being a deacon isn’t easy. It’s gritty work. It requires one to be in touch with the realities of others, their hopes and joy, and their sufferings and anxieties.

It’s a tough job. And as the old adage goes, when you have a tough job, give it to a woman.

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