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Religious Tolerance logo

The Roman Catholicism & female ordination

Ordination of female Deacons.
Links
to Catholic advocacy groups.
Canadian Woman Performs Marriage.

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A quotation from the Bible:

'Galatians 3.28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

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Ordination of Catholic women as deacons 30 CE until now:

In the early years of the Christian church, both men and women were ordained as deacons. Later, women were discriminated against by the Church; deaconesses were then phased out.

A prominent member of the early Christian church, Phoebe (Koine Greek: Φοίβη), was mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans 16:1-2. Writing in Greek, he described her as being "a 'diakonon' of the church at Cenchrea, which is the port of the city of Corinth. Corinth is approximately halfway between Athens and Sparta, in Greece.

The Greek word "'Diakonori' appears as Strong's Number 1249, which has three meanings:

  1. The servant of a king.
  2. A deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church, cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use.
  3. A waiter, one who serves food and drink.

The first and third meaning do not seem to apply here because Phoebe's position did not involve a king nor was her main task to serve food and drink to people. She was clearly an office holder in a church, a church leader, a deaconess.

In various English translations of the Bible, Romans 16:1 refers to her variously as a deacon, deaconess, leader, or servant of the church:

  • The King James Version: "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea."
  • The New International Version: " I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae."
  • The Amplified Bible: " Now I introduce and commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess (servant) of the church at Cenchrea."
  • Contemporary English Version: " I have good things to say about Phoebe, who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae."
  • God's Word Translation: "With this letter I’m introducing Phoebe to you. She is our sister in the Christian faith and a deacon of the church in the city of Cenchrea."
  • J.B. Phillips: "I want this letter to introduce to you Phoebe, our sister, a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea."
  • New Revised Standard Version: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae."

(Emphasis not in the original.)

During 2002, the Catholic Church's International Theological Commission issued a document which mentioned female deaconesses. They concluded that their role in the early Church was not equivalent to male deacons. The women had "no liturgical function [and no sacramental one.] The way of life of deaconesses was very similar to [present-day] nuns."

During 2016-MAY, 900 nuns who are members of the International Union of Superiors General were meeting in the Vatican during their plenary assembly. One nun asked Pope Francis:

"What stops the Church from including women from being permanent deacons, like in the ancient Church? Why not form an official commission to study the question?"

He accepted the suggestion, and commented that the historical role(s) of women in the Church was:

"... a bit obscure [and] it would do good for the church to clarify this point, I am in agreement."

Later a Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, performed attempted to damp down people's hopes. He said:

“The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons, and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests. In actual fact, the Pope made clear in his preaching during the course of the Eucharistic celebration that he was not considering this at all."

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Allowing married men to be ordained as deacons:

In the early 1970's, the Roman Catholic church reversed 1,000 years of tradition and began to ordain married men as deacons. Previously, since about 1000 CE, only single males were considered for ordination. At the time, the church considered allowing women to become deacons, but decided to postpone that decision until the married male deaconate had become established and was generally accepted.

In 1995, the Vatican reviewed the question. The Canon Law Society of America prepared a report which showed that canon law does not prohibit women from becoming deacons. Such discrimination is thus merely a matter of church tradition, and thus is more easily abandoned.

The Vatican decided to continue its discrimination against female deacons. The National Catholic Reporter commented in 1997 that, during the early days of the Church,

"Ordained women disappeared not because of any actions by Christ or the apostles but because of changes in society that subordinated women. Today the cultural pendulum has reversed itself and the time is ripe to again make ordained women a viable part of the church. If we as people of tradition reject our history, our future has no hope." 1

Webmaster's comment [bias alert]:

It seems strange that a Catholic news source would advocate the Church following public opinion. One normally expects the Church to take the moral high ground and try to influence public opinion to follow its lead.

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Sponsored link

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An irregular ordination of female deacons in Mexico:

According to EWTN:

"Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, and his former co-adjutor bishop Rual Vera, now of Saltillo, reportedly ordained female deacons among more than 300 ordained in the last days of his leadership of the largely Indian diocese. They also allegedly allowed the use of Mayan pagan religious texts during Masses."

Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who was in Mexico for the Second National Eucharistic Conference, said bishops Ruiz and Veras will not be sanctioned for the breaches of Church doctrine. He added the investigation is ongoing and will be continued from the Vatican." 2

When the investigation is concluded, the ordinations are expected to be nullified.

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Links to Catholic advocacy groups:

There are many reform movements within the Roman Catholic Church that are promoting access by women to the Deaconate and Priesthood. They appear to be fragmented into literally dozens of tiny groups. Many are inspired by the reforms of Vatican II. A representative to the Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics' 1997 conference summed up the goals of many of the reform movements, by stating:

"At last, courageous lay people are setting out to name the dragons: that there is a deep malaise in the church, that lay passivity cannot continue, that rank-and-office authority must be challenged, and that together we must call insistently for the re-formation of structures within Catholicism to better carry out Vatican II's vision of co-responsibility."

The following groups appear to favor women's ordination; some tackle a broader range of questions. Not all groups appear to have web sites.

bullet "Roman Catholic Women priests: The case for ordaining women in the Catholic church," maintains a very extensive library on the topic at: http://www.womenpriests.org 

bullet "B.A.S.I.C. Brothers and Sisters in Christ" This is an Irish group "praying and working for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church." See: http://www.iol.ie/ Their site includes essays for and against the ordination of women.

bullet "Call to Action" is a group of Roman Catholic laity who promote reform within church institutions and in society at large. They concentrate on topics such as: gender inclusiveness, academic freedom, open dialog, election of bishops, etc. See: http://www.cta-usa.org/ 

bullet "Catholic Organizations for Renewal," (COR) is a coalition of over 30 groups in the US who are dedicated to reform. Most probable support female deacons. See: https://www.dignityusa.org/

bullet "Catholic Women's Ordination" is a British group working for equality of the genders within the Roman Catholic church. See: https://www.facebook.com/

bullet "Catholics Speak Out" is a reform project of the Quixote Center in Hyattsville MD at: http://www.quixote.org/

bullet "Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics"(CCCC) is centered in Toronto ON, No website could be found.

bullet "Dignity/USA" is a group primarily interested in sexual orientation issues. They support the ordination of women. See: http://www.dignityusa.org/

bullet The "National Association for a Married Priesthood" (CORPUS) is an American group which promotes "an expanded an renewed priesthood of married and single men and women in the Catholic Church." See: http://www.corpus.org/

bullet "Ordination of Catholic Women," is an Australian group promoting female ordination. See: http://trove.nla.gov.au/

bullet "Priests for Equality" is a world-wide movement of laity and clergy working for inclusiveness and a reduction of sexism http://www.quixote.org/

bullet "Women and the Australian Church" (WATAC) is an ecumenical group in Australia. See:http://www.watac.net/
bullet "Women of the New Covenant" is an Australian group working and praying for women's ordination.They are located in Melbourne Australian, but apparently do not have a web site.
bullet "Women's Ordinaion Worldwide"(WOW) works for women's equality and ordination in the Catholic Church. See: http://womensordinationworldwide.org/

Additional detailed descriptions of three advocacy groups is available elsewhere.

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Sponsored link:

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A book on the history of female deacons:

Book cover John Wijngaards, "The Ordained Women Deacons of the Church's First Millennium, Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Available in paperback format for $27.00 or Kindle format for $11.36.

Amazon.com's book review:

"A recent theological statement from the Roman Catholic Church has increased hopes that while women may not be ordained as priests, their ordination as deacons may soon become reality. This is a new, enlarged edition of a groundbreaking book that gathered historical evidence from ancient liturgies, literature, art and inscriptions on graves to show that the practice of ordaining women as deacons in the first ten centuries of the Church was normative. Women carried out sacramental rites alongside priests and had responsibilities for the care of the Christian community. Recent research has identified over 120 known female deacons - a figure that has tripled since this book's first appearance, under the title No Women in Holy Orders? [published] in 2002. This offers a positive, theological and historical contribution to a debate that is fast gaining momentum in the Catholic Church worldwide."

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2017-AUG: Canadian Nun conducts a Roman Catholic wedding:

Canada, like the rest of North America, is suffering from a priest shortage. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rouyn-Noranda is located next to the Quebec-Ontario border, about 200 miles (320 km) south of James Bay, about 300 miles (almost 500 km) northwest of Ottawa. 75 nuns, but only 16 priests, and no deacons serve its 35 parishes. The parish is large, on the order of 9,300 square miles. A couple, identified only as David and Cindy from Lorrainville, Quebec, wanted to marry, but there were no priests available to consecrate the marriage.

Bishop Dorylas Moreau applied to the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for permission to have a nun, Sister Pierrette Thiffault of the Sisters of Providence, perform the ceremony. Permission was received in May and the marriage was consecrated on JUL-22. Sr. Thiffault knew David since he was in high school.

She described the ritual as:

"... precious. ... It was good for the diocese, It was also an experiment for the Catholic Church. ... I imagine the authorization will not be given only for one marriage. If I can help [again], I will accept."

Having a nun perform a marriage ceremony may seem strange. However, canon law allows for a person who is not a member of the Catholic clergy to perform a marriage when a bishop, priest, or deacon is not available. The layperson can be either a woman or a man. Bishop Noreau said, in French:

"It is an exceptional situation, not something habitual. 5

This may seem to be an extraordinary event. However Church teaching is that it is the bride and groom who actually perform the wedding; the officiant only acts as a witness. 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Gerald Ladouceur, "Out of the past, women deacons point the way," National Catholic Reporter, 1997-FEB-21, at: http://www.natcath.com/
  2. "Cardinal says no punishment for bishops who ordained female deacons," EWTN, 2000-MAY-12, at: http://www.ewtn.com/
  3. "The Economist explains: Whether the Catholic church will ordain women," The Economist, 2016-MAY-18, at: https://www.economist.com/
  4. "What Pope Francis Really Said About Female Deacons," National Catholic Register, 2016-MAY-13, at: http://www.ncregister.com/
  5. Deborah Gyapong, "Quebec bishop gets Vatican OK for nun to officiate at wedding," Global Sisters Report, 2017-AUG-03, at: http://globalsistersreport.org/
  6. Carol Kuruvilla, "Amid Priest Shortage, Vatican Gives Nun Permission To Conduct Catholic Wedding," Huffington Post, 2017-AUG-04, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2017. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-AUG-08

Author: B.A. Robinson

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