Our old pal Phyllis Zagano has a fresh column at the Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter). How’s this for a captatio benevolentiae?
Pope Francis named just one woman from the Western Hemisphere to his commission on women deacons.
That would be me.
No, really. That’s how she begins.
Ain’t she sumpin’?
Phyllis of the West!
Along the way she casts aspersions on Joseph Card. Ratzinger, insinuating, that as Prefect of the CDF, he buried evidence of an early commission’s study of the question of female deacons (aka deaconettes). She then attacks my sacred person, accusing me criticizing the Pope and the commission (which I haven’t done) and, I am not making this up, “fomenting insurrection, if not schism” (which is at least absurd and maybe defamatory, as even my lawyer knows).
The thick-dripping irony will be lost on no one: this comes from a writer for the Fishwrap, which does little else but foment insurrection, dissent and even schism!
Let’s set her petty ad hominem attacks aside (and I do mean petty and I do mean ad hominem). The hubris with which she begins carries into the rest of her piece.
She wrote (my emphases and comments):
By 2002, a new International Theological Commission committee, [a “Commission committee”!] headed by a former graduate student of Ratzinger, completed a study document concluding that “the ministry of discernment, which the Lord left his Church” should decide the question of women deacons.
Later on she adds:
Now, in 2016, the ministry of discernment about women in the diaconate has been handed over to twelve scholars under the presidency of another scholar, a Jesuit professor of dogmatic theology who is also the doctrinal congregation’s secretary. And so the commission will meet, discern, and one hopes, decide on a recommendation.
Outside the commission meetings, the larger ministry of discernment is already moving along.
She what she did there? “Handed over to twelve”! Under a Jesuit! It’s like … like …the College of Apostles around the Lord again. Glorioski!
More seriously, you, alert, will have observed how she muddles “ministry of discernment”.
First, she claims that the “ministry of discernment” is to be exercised by this commission. Wrong. Then, she speaks of a “larger ministry of discernment”. This will not surprise you, since it comes from a writer for the National Schismatic Reporter (aka Fishwrap). Fishwrap’s writers consistently split the Church into “official” and “spirit filled”, that is, the mean old patriarchal hierarchy v. the mass of the enlightened who, via a sort of gnosticism, discern for themselves whatever the Sam Hill they want. The gnostic mass is placed, by Fishwrap, above the magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in union with him.
In the ITC document, on the other hand, “ministry of discernment”, is another way of talking about the power of the keys and about the magisterium.
When Phyllis of the West introduces the “larger ministry of discernment”, that’s where she attacks my sacred person as one of the “usual suspects”. But then she goes on to say:
[I]t is important for the church — the whole church — to think and pray about women deacons.
First, quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. I don’t see how it is important that the “whole church to pray about women deacons”.
The new commission about women deacons was not formed to apply the power of the keys or replace the magisterium. That is not a “mandate”, in the proper sense. That’s a task. That is not a “ministry”, in the proper sense. That’s a project.
At the conclusion of the 2002 ITC document, whence the quote about discernment was pulled, we read.
With regard to the ordination of women to the diaconate, it should be noted that two important indications emerge from what has been said up to this point:
1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church – as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised – were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons;
2. [NB] The unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium.
In the light of these elements which have been set out in the present historico-theological research document, it pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.
That’s what the ITC wrote in 2002. And to these two points, please see Sr. Sara Butler in First Things today. Sister is a serious scholar and she has written on the topic of deaconesses before. She should have been appointed to this study group.
Finally, back to Zagano for one more item. We began with her captatio benevolentiae. It is only fitting to end with her peroratio.
I cannot tell you how things will be resolved, or when. I can only say that it appears Pope Francis will make a decision. I genuinely believe his decision, whatever it is, will be the right one.
I suspect that she is going to have to eat those words one day. Which day that is, only time will tell. Don’t hold your breath. As a clearly irritated Pope Francis responded during the presser on the way back from Armenia:
There is a president in Argentina who advised presidents of other countries: “When you want something not to be resolved, make a commission.”