Promoter of women “deacons” can’t speak in Archdiocese of Philadelphia

NB: The Deacon in question posted a comment, below.  Be sure to check it out.

The Fishwrap is having a little nutty these days about the ordination of women.

First, there is an editorial openly declaring that women should be ordained as a matter of “justice”. It is fun. If you bother with it, note how Fishwrap creatively hijacked Bl. John Henry Newman on conscience and papal teaching. The Catholic Herald‘s William Oddie has a sharp piece about that HERE.

Second, there is a piece at Fishwrap about a permanent deacon who was recently told he could not speak at a church event in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The deacon in question, Rev. Mr. William Ditewig, once worked in the office of the USCCB for deacons. He co-authored a book promoting the ordination of women deacons. His co-author was Fishwrap columnist Phyllis Zagano. Remember her? She doesn’t like me very much, I’m afraid. (She actually has a fairly decent column this week about the secular and materialistic enervation of the Christmas season.)

Fishwrap has been having a pretty bad innings when it comes to promoting weird and invalid ordinations. Their darling Roy Bourgeois was recently dismissed from the Maryknollers for pushing women’s ordination to the priesthood. Now, Rev. Mr. Ditewig is not given a chance to talk in Philadelphia. Ditewig says that he wasn’t going to talk about women’s ordination, but giving him a platform might look like an endorsement of his unorthodox notions.

“But Father! But Father!”, some will declare. “Ordinatio sacerdotalis says women can’t be ordained as priests…. as prieeeeests. Get it? Can’t you read? It doesn’t say anything about deacons! There were deaconesses in the ancient Church. So there!”

Piffle. Are we going to disconnect the diaconate from the sacrament of Holy Orders? Ordination of women to the diaconate is nothing other than an attempt to promote the ordination of women to the priesthood. And if there were female “deacons” in some century in some corner of some church somewhere, the phenomenon was a) not anywhere near universal and b) swiftly stamped out as wrong.

Just because something happened occasionally way back when, that doesn’t mean that what happened was acceptable then or legitimate today.

In any event, women are not going to be ordained deacons.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "But Father! But Father!", Liberals, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. wmeyer says:

    If we all get excited every time the Fishwrap has a nutty, we may hyperventilate.

  2. Ralph says:

    “Just because something happened occasionally way back when, that doesn’t mean that what happened was acceptable then or legitimate today”

    Thank you! It galls me when historical herrasy is put up as permission for a modern form.

    Thank you Archbishop for not allowing a nut job to promote craziness to your people.

  3. and c) not the same thing as Holy Orders and the diaconate received by men in those same places and times.

  4. Papabile says:

    The issue of regarding deaconesses is also fundamentally different. While the greek of Paul’s Letter to Romans (????? ????????) clearly indicates a deaconessm it is fairly clear that their role was different than a deacon.

    Both the Council of Nicea and Chalcedon refer to them formally, while indicating an entirely different role. It fundamentally was there so that a woman could become clothed for Baptism, or catechized when a deacon could not enter the House to speak with a woman. This was NOT a role that involved anything to do with the sanctuary, nor was it really an ordination.

    After that time period, many of the academics seem to like to blur the role of deaconess and abbess when it comes to the 6th/7th centuries.

  5. Papabile says:

    Evidently wordpress cannot print the greek. That’s what those ??? are in the post above. Perhaps the latin is better — “ousan diakonon”.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I knew personally Rev. Mr. Ditewig when he attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa which used to be where the seminarians went for their formation, until the theology department got so wonky, the Bishop pulled out his sem-students. However, to this date, the deacons are still formed there (why?) and the women priest and women deaconate are steady themes which the department promotes, among others things off the mark. I have know several of these deacons, and sadly the song is the same. The books he promotes on his website are all of a muchness, including those he did with Zagano. If the left wants promoters, here they are. It is excellent he was dis-invited, as it were. Here is a sample from his blog: “As I have said many times elsewhere, we MUST keep the question of the possibility of ordaining women as deacons quite distinct from the question of ordaining women as presbyters. WHY? Well, one major reason is that the Holy Father, both now and in his previous ministry as Prefect of the CDF, has done precisely that! So, it’s not helpful for people to get all excited about this question by somehow equating all three orders. Prior to the renewal of the diaconate as a permanent order, a neo-Scholastic understanding of the Sacrament of Order might have seen things that way, but the renewal of the diaconate has signaled a paradigm shift in understanding. And the church has been refining this new understanding over the last twenty or so years and this is evident in changes made to the catechism and subsequent documents (detailed in our book on women deacons).”

    One of the best books I read on the Newman question- a long time ago- can be found still–Newman Against the Liberals.

  7. acardnal says:

    “Zagano watch!”

  8. Magash says:

    Deaconess’ may at some time in the future have a place in the Church. The problem is that at this time and place their unique gift to the Church, different from the clerical male deacon and the seldom used but valid male acolyte, would be overshadowed by the heretical push for clerical ordination of female deacons, were the restoration of the lay office of deaconess allowed.
    Like a married priesthood (which is being allowed in a very restricted manner in the Roman Rite) it is an issue that is too easily manipulated by the heretical factions that see these practices as levers of power rather than points of a greater Christian mosaic.
    So it may very well be that in several hundred years time the Church may see fit to expand its practice of allowing some married men to be ordained. It might also restore the authentic lay office of deaconess. But it won’t happen and shouldn’t happen in this backwash of the silly season that the Church is only now starting to recover from. When Latin is restored to the Mass in a way to corresponds to the wishes of VII council fathers, and the biological solution has swept away the New Age heretics to their final judgment then perhaps the Church will seriously revisit these matters. As I said in several hundred years.

  9. robtbrown says:

    In other news Gaenswein was named an Abp, Prefect of the Pontifical Household. I wonder whether he is being positioned to succeed Meisner in Cologne.

  10. Nancy D. says:

    A woman cannot become a priest because a priest acts In Persona Christi. This does not change the fact that as long as the Bishop who is responsible for the Diocese in which those apostates reside, refuses to call apostasy, apostasy, then those who deny the truth about the personal and relational essence of the human person from The Beginning while professing to be Catholic, simultaneously, will continue to lead many astray.

  11. MichaelJ says:

    Got all excited when I saw ‘Zagano watch””. I read “Zango watch!”. You know, the Zango that is a creamy cheesecake wrapped in a pastry flour tortilla, fried until flaky and golden, dusted with cinnamon sugar and drizzled with Dulce de Leche sauce. Sigh.

  12. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Doesn’t the order of deacons have its origin in the following lines of Holy Writ?

    as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.”

    Acts 6: 1-6

    It would appear from this text that the earliest deacons were charged not with acting as “para-priests” – serving on the altar, proclaiming the Word, and so on, but were very much off the altar, with handling the charitable and administrative tasks – distributing the goods of the community to the needy – which the Apostles no longer had time for if they were going to devote themselves to preaching and administering the Sacraments.

    Lots of women in the Church, both consecrated women and lay women, already do exactly this kind of work, looking after orphans and widows and feeding the poor. (Men do this work as well, of course, brothers, priests, deacons, and laymen.) Entire communities of sisters run charitable hospitals in the name of the Church. This is exactly what the order of deacon was established to do.

    Now deacons are doing something different: with the shortage of priests in many dioceses, the deacons are taking on some of the functions of the priests – preaching and administering the sacraments (such as Baptism and Matrimony). But that doesn’t appear to be what deacons were doing in the early Church.

    So, for those who say, “we had deaconesses in the early Church,” one might reply, “OK, but that was before we had orders of religious women. Today we have religious women in the Church functioning in the exact same role as deacons / deaconesses did, and they’re called religious sisters.”

    Deacon as the word is used today, meaning one who takes on some of the ministerial functions of the priest, is different; and we have no evidence that those functions were taken on by any deaconesses in antiquity.”

  13. Cathy says:

    Isn’t being Catholic reliant upon the ascent of faith – I believe in all that the Holy Catholic Church proposes for my belief? When one continually argues for the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood, isn’t this a case of obstinate unbelief in the Catholic faith itself? This does not seem to be a point in which the Fishwrap is trying to understand what its contributors and associates do not understand, it is a position in which they have stated they cannot understand or support or defend what the Holy Catholic Church proposes for their belief. At what point will the bishops of every diocese simply state that this publication, as well as many other so-called Catholic publications is anti-Christ and at odds in its entirety with the faith?

  14. robtbrown says:

    Marion Ancilla Mariae,

    Yours is a point I have made many times. The diaconate was established to take on certain apostolic work. Later, it acquired liturgical functions. Unfortunately, in the post Vat II rush of lemmings, the diaconate became little else than a liturgical office. IMHO, such a move was the residue of the priest worker movement.

    I think permanent deacons should:

    1. Wear distinctive clerical dress.

    2. Be obligated to the entire Divine Office.

    3. Have an an ecclesiastical profession, e.g., professor of Church History, Theology, DRE.

  15. Allan S. says:

    Fr. Z. wrote: “Just because something happened occasionally way back when, that doesn’t mean that what happened was acceptable then or legitimate today.”

    It is my firmest hope that, a hundred years from now, people will say the exact same thing about most of what has happened in the last 50 years.

  16. w0343009 says:

    The Sacrament of Holy Orders is ONE! It is this Sacrament that cannot be given to women. Great ideas Marion Ancilla Mariae. There is only one Sacrament of Orders but it is given in different degrees of Apostolic power.

  17. acardnal says:

    I used to attend a parish where it was often said in the Universal Prayer (petitions) that “we pray that more men and women respond to the call of holy orders.” I mentioned this to the person responsible for writing the prayer intentions of the faithful and reminded him that only men can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. The petition was changed accordingly. Sometimes constructive criticism actually is fruitful! ;-)

  18. I think the folks at the N(so-called)CR will be having a lot of gloomy days for some time to come.

    As I was driving home from a meeting an hour away, I had plenty of time to think about this: the wave toward tradition in the Church is far from cresting.

    As our genial host has observed, I suspect these folks can see the “writing on the wall.” The fact that the new translation wasn’t a disaster as predicted, and has gone over rather well, must be a bitter pill to swallow. Not only that, there appears to be little sign of priests rebelling. How do I know? Because I suspect the NC(?)R folks would be oh so happy to tell us all about it, if it were happening.

  19. Haha, I just thought of a movie image for the sad folks at the NC(nuh-uh!)R.

    Does anyone here remember the film–and play–“Harvey”?

    Remember the doctor, who gets “pixelated” with Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart), and tells him the wish he has: to be in Akron, with cold beer, and someone telling him, “poor thing; poor, poor thing.”

    That’s what the sad folks at the Fishwrap will want before long.

  20. jeffreyquick says:

    I should be able to give birth, as a matter of justice. I’d make a great mom. And I should be allowed to be a nun. Sisters have cooler clothes than monks do. And I will hold my breath until my rights are recognized, because it’s the manly thing to do.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Father Martin Fox, the”poor thing, poor thing” was a family joke in my family when one was feeling sorry for one’s self…it is apropos.

    But the fantasy, if you remember, was the psychiatrist wanting a strange lady patting his hand and saying poor thing, poor thing. Fantasies can take different shapes and female deaconesses fall into that category.

  22. dominic1955 says:

    There were deaconesses at one time, but they were not clerics and not ordained to Holy Orders. What they received was akin to a consecration of a nun or a minor orders ordination. I hesitate to use that example, but the Minor Orders are not part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and thus their “ordinations” are more like a special blessing.

    The successor to the deaconess were certain cloistered women’s orders like the Carthusians. The Carthusian nun would be invested in a stole and maniple and they would wear the maniple if they chanted the lessons in Matins. Carthusians, being strictly cloistered, would have no men to do certain things like this and so they performed a limited liturgical role in their Office in choir.

    Mitred abbesses were not bishops, even the powerful ones like the Abbess of Las Huelgas in Spain. Progressives have no idea of how distinctions work, so they usually collapse things together that are quite distinct. Yes, a mitred abbess had the privilege to certain trappings that we consider Pontificalia, like the mitre, ring, pectoral cross, and crosier. So does an abbot. Neither an abbot or abbess is a bishop, even an abbot nulius or the Abbess of Las Huelgas who had territorial JURISDICTION were not bishops.

    The sacramental power that goes along with the office of the bishop is distinct from the canonical power that goes with jurisdiction. Today, since there are so few non-episcopal ordinaries and all the other diverse offices and such the Church once had, people seem not to be able to grasp that the fact that certain mitred abbesses also had wide ranging jurisdictional authority over land and peoples does not thereby mean they were ordained anything!

  23. Super:

    Well, yes–and if the NC(hahaha! no)R folks want to imagine deaconesses–nay, priestesses!–patting their hands while saying, “poor thing,” I am willing to be open minded about it.

  24. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Father Z.,

    I would normally not respond to much of what has been written here; however, there is so much being misrepresented that I feel I must see your piffle and raise you a kerfuffle.

    Let begin by addressing a couple of background items about me personally. To be characterized as a “nut job” by someone I do not know is, to say the least, amusing. [Just to be clear, that wasn’t my characterization.] I would prefer that only my family and friends use that characterization since only they know me well enough to do so. One commenter mentions that he or she knew me personally at one of the colleges I attended. Since we’re dealing with an anonymous person I have no way to know who that might be, but whoever it was doesn’t seem to have known me very well! For the record, I graduated from said college in 1971 with a BA in Philosophy, which was the normal course for seminarians in that era. I completed eight years of seminary (high school and college), from 1963-1971, in formation for a diocesan in Illinois. I then left the seminary and began a 22-year career in the United States Navy, serving as a Hebrew and Russian linguist and intelligence collection specialist. I retired as a Commander after a final tour as Executive Officer of a base on Okinawa. I had been ordained a deacon while still on active duty. In terms of education which goes beyond what your commenter offered, I have two MAs (one in Education and the other in Theology) and the Ph.D. in Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. In addition to my years at the USCCB I have served in prison ministry, diocesan ministry and as a university professor in Theology. There — at least now those who wish to comment about some nebulous, questionable past can have some facts to back them up!

    Now, as to the current issue. Let me begin with this particular book on Women Deacons. It consists of three chapters, each written by a different author. The history chapter was written by a fellow scholar; I had nothing to do with that part of the manuscript. I’ll come back to this fact in a moment. My chapter dealt with the 20th Century renewal of the permanent diaconate, along with a look at the various magisterial documents of the 20th Century dealing with the diaconate. I conclude with an examination of two particular interventions at the Second Vatican Council to see if they might offer some insight into the question. And then the third author offered her own reflection on the question. [A good distinction.]

    I offer this background because, when people don’t actually read the book and react emotionally and irrationally simply to the topic itself, some silly conclusions can be drawn. For example, since the Commission in Philadelphia admittedly didn’t refer to the book itself, they make refernce to my supposed misuse of the historical data. Interesting, since I didn’t deal with that historical data! Furthermore, early in my own chapter, I make the observation that “History alone is not dispositive” on this issue. What was done or not done in prior centuries can help us discern some things, but that can’t and doesn’t help anyone reach a definitive response for today’s Church.

    On to some theology. You mention, Fr. Z. that you are concerned that I want to divorce the diaconate from the one sacrament of Order. [I didn’t say that that way, but let that stand.] Nothing could be further from the truth. There is but one Sacrament of Order and the diaconate is clearly and obviously a part of that. But here’s something that perhaps you haven’t had the opportunity to study. Over the last 20 or so years, it has been the HOLY SEE ITSELF which has begun to distinguish two modes of participation within the one Sacrament of Order. Now, I’m sure that you will be able to explain the theological concept of “participation” to your readers. But the important thing here is that this distinction, between the sacerdotal orders of presbyter and bishop, and the diaconal order, has not come from mere theologians like myself. Rather, this can be found in the changes made to the editio typica of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the two documents on the diaconate which were put out by the Congregation for Clergy and the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Holy Father’s changes to canon law as a result. I know it can be hard to keep up with very precise questions such as these pertaining to the diaconate, but if one is going to talk about the contemporary diaconate competently, one really must keep up with what is coming out of the Holy See. Oh, by the way, I cover this in my chapter in the book.

    It is precisely because of these kinds of distinctions being made by the Holy See that we felt we should write our book. IN LIGHT OF THESE OFFICIAL DISTINCTIONS, what might be said about the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconal order.

    Finally, none of this questioning is new. It started at least as far back as Pope Paul VI, who asked about the possibility of women deacons. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger assigned the subject to at least two successive five-year terms of the International Theological Commission which, after all this study, concluded that “it remains for the Church’s ministry of discernment” to decide on the matter. In other words, dear Father and commenters, this question is not some fly-by-night idea from a bunch of “nut job” liberal theologians. We are doing what theologians are supposed to do: researching and analyzing the best data we have on various issues, including this one.

    As on open theological question (and one that is quite distinct from any question about the sacerdotal orders), we have a responsibility to dig deeper, and that’s what we have tried to do. And, as an open theological question, people in good faith are certainly able to disagree with our conclusions. That’s how “open theological questions” get addressed over time. If someone wants to object to this question of the possibility of women deacons, it should be taken up with the Holy See, who made these distinctions and called for additional research in the first place. [People who pen books and articles about this matter can’t just hide behind the Holy See.]

    What saddens me about the Philadelphia decision in my case is that, at least as far as I can tell from their statement, the members of the commission (who I guess are anonymous, so there’s no way to tell what their own qualifications and experience might be) didn’t actually read the book at issue; as I understand it, and I pray that I am wrong!, they relied on various blog postings. I’m not sure who’s postings (mine, presumably, but I don’t know), where or when. As I say, I find it surprising that the area they mention specifically — historical analysis — was not, in fact, my responsibility in the text! If they want to critique what I actually wrote in MY CHAPTER, fine, but they don’t mention that.

    I apologize for the length of this response. I know how emotional this issue can be for some people, and sometimes high levels of emotion can block facts from entering the equation. I hope that this modest attempt will help reduce the apparent confusion.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill Ditewig, Ph.D.

  25. William Tighe says:

    dominic1955’s posting above (7 December 2012 at 3:35 pm) is not exactly wrong, but it is misleading. Everything he wrote is true, but it is true only of deaconesses in the Latin Church (where there is no evidence of the existence of deaconesses anywhere before the very late 300s; the Church in Rome never, ever, had deaconesses).

    The situation in the Eastern churches is more complex. Some Eastern churches (like the Armenians, the Ethiopians, and the Copts probably didn’t have deaconesses until the Fourth Century, or later; and the Mesopotamian/Syriac church, on the one hand, and the Constantinopolitan church, on the other, appear, judging from their “ordination” rites, to have had very different ideas about what a deaconess was. In the Mesopotamian/Syriac church, deaconesses did have some “paraliturgical” roles (assisting at baptisms of women; distributing communion to women and in houses of woman religious in the absence of a priest or deacon) but the “ordination” rituals for deaconesses (which survive in the liturgical books of the so-called “Nestorian Church,” although there have been no deaconesses in that body since the Tenth Century) make it perfectly clear that deaconesses are not “female deacons,” but rather women who undergo a kind of blessing for a particular kind of ministry. In Constantinople, on the other hand, while the roles played by deaconesses do not seem to have included the kind of “paraliturgical functions” (save for distributing communion to woman religious in the absence of a priest or deacon), the “ordination” rite for deaconesses is ALMOST identical to that for deacons.

    This latter fact has led, in the past two decades, for many trendy Eastern Orthodox Christians (especially in this country; I could name names …) calling for the “restoration of the female diaconate” (and, btw, why do so many people employ the absurd and non-existent word “deaconate” when referring to this Order, when the proper word is “diaconate?”), by this meaning that women should be “ordained” as deacons. For a time, some of these “Orthodox advocates” would make distinctions about the roles of male and female deacons, much along the lines of the theory advanced above by Marion Ancilla Mariae and robtbrown, that as the liturgical functions of the diaconate were a later addition to their original “social” (or “apostolic”) functions (a theory I don’t buy, by the way, or which at best I think only partly true), a “restored female diaconate” would exercise a “social ministry” while male deacons would have both “social” and “liturgical” ministries.

    Eheu, fugaces! Now increasing numbers (although we are speaking of a relatively small number overall) of Orthodox advocates for “restoring the female diaconate” are arguing that the “exclusion” of “female deacons” in the Early Church from liturgical functions was merely a result of “social conditioning,” and so the women “ordained” to the “restored female diaconate” should be able to fulfill all the liturgical functions of the diaconate as well as the “social” ones. Facilis descensus Averni.

    Read Martimort’s book!

  26. William Tighe says:

    As to the origins of the diaconate, I have my doubts about whether Acts 6: 1-6 really records the origin of the diaconate, in the sense of the institution of an office that had never before existed. The word “deacon” is never once mentioned in connexion with these men, and the fact of the matter is, that wherever we encounter deacons in the post-apostolic church their liturgical ministry and their role as servant and “right-hand men” to their bishop is given far more prominence than their “social” ministry (and the ordination rites for the diaconate everywhere in the Early Church focus on their liturgical ministry and service to their bishop, often without so much as a mention of their purportedly primordial “social ministry”).

    The fact is, that discussions of this sort usually imagine that the organization of a church was somehow fabricated de novo by the apostles, instead of emerging from the synagogues that spanned the whole Mediterranean world, and was patterned upon them. Such synagogues had a council of elders (presbyters or zeqenim) who ruled the synagogue and exercised “religious jurisdiction” over its members. They had one, occasionally more than one, “janitor” or “beadle” (huperetes or chazzan) who was responsible for the maintenance of the building and especially its “cultic objects,” and who had to ensure that all was in order for synagogue services, and who had to assist whoever it was that was to lead the synagogue service in any way that was required. (The man who “led the service” might be any adult Jewish male member of the synagogue “in good standing;” rabbis did not become the normal “worship leader” in synagogues until centuries later.)

    One can see the origins of the Christian priest (presbyter) in the Jewish zaqen and of the deacon in the Jewish chazzan. The “new thing” among Christians was “the bishop” with his “fullness of priesthood” and apostolic authority, who had a role and “charism” which no synagogue official did; and eventually, in the Fourth Century, when the bishop’s liturgical role became delegated almost as a matter of course to the presbyter and, e converso, the exercise of “jurisdiction” in local churches (which has originally pertained to the corporate presbytery, with the bishop as the president of this body — but not to the “bishop sole,” so to speak) became located in the bishop, the organization of the (local) church changed dramatically.

    I can see the matter described in Acts 6: 1-6 as an act of commissioning men, perhaps men who were already huperetai or even presbyters, to fulfill a special (and arguably unique-to-the-time and-place) “social ministry,” but it seems unlikely to me that it marked the “invention” of “the diaconate.”

  27. Since the Deacon in question posted his comment, and since it seems plausible that the Deacon in question was “tarred with the same brush” as that with which we tar actual promoters of ordination of women, and since I am going to accept, provisionally, that the Deaco doesn’t promote the ordination of women…

    We do have teaching about the diaconate. Women can’t be ordained deacons. It is not as if we as a Church haven’t decided this yet. It really isn’t an “open question”.

    What was that? The “Holy See” is “open” to the “question”? I don’t think so.

    So a Pope allowed a commission to look at the “question”. So?

    Just because there is no recent infallible declaration about diaconate, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a teaching about the ordination of women.

    We don’t have to wonder what the Church teaches.

    Just what is an “open question”.

    The question “Were the ever women deacons?”, is an entirely different question than “Should there be women deacons?”

    Question: Can women be ordained deacons?
    Answer: No.

    Anyone who wants to test that today will find herself in the depths of something not nice.

  28. Deacon Bill says:

    Dear Father Z.,

    Thank you for posting my earlier comment. I am “on the road” at the moment and access to the internet will be limited, but I wanted to respond briefly to several additional points, and then fade away.

    One of your commenters suggested that people should read Martimort’s book on “Deaconnesses” and I concur wholeheartedly with that recommendation; it’s a fine book written by a fine theologian. However, I’m unclear why the recommendation is to read only one book by one theologian. Martimort wrote his book as part of a much larger conversation going on at the time and it seems only fair to read all sides of that conversation. As I’m sure you would agree, Father, we shouldn’t just read the work of people who merely say what we want to hear! So the work of Gryson and others should be consulted in dialogue with Martimort. After all, his book is not an act of the official church; it is the work of a respected theologian: nothing more and certainly nothing less.

    I would like to clarify something else as well. Father, you wrote:

    “We do have teaching about the diaconate. Women can’t be ordained deacons. It is not as if we as a Church haven’t decided this yet. It really isn’t an “open question”.”

    My response: Yes we have teaching about the diaconate; again, I would recommend the magisterial sources I offered in my last response. However, the fact that “women can’t be ordained deacons” is — in terms of magisterial authority — more a question of law than defined theology at this point. For example, if I were to substitute some terms into the form of your argument, my point should be clearer. In 1966, if someone had said, “We do have teaching about the diaconate. Married men can’t be ordained deacons,” that would have been an accurate statement. But then, in 1967, Pope Paul VI promulgated “Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem” changing the law, and that statement was no longer true. Yes, yes, I understand that “marriage is a matter of discipline” argument; my point here is to show how sometimes these things can change.

    Father, you the wrote: “What was that? The “Holy See” is “open” to the “question”? I don’t think so. So a Pope allowed a commission to look at the “question”. So?”

    My response: You may not think that the “Holy See isn’t open to the question, and you’re entitled to your opinion, and yet the facts are quite different. The clue is in your choice of verb about a Pope “allowing a commision” to look at this issue. First, the fact is not about “allowing” anything, and the ITC is not just any “commission.” The International Theological Commission is constituted by the Pope and it functions and reports directly to to the Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith (CDF). Further in fact, the ITC does not choose its own agenda for research; that’s not their competence. Their agenda is determined and assigned by the Cardinal Prefect himself, and it is on his behalf that they conduct their research! So, this is not just “any” commission, and they are not “allowed” topics; they are “assigned” topics. I think this respondes to your “So?” at the end of that statement.

    You concluding question: “Can women be ordained deacons?” is the very question that the Holy See and the Church’s theologians are researching and debating and discussing. While YOU have been able to find a dogmatic response (“no”), the Catholic Church has not. I think that perhaps as we all attempt to “think with the Church” on all things, we should be open to those areas in which the Church Herself has refrained from closing off discussion.

    Thank you for this opportunity to address some of the concerns raised here on this question.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill Ditewig

  29. THREEHEARTS says:

    I understand from much reading, which includes Monseigneur Martimort, whom I quote later, addressed a synod of theologians in France (read Sacrament of Orders, published by the Liturgical Press) He was very adamant in what he said. The Sacrament of Holy Orders to my knowledge came after a diaconate was formed. The Bishop surrounded by his presbyteriate had no other priests as they were no yet needed in this time of the early church. Women were needed to be chaperons at the rite of Baptism in those days and at the last rites, due to the way the rites were practiced. There was a third reason which unfortunately I have forgotten. Women to , were blessed not anointed to help the Bishop. When the Sacrament of Holy Orders was extended out of necessity due to the size of the “dioceses” male deacons and priests were anointed consecrated into the priesthood never women.
    Here is Mortimort
    Concerning Phoebe being a “deacon”, Martimort, in his definitive work entitled “Deaconesses: an Historical Study”, says this: “More and more scholars are emphasizing that there is an anachronism in giving this word [diakonos] a meaning corresponding to [the later] ecclesiastical institution…” Phoebe was a diakonos [or servant] in the sense that she was “a helper or protectress…providing hospitality and assistance. This interpretation is especially plausible when we remember that Cenchreae was the port of Corinth facing east; it was from there that the Christian brethren from Syria or Asia Minor would normally have debarked in Greece.” (p. 19-20) Thus, Phoebe was a helper and benefactor of the church– not a deaconess in the later sense of the term.
    Deacon Bill may I ask does your knowledge include reading of the early church and have you read this article by an aqquaintance of mine. He is a little of base at times but he is a real seeker of the truth.

  30. chantgirl says:

    Pope Paul VI also allowed a commission to study whether Catholics could use artificial birth control. Sometimes a commission’s purpose does not end up being to form a case for something, but to form an argument against something.

  31. chantgirl says:

    I would add that commissions are not infallible, and do not always come to the right conclusion on a given issue.

  32. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    I wonder what relation (if any) ancient deaconesses had to the ancient female “orders” of virgins and widows? (I put orders in scare quotes because I don’t know a better word for it; it is certainly not the right word for these two ministries.) The tidy-minded part of me is searching for some three-fold feminine counterpart to the holy orders of bishop, priest, and deacon. Could there have been threefold consecrated classes of virgins, widows, and deaconesses?

  33. drea916 says:

    Are there any women under the age of 35 that would even want to be deacons (or priests?) Seems like a baby boomer thing. Young women today are either observant Catholics or are luke warm to religion (“many paths- one god!”) Of the 2nd variety, do you think they want to bother with all of that education for something they don’t really believe in? Why study something if we don’t really know if it’s true? (Because there is no absolute truth.)
    Of the young women who are loyal to the Church, they are the ones passionate about Her teachings and want the push for female ordination to die.

  34. dominic1955 says:

    Mr. Tighe,

    I purposefully left off the question of deaconesses in the East as it gets muddled by the schism and other various issues. The supposed validity of women being ordained cannot be reliably witnessed by schismatics.

  35. William Tighe says:


    That is a rather blinkered attitude, especially as almost all of the information about deaconesses in the Constantinopolitan sphere predates the schism (even if one adopts the conventional dating for it of 1054; for various reasons, not pertinent to this post, I date the consummation and “inveteracy” of the schism to 1484), and most of that in the “Mesopotamian sphere” predates the Persian Church becoming “Nestorian” in the 480s. That a church became schismatic at a certain point hardly makes their pre-schismatic witness irrelevant, especially as it is these Eastern churches, and not the Western Church, where “deaconesses” were “a big deal” at one point — whatever they were.

  36. Marie S. says:

    I read “Women Deacons”. I found much of it poorly argued and so stuffed full of ‘the argument is settled so we really don’t have to prove anything’ and utilitarian ‘if women were Deacons they could serve the church better’ that I found it pretty convincing – that those arguing for Diaconal ordination for women don’t have a leg to stand on. Several sections of Deacon Ditewig’s co-authors chapters stretched the facts pretty far to try to fit their narrative. To be fair, his chapter was presented straight, but I found it unconvincing, especially after reading the inflammatory introduction to the book which essentially said that the drive to diaconal ordination was just a stepping stone to achieving priestly ordination for women. I lost any trust in even the facts being presented in the book after an intro clearly against the teachings of the church.

    Note: I started reading this book without a firm opinion on the matter as I had just converted/reverted back to the Church from PCUSA, where I was ordained as an elder, and wasn’t really sure what the Church’s definitive teaching was on the position of lay people, including women, in ministerial service outside of priestly ordination. I wanted to read both “Women Deacons” and “Deaconesses” to get both sides of the issue, since the Holy Father seemed to leave wiggle room on the matter with his declaration on priestly ordination. I haven’t yet finished “Deaconesses” (so many books, so little time), but so far I find it much more believable in its presentation of the facts in history, including taking into account that some heretical communities may have deviated form church teachings on women’s ordination, and that’s not an argument in favor of it.

    Perhaps the Church will get around to formally declaring on this subject in a few years, but I suspect she has more important tasks at hand, including clearing out the priests and religious that are teaching and acting against what’s already been formally declared, and refuse to repent, as well as enforcing the mandatum on lay theologians. There have been a few baby steps visible recently, we can just hope and pray for more to come.

  37. Dr. Eric says:

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a Deaconess what the wife of a Deacon is called in the Eastern Churches? I know that Orthodox and Eastern Catholic wives of priests are called Presbytera or Khouria.

  38. dominic1955 says:

    William Tighe,

    That’s why I said schism and *other various issues*. One of those issues is that Easterners sometimes do not make the clearer distinctions between sacrament and sacramental that we do. The pre-schism Eastern witness is important, but all this is best left to a book rather than a combox comment.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    A quotation from the Pope’s address on Friday to the International Theological Commission seems apropos this discussion: when some theologians appeal to the sensus fidei, they see this outside of the Teaching Magisterium of the Church, which clearly it is not. That concept of the sense of the faithful emphasized in Lumen Gentium and explained in the CCC has been misunderstood by some to mean some sort of equivalence to “disrupted strains” of teaching. The deaconess discussion falls under this misconception of the sense of the faithful, I think. The error is that this grass roots type of sense could be outside the centuries old teaching of the Church is rife among those, for example, who want women priests. Here is our superb Pope on this subject from Friday:

    This gift, the sensus fidei , the believer is a kind of supernatural instinct that has a connatural life with the same object of faith. We note that of the simple faithful carry with them this assurance, this assurance of the meaning of faith. The sensus fidei is a criterion for discerning whether or not a truth belongs to the deposit of the living apostolic tradition. It also has a propositional value because the Holy Spirit does not cease to speak to the churches and lead them to the whole truth. Today, however, it is particularly important to clarify the criteria that distinguish the sensus fidelium authentic from its counterfeits. In fact, it is not some kind of public opinion of the Church, and it is unthinkable to mention being able to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, as the sensus fidei can not grow in the authentically believer except to the extent in which he participates fully in the life of the Church, and this requires an adherence responsible to her Magisterium, the deposit of faith.

  40. robtbrown says:

    I think the question is open . . . but not.

    Ordinatio Sacerdotalis settled the question of whether a woman can be ordained a priest. That would seem to leave open the question of whether women can be ordained to the diaconate.

    On the other hand:

    In so far as the diaconate belongs to the Sacrament of Holy Orders and is closely associated with the priesthood (to the point of being required before Sacerdotal ordination), that would amount to an a priori exclusion of women.

    The entire issue has been created by two factors:

    1. Although the diaconate belongs to Holy Orders, there is no Sacramental power that is given at ordination. And so there is nothing that a deacon does that any deputized Baptized layman cannot also do. The question is why a deacon is considered in Holy Orders but Sub deacons, and lector, acolyte, exorcist, and porter are not. One argument is that the diaconate is found in Scripture (instituted by the Apostles)–the problem is that there is nothing to indicate any essential relation to Holy Orders. Of course, it is true that the Church later positioned it within Orders, but the same can be said for the Sub diaconate.

    That indicates that a major factor in the confusion was the promulgation of Ministeria Quaedam, which perhaps should have been called Discordia et Aberratione Crescenda.

    2. The implementation of the permanent diaconate was bungled, along with most of the other Vat II reforms. The result was the creation of what is little else than another lay ministry. Kudos to Rev Mr. Ditewig, with whom I would probably disagree on many matters, for actually having a profession appropriate to the diaconate.

  41. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    robtbrown: “And so there is nothing that a deacon does that any deputized Baptized layman cannot also do. ”

    Homilies, Benedictiones cum Sacramento?

  42. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    robtbrown: “And so there is nothing that a deacon does that any deputized Baptized layman cannot also do. ”

    Homilies, Benedictiones cum Sacramento?

    NB The prior sentence: 1. Although the diaconate belongs to Holy Orders, there is no Sacramental power that is given at ordination.

    Also note the word “deputized”, which signifies a certain official designation. Do I think laici should (or will in the future) give homilies or officiate at benedictions? No, but neither action is intrinsic to any Sacramental power.

    My point is that there has been a movement to turn over to the laity almost anything not intrinsically connected to Sacramental Power. This has produced not only the suppression of the subdiaconate and minor orders but also confusion about the diaconate.

  43. jhayes says:

    Homilies, Benedictiones cum Sacramento?

    And weddings, baptisms and funerals in the normal course of things – as opposed to laypersons who can do some of those under certain conditions but require special authorization.

  44. robtbrown says:


    None of those require Sacramental Power. They are disciplines appropriate to those in Orders.

  45. priests wife says:

    Dr Eric- yes! But usually a man who remains a deacon is a celibate monk- married men usually go on to the priesthood (in Romania- the US is a bit different).
    In Romanian, priest’s wife is ‘preoteasa’- literally ‘priestess’- but it would never occur to Byzantine Catholics or Orthodox to have women ordained- we have other problems

Comments are closed.