CNA: Theologian (a real one) dismisses call for women ‘deacons’

A while back some proponents of women’s ordination got all excited because a German archbishop said that, during a meeting of their conference, the topic of deaconesses came up.

Now a real theologian chimes in.

From CNA:

Theologian dismisses call for women ‘deacons’
By Estefania Aguirre and Carl Bunderson

Bern, Switzerland, May 3, 2013 / 02:02 am (CNA).- Theologian Father Manfred Hauke said recent comments from a German archbishop appearing to support a particular diaconate for women are confusing to Catholics and others.

“Allowing women to be deacons would create great confusion for the faithful,” Fr. Hauke, a professor of patristics and dogmatics at the Theological Faculty of Lugano, told CNA April 30.

You would have to explain to them the difference between male and female deacons,” he pointed out.

Female “deacons” would not be ordained to the sacrament of Holy Orders, and calling them deacons would be “ambiguous,” Fr. Hauke said. Women could “receive a benediction for services of charity” but not ordination, he clarified. [As in ancient times.]

At the conclusion of a diocesan conference on possible Church reforms last week, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg im Breisgau discussed the possibility of “a specific office of deacon for women.”

This “specific,” or “particular” office of deacon for women was an example of how the Church might “promote the use of new Church ministries and positions, open also to women.”

Archbishop Zollitsch went on to speak of the importance of leadership roles for women, and had earlier talked of the importance of being a more strongly charismatic-oriented Church and the strengthening of the “common priesthood of all the baptized.”

He believes the Church needs to commit to reform in order to regain credibility and strength.

Fr. Hauke said that Archbishop Zollitsch, who was ordained a priest in 1965, has made some confusing remarks on previous occasions and that he probably “got his idea” to introduce a “specific office of deacon for women” from fellow German Cardinal Walter Kasper. [The gift that keeps on giving.]

However, Cardinal Kasper, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, had clearly distinguished between a service ministry for women and the sacramental ordination of men as deacons. [Even Kasper doesn’t get this one wrong.]

Fr. Hauke said that that most people who advocate for women deacons “ultimately want women in the priesthood.”

The Code of Canon Law makes clear that ordination, including to the diaconate, is validly received only by “a baptized male,” and John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio sacerdotalis” teaches definitevly that only men may be ordained priests.

On May 29, 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decreed that whoever “shall have attempted to confer holy orders on a woman” – including necessarily the diaconate – “as well as the woman who may have attempted to receive holy orders, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

Fr. Hauke noted that in 2003, the International Theological Commission “published a document with evidence that we have no historical basis for the sacramental diaconate being bestowed on women.”  [Pay attention to that little word “no”, as in “NO”.]

And in September 2001, the prefects of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith (Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope emeritus Benedict), of Divine Worship, and of Clerics prepared a document, which was approved by John Paul II. It affirmed that “it is not licit to put in place initiatives which in some way aim to prepare female candidates for diaconal ordination,” according to the Italian paper La Stampa.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg has said he can appreciate Archbishop Zollitsch’s call for a greater role for women in the Church, but that the sacramental diaconate cannot be received by females.

He was quick to distance himself from Archbishop Zollitsch’s remarks, and said that a non-sacramental female diaconate would not satisfy the desire for a greater leadership role by women in the Church. [That is because most of those who push for female deacons won’t be satisfied until the Pope marries her lesbian partner.]

Bishop Voderholzer pointed out that abbesses, general superiors, and school principals all generally have more influence than deacons.

“The sacramental diaconate – like the priesthood and episcopacy – is inextricably a sacrament, which according to the bible-based Tradition of the Church – even the Eastern Churches – is reserved to men,” he stated April 28.

Some have called for the ordination of women deacons by noting ancient documents referring to “deaconesses,” including a letter of Saint Paul.

Fr. Hauke [a real theologian] responded that in such instances, the “deaconesses” “cannot be identified as really deacons.”

The word ‘deacon’ comes from a Greek word which simply meant ‘servant,’ and so early references to “deaconesses” signify women in roles of service in the Church.

In the early Church, which more frequently practiced baptism by immersion, such “deaconesses” assisted in the baptism of females for the sake of modesty.

These deaconesses were servants of the Church but were not sacramental deacons, as there is no mention of a bishop laying hands on them in an act of ordination.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. anilwang says:

    Every role that could have been held by deaconess in the past and East already exists and the NO. Extraordinary Lectors? Check. EMHR? Check. Altar Girls? Check. Catechetics? Check. And many more. In fact, there are many thing women in the NO rite can do now that historically deaconesses couldn’t.

    So whats the point of deaconess other than to add confusion or as a sneaky way to allow women to do what a deacon can do, namely preach the gospel, marry people, and hold communion services (effectively replacing the priest in most cases).

  2. Andrew says:

    This term “greater role” kind of gets under my skin. What exactly does that mean? Is there a hint of “greater admiration” behind it? My institutional importance makes me more of a person than the rest of you? I am not a deacon, nor a priest. I am not a bishop or a pope. So am I somewhat diminished on account of my “lesser role”? “Non facit ecclesiastica dignitas christianum” – that is “ecclesiastical rank does not make one a christian” – as St. Jerome so aptly puts it. There is a difference between a male and a female and women don’t have a lesser role in life. In fact, in some very real sense, just about everything that goes on in human affairs revolves around women. If there were no women in this world, us guys would just sit around some lake and fish for our lunch in some worn out shorts. Women drive the human race onward and men run around making sure that the necessities that come with it are adequately provided until their candles burn out. Sheesh! People think too much of themselves.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  3. The Masked Chicken says:

    What is the German phrase for, “Shut up?” Perhaps, Pope Francis can learn it and exercise it to great effectiveness.

    The Chicken

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. Andrew says: There is something to this issue that should make every woman with her head screwed on in the right direction not only reject the notion of a woman deacon but also be insulted by it.

    It is the height of condescending male clericalism to suggest to a woman that she be allowed to have a greater role in the Church by having ordained men allow her to so something that only the ordained can do.

  5. Andrew Hollingsworth says:

    There is a lot in the name and intention. In the Church of England when it was still a bastion against female ordination in the Anglican Communion; women were blessed as deaconesses. It was very clear that they were not being ordained as female deacons. If the possibility is examined in the right way then it may be a good area to explore.

    [That’s not at all naïve!]

  6. akp1 says:

    To all priests who have said to me at some point, or to others in front of me, “I wish the Church would find a higher role/position for women” I have always said along the lines of ‘don’t go there – to those who want a title, it one will never be enough, to those who want to serve, a title isn’t necessary’.

  7. Irradiated says:

    I have to wonder: Exactly what duties do those who support deaconesses expect them to perform? I understand that in the early Church, there were deaconesses whose specific role was to help with the baptism of women, because at that time baptisms were generally full-immersion and nude (reinforcing the symbolism of rebirth). As neither of these are the norm anymore, what unfulfilled need is there that can only be filled by women who are called deaconesses?

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    Council of Chalcedon, Canon 15 :

    Let no woman be ordained a deaconess before the age of forty, and even then after a strict test. But if she, after receiving the gift of chirothesy and remaining for some time in the ministry, proceeds to give herself in marriage, thus insulting the grace of God, let any such actress be anathematized together with the man who has joined himself with her in marriage.

    The canons of the Council of Nicaea, often used to try and demonstrate that deaconesses were not ordained, are confusing in that it simply states that the “deaconesses” from among the followers of Paul of Samosata (re-)entering into Full Catholic Communion were to be considered as laity (because they had not been ordained, rather than couldn’t be — whether deaconesses were normally “ordained” or not is a question on which Nicaea is silent) — it is NOT a universal instruction concerning deaconesses in general.

    However, these quibbles simply support Father Manfred Hauke’s opinion that the question is a very confusing one — particularly as there are at least three separate meanings attached to the original Greek word translated as “ordination” :

    1) Ordination per se into Holy orders

    2) “Ordination” as a change in one’s existing ordained state, as in Episcopal Ordination (and many people disagree with this usage)

    3) “Ordination” into a minor or religious Order — as an “ordering” of the soul into Obedience of the Church

    Whether the “ordination” of deaconesses was a minor form of 1) or a normal form of 3) is hard to deduce from the surviving texts — though the 3rd Century non-authoritative Didascalia Apostolorum describes deaconesses as anointing women with the oils in the Baptismal Rite, which is clearly a diaconal function requiring ordination.

    It is a VERY confusing topic, and much depends for one’s opinion on how one is to translate this or that Greek subtlety.

    The bottom line though, is that Father Hauke is right — deaconesses were NOT deacons ; those campaigning for deaconesses are simply pushing for women priests [Right!]; the historical basis of the “ordination” of deaconesses being of a sacramental nature is extremely tenuous, and the vague snippets of evidence supporting the notion cannot possibly be viewed as any kind of demonstrative proof. Do note, however, that the International Theological Commission has subjected this view to a definitive declaration of the Magisterium.

    Frankly, I think it would require a Full Ecumenical Council for any final decision on the question to be published,[No. The Roman Pontiff can do this.] with a high likelihood that the answer would be negative ; except that there could potentially be some influence from the recent decision by the Orthodox to reinstate the women’s diaconate, and whatever consequences will be visible therefrom.

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    anilwang : EVERYTHING that you say is SPOT ON

  10. Sixupman says:

    Once upon a time, clergy would tremble with relative fear at being confronted by a Rverend Mother/Abbess with the grounds of her purview. A late nun friend of mine, the epitome of meekness, could be steadfast in defending the Faith against sloppy clergy and thought Fr. Ronald Knox was not beyond criticism and told him so. God Bless Her Soul. That is real status.

  11. anilwang says:

    Andrew, very true.

    Vatican II explicitly called for universal holiness, lay an consecrated alike and an increase in lay apostulates. What did we get? Lay people trying to do things in the sanctuary, lay theologians creating their own magesterium, less a disregard of holiness, and lackluster apostulates.

    Why? The greater role of the laity in the salvation of the world was interpreted as being a call to anti-clericalism.

  12. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Chicken, that was a temptation, wasn’t it…

    so… one teacher of ours often used “schweigt!” (be silent) to great effect, even though that’s somewhat aristocratic. Another one used the rather military-sounding “Schwätzen einstellen!” (cease blathering!). Another used “now stop blathering for a moment, because we’ll blather about something else for a minute, and only when that’s finished we’ll be able to blather about other things”. But I digress.
    Nevertheless the most usual translation for “shut up” is “halt den Mund”, “hold your mouth”. This is more often than not replaced colloquially by “halt’s Maul” (using the word for “mouth” used on animals, abbreviation “s Maul”) or “halt die Klappe” (“Klappe” is something you can open and close by folding, Google translates to “shutter”; this can be abbreviated “Klappe!”).

    On the general topic,
    in the theoretic issue there is very little problem with a non-sacramental group of deaconesses. I’ll leave the prudence issues because they’re obvious enough, and say that the dear @Irradiated is spot on. For frankly, in a sense the “greater leadership” disturbs me more.

    First, we have to know that in Germany the Church draws tithes from her members and has thus money to fund positions. (This is opposed by secularists for obvious reasons, and by some good Catholics for precisely these reasons, but nevertheless I believe it is ultimately a good thing, and at any rate one where the Church can demand obedience.)

    For one thing, in Germany, if you are a woman and have studied theology, you can go on to become “pastoral assistant”, go into a parish, and do everything the priest does and needs no sacramental ordination for. I sometimes ask myself what this, precisely, is (some religious education belongs to it at any rate, for in Germany, any schoolchild has 2 lessons per week of religion, which can be sometimes given by priests, otherwise by teachers, and thus unproblematically also by pastoral assistants). Now this is well established around here, and the “Sending” of these assistants is, as I hear, modelled liturgically along the ordination rites, though they won’t, I guess, use chrism or imposition of hands.

    Then, there in fact are leadership positions for which the sacramental ordination is not necessarily expected. They are often called “Ordinariatsrat” (chancellery councillor; a “government councillor” is a civil servant comparable to the rank of major, a “ministerial councillor” one comparable to the rank of colonel), and oversee the diocesan management, and perhaps also the discipline. Some of them are priests (in which case they’re often Canons of the Cathedral Chapter). There is e. g. an Ordinariatsrat for Pastoral Activity in my diocese; at this moment, a priest.
    But as you see with the existence of such a position (and there might also be such a position for clerical discipline), you might think you want priests, or at least clerics. Wasn’t it usually supposed to be that way that to clerics, maybe yes to deacons but not to laymen (nor if existing, deaconnesses), the government over the Church is trusted? I wonder, respectfully.
    Anyway when they talked about leadership roles, they talked about things really existing, and possibly existing in greater amounts. (It is highly fitting, and demanded by present law, that a vicar-general should be a priest, but what if somewho says “but that’s mere jurisdiction, and a derived one at that! couldn’t a woman do this, just that we better ourselves up on female leadership?”)

    On an aside, dear @Andrew,
    that the function does not make you more of a person is true, but beside the point. Either you are a person or you are not. But there is a sense in which a lieutenant is more than a private I class, there is a sense in which a doctor is more than an unskilled worker, and there is at any rate a real sense by which the faithful Catholics, and especially the faithful lay Catholics, insist that a cleric is more, here not only in function but really in his totality, than a layman.

  13. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Chicken,

    I forgot to add that “halt’s Maul” and “halt die Klappe” are not in any way vulgar (you might have thought so given that Maul is for use on animals, nevertheless that’s perfectly okay among friends). There is, in fact, a rude expression too, which is “halt die Fresse” (Fresse is derived from fressen, which is “to eat” if animals do it).

  14. VexillaRegis says:

    Imrahil: Vielen Dank für die Deutschstunde. Sehr amüsant!

  15. Clinton R. says:

    The Bishops in Germany are going to have be reeled in very soon, or else we will have to ask them if they are still Catholic. The ‘spirit’ of Martin Luther is still quite strong in the air or water it seems. May St. Boniface pray for our German Catholic brethren. +JMJ+

  16. Stephen Matthew says:

    If women being made deaconesses was not laden with the political, divisive, irrational baggage of “women priests” I would be all in favor of restoring some sort of office of this sort (like I would also restore the sub-diaconate and minor orders given the chance), particularly to assist with the spiritual and temporal care of women and children. I would even be perfectly happy to have such women serving in some particular liturgical role in communities of women (but not proclaiming the Gospel or giving the Homily). Really it seems the deaconesses was roughly equal to the sub-deacon in most respects, and if we in fact still had sub-deacons, and if we still made distinctions about what roles are proper to what offices rather than letting just everyone do them, I would think we would be on the very cusp of some restoration of deaconesses. As it is, with no sub-deacons or minor orders in general use, with no distinction of particular roles and offices, then institution/ordination/consecration of women in this way makes no sense other than as part of either a radical (false) feminism or some sort of clericalism of the laity.

  17. liebemama says:

    Imrahil: I would never use the expressions “halt’s Maul” or “halt die Klappe”. They may not be vulgar, but certainly rude. I would be very taken aback if someone said that to me.

    Just to note. Bishop Voderholzer was the first to respond to Zollitch’s statement. He replaced the Bishops seat in Regensburg very quickly after Bishop Gerhard Mueller left for Rome.

  18. Imrahil says:

    @Dear Mom,

    I do not perceive them – in the thou-form – to be any more rude than “halt den Mund” itself (maybe generational difference). I would be certainly taken aback if someone said that to me, too, and with all these forms in equal measure.

    If you use the you-form, it should certainly be “halten Sie den Mund”, which even so is a very rude thing to say in Parliament or a courtroom, to be sure.

    In fact I guess there is in English the situation where some friend talks nonsense and you are rather sighing than being annoyed, and say “oh just shut up if you please”, or so. In this sense, the translation would not be “halt den Mund”, by which you – Maul or no Maul, Klappe or no Klappe – mean to dispute his right to speak; it would be “Gib (doch endlich einmal) Ruhe” (be quiet) or so.

    Yet what I think the dear @Chicken sought, who was not talking in the most serious voice anyway, would still be a sharp “Klappe!”.

  19. Imrahil says:

    Nevertheless if it is about a superior vs. a subordinate, he can say “halt den Mund” without being rude, while the replacements would be. I did not think of such occasions, but of discussion of people equal in standing, when I said I saw no difference (because there, what’s rude lies already in saying “shut up” itself).

  20. Imrahil says:

    On Bp Voderholzer: yes, he had something quick and good to say about the deaconates. – But I’m not so much convinced about what he said about more female leadership.

  21. robtbrown says:

    People like Zollitsch and Kasper who think that deaconesses would somehow offer some solution to the serious problems facing the Church are themselves part of the problem–“leaders” who are pathetically out of touch.

    It is as if a house were being eaten by termites, and the owner would decide the solution is increasing the number of cable TV channels.

  22. MangiaMamma says:

    I wonder what St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joan of Arc and the other amazing women saints would say if they were here…

  23. Pio12 says:

    St Therese would probably say that women already have the greatest role available to them: “In the heart of Our Mother the Church, I will be Love!!”
    If it’s titles they’re after, “Bride of Christ” is certainly an honorable one.

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