In response to Phyllis Zagano on the matter of female deacons

fishwrapOur 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.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I love what Pope Francis said about commissions during the presser on the way back from Armenia! Message received, loud and clear. Would that he would be so clear about other things he says.

  2. Kerry says:

    Hmm….well….OK. I’ve thought about it; I think it’s a bad idea. And I pray the whole church agrees with me.

  3. FarmerBrawn says:

    Ah yes, the Deaconettes! Starring the “crazy off key piano lady” (aka hand grenade) and her sister “trained liturgical guitar lady”. Don’t forget “Ole pajama pants” and the lady who is way too intense about finding people to bring up the gifts.

    My initial response to this Deaconettes business was that it was kooky and nothing would come of it. However, considering this pontificate, I would recommend everyone find an FSSP parish and relocate, if necessary.

  4. Lavrans says:

    Would it be worth the effort to write Cardinal Muller and ask if Sister Butler could also be on the commission. I would prefer to ask him to swap Zagano out and replace her with Butler, but I don’t want to push my luck. I think it is a crime that Sister Butler is not on there, when Zagano is, but I suppose this was the women’s religious president-lady’s pick. I am confident that Father Dodaro, Father Menke, and Archbishop Ladaria will block any of her notions on the matter. They have done the same research and have come to different conclusions. She seems to really want the research to say what she thinks it should, but the 2002 study already determined that not to be the case. At any rate, Holy Orders is now settled as a three-degree Sacrament, which includes the diaconate, and which is not open to women. Period. Personally, I find it insulting that Zagano routinely diminishes the diaconate in her quest for women to be ordained. In truth, she has to do it that way. She has to minimize it and isolate it from the presbyterate and episcopacy in order to gain a foothold. It seems counterproductive, but she is in it for the long run. I believe that no one will talk louder about how the diaconate is indeed part of Holy Orders once women are ordained. I think that is the long game goal here. But, I am confident that Menke, Dodaro, Ladaria, Muller, and ultimately Francis will not cave on this. Can you imagine how Schneider, Burke, and Sarah would react? Or the SSPX? Or the Orthodox? It won’t be pretty, and Francis is too smart to risk that. This is dead in the water. It may not even be done by the end of this pontificate, and the advocates for the false belief in women’s ordination aren’t exactly spring chickens either.

  5. jaykay says:

    “That would be me”

    Well, is you is or is you ain’t, Phyllis? Would it be you or wouldn’t it? What you meant to say was: “And it’s I”.

    Meh, ok, enough already. But one could briefly be entertained by speculating on various endings, e.g.:

    “That would be me except that…”

    Fun for all the family.

  6. SaintJude6 says:

    The closest I can come to a prayer for Miss Zagano is a thoroughly southern, “Well, bless her heart, somebody’s mama left some things out of their little talks.”

  7. Seems like the last time a Pope formed a much-ballyhooed commission, it advised that the Church could in fact change her teaching on contraceptives. And then Paul VI published Humanae vitae. It’s cute that liberals think a commission is going to change the Deposit of Faith.

  8. pseudomodo says:

    A former mentor of mine (now deceased) would develop philosophical arguments by making the very best case for the opposition and then utterly demolish it.

    And when that very best case failed, then it would be manifestly obvious to everyone.

    It can be very demoralizing for dissidents and heterodox when their grandest champion is defeated. If I were Pope, I think that I would have appointed Dr, Zagano.

    Nothing like winning an argument by crushing their greatest hero.

    Pope Francis is a genius.

  9. Lavrans says:

    I hope you’re right, pseudomodo! I also remember the theological commission in the 1960s, and the majority report (which I believe Cardinal Ottaviani refused to sign) which advocated a change in Church teaching on contraception to allow its use. The minority report, of which Germain Grisez was an advisor for, said the opposite. Paul VI squashed it and released Humanae Vitae. I hope and pray for the same. Paul VI seems to be bit of a mentor for Francis, and I hope in this case, he is. Paul VI…pray for us!

  10. Burke says:

    There’s a useful book on the subject Fr Geoffrey Kirk: Without Precedent: Scripture, Tradition, and the Ordination of Women.

  11. Benedict Joseph says:

    Last week at “Fishwrap” – I believe it was – she proclaimed that with this appointment to the commission she felt like she had received an Academy Award… uh huh. In a sense she has, “…and for best performance by a woman imitating a theologian the award goes to…” Maybe she should drop by Cinecitta while she is over there and hunt down alternate sources of legitimate income.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    “If I were Pope, I think that I would have appointed Dr, Zagano. Nothing like winning an argument by crushing their greatest hero. Pope Francis is a genius.”


  13. ALL: Please don’t descend to the level of the Fishwrap’s combox. Don’t indulge in cheap, personal attack. That’s what they do.

    I removed some comments.

  14. While not casting any stones…is this not a follow-on effect of, in essence, opening up the Diaconate to men not as a traditional step on the way to ordination but as an end in and of itself? Once the first rung in Holy Orders was bifurcated into a duality of ‘those discerning ordination as a priest’ and ‘those not discerning ordination as a priest’ sharing the same ontological space…it becomes easier to confuse the title with the reality.

    I have no doubt this is part of the Zagano and the usual suspects (WOC, etc) playbook. If you can’t hope to succeed in making a grand frontal assault (Pickett’s Charge), then you attempt to defeat by destroying in detail as the opposing force comes up. Carving out this somewhat confused ministry by today’s standard implementation of the Diaconate (Joe Bagodonuts in the pew really can’t parse the fine practical differences in charism between transitional and permanent deacons…), so, in sowing confusion (What? Another commission? Thought this was settled. Let’s talk about it again…), rather than clarifying the issue, all it says is that if you keep whining about something and stamping your feet and casting ad hominem claims of some amorphous ‘-ism’ against your opponents, eventually you’ll wear down the objections.

    Classic rabble-rousing right out of Bill Ayres.

  15. Athelstan says:

    Seems like the last time a Pope formed a much-ballyhooed commission, it advised that the Church could in fact change her teaching on contraceptives.

    Well, let’a not forget that the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia was a commission, too.

  16. Sixupman says:

    Bryan D Boyle:
    {Permanent} ” …. Diaconate ……….. ………… as an end in and if itself.”

    My diocese is to enter into a major church closure propgramme, inter alia, for lack of priests, the answer for the restructured diocese – laity and Permanent Diaconate. Unusually there are no members of the Permanent Diaconate in the Diocese. Likewise there is only one Sunday TLM – by Oratory Fathers. The adjacent Arch-Diocese has a plethora of the specimen, listed complete with wives.

    Two other diocese, adjacent, have used their imagination and brought-in ICKSP and FSSP to assist with their problem – to wide beneficial effect.

    Managed Decline the order of the day in some UK diocese.

  17. SaintJude6 says:

    Bryan D. Boyle,
    Thank you for bringing up this point. I was telling a friend of ours who is in formation for the permanent diaconate that the two main problems I have with the married diaconate are 1) the groups that pushed it also seem to be the people who want married and female priests, and this was their first step, and 2) the new “deacon’s wives” establishing their turf within parishes.

  18. benedetta says:

    The promises of a dialogue spring eternal I guess…but back in the real world, in the parishes who have, you know, de facto women deacons, official paid pastoral persons where pastor absents himself and complies with the moniker of “sacramental minister”, and there are not a few of these around, there is no credibility displayed in terms of whether this can work for souls as at least my experience with the premiere places that do this is that they very thug like smack down anyone who may be different from them. So agree with Kerry above. No matter the presented historical narrative; it is not workable as a thing given the totalitarian leanings of those who identify with a leftist impulse and style the Church as ideologues. Renew the sacred priesthood and sacred worship and all else will be given to us…it’s not rocket science.

  19. cl00bie says:

    One of their commenters was denying the Genesis story and the concept of original sin. I said that it was humorous that someone was denying the story of the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, by claiming to have the knowledge of good and evil outside of God’s Church. :)

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  21. Sword40 says:

    That’s exactly what happened to the “cluster” of parishes I just left. The Permanent Deacon’s wife moved in and took over the choir and brought her zither with her. Then decided that she was a better reader than any of the others and took that on too. It was the last straw for me. I am now 100% TLM.
    Never again will I attend an N.O. Mass, except for a funeral. And then I’ll not participate.

  22. jameeka says:

    As soon as she mentioned “epiclesis” I knew female priesthood was the ultimate goal.

    Great response, Kerry!

  23. un-ionized says:

    Saint Jude 6, I have met a lot of permanent deacons, all of them married and met some in formation, and their wives are included in the formation process, almost as if they are two half-deacons. I wonder why that is really. I wonder also, do the wives of Orthodox priests do the this-is-my-turf thing, or is the role of presbytera a different one because of the Eastern influence? Or do they have a different understanding of everything anyway? By the way, I knew a Methodist pastor who met his wife in seminary and she had a job outside their denomination but was very much his other, more forceful half. It created some awkward moments.

  24. Lavrans says:

    Well, I know three permanent deacons whose wives are not involved in anything related to the Church, and they don’t want to be. I know that they each love the Extraordinary Form as well.

  25. Lavrans says:

    I guess what I am saying is that, this vocation is open to us right now. I would love to see more tradition-minded men take it up. Hagen lio, right? Why not? If lady tambourine deacon wants in, let’s have nine trads come in to and do it right. Flood the diaconate with trads, until there is no room left for progressives. Take it over! We are the ones with kids. We are the ones at Mass. The “future” Church belongs to the trads, so let’s stop bitching and moaning on the sideline and take it back!

  26. Volanges says:

    un-ionized says: Saint Jude 6, I have met a lot of permanent deacons, all of them married and met some in formation, and their wives are included in the formation process, almost as if they are two half-deacons. I wonder why that is really.

    Since the deacon’s wife must consent to her husband being ordained, it’s important that she understand exactly what that will mean for her and the family before she does so. That’s why she has to participate in the formation process. Once her husband is ordained there is no requirement for her to be involved in any way other than as a good practicing Catholic spouse. I would expect that that is made clear to her during the formation.

    Some wives are already heavily involved in ministry before their husbands are ordained. I imagine that a man whose family is already heavily involved in ministry would be more open to the call to the Permanent Diaconate.

  27. un-ionized says:

    I see. Thank you.

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