Amazonian Women Deacons?

The Church’s modern teaching is not simply that women may not be or should not be ordained deacons; it’s that women cannot be ordained deacons.

Pope Francis meets indigenous people from the Amazonian region during an encounter in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 17, 2019. The meeting took place during the second week of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The recommendation of some at the Amazon Synod regarding the ordination of married viri probati, proven men, to the priesthood may or may not be a good idea, but in any case it is in the realm of possibility, according to the received, developed, modern teaching of the Church on Holy Orders. Eastern-Rite Catholicism has married priests. There is a tiny number of Latin-Rite Catholic priests. It’s possible.

However, the Church teaches that the ordination of women to the diaconate is not possible. The Church teaches that only a baptized man can validly receive sacramental ordination. Yes, some people reject that teaching and say it is possible. They interpret the ancient practice of deaconesses as the female equivalent of male diaconate. They simply reject as false the developed sacramental teaching of the Church that only men can validly receive the Sacrament of Orders. (CCC 1577; CIC 1024; CCEO 754).

Of course on the other side there are plenty of theologians and others who affirm the Church’s teaching.

While the Holy Father permitted another study of the question, and the results are reportedly on his desk, his own description of the results is that they were inconclusive. In any event, the Church’s modern teaching is not simply that women may not be or should not be ordained deacons; it’s that women cannot be ordained deacons. It’s invalid, not merely illicit.

By implication, whatever ancient deaconesses were, they weren’t recipients of the Sacrament of Holy Orders as were the deacons.

Of course the exact level of that no-sacramentally-ordained-women-deacons teaching is debated. Still, if it has been taught by the Ordinary Universal Magisterium, as something to be definitively held, that the Sacrament of Holy Orders may validly be received by men only, then the matter is closed, from a Catholic perspective. Like it or not.

On the other hand, if it has been authoritatively but not definitively taught, then the teaching might be changeable. Might be doesn’t mean is, of course. The Church could still definitively teach something it has heretofore taught authoritatively but not definitively. A teaching’s status as non-definitive doesn’t automatically mean it can change.

Among the notable reports from the Amazonian Synod is how some folks there evidently easily maintain that current Church teaching is simply wrong. Otherwise, how come the call for ordination of women to the diaconate? That only makes sense if its advocates dissent from authoritative teaching.

It’s one thing to call for an examination of the issue to see if something is possible, even given the current teaching to the contrary. It’s quite another thing to call for the doing of the thing, in the face of authoritative Church teaching that it cannot be done, especially when the Church presents her authoritative teaching as the will of Jesus Christ.

Cardinal Mueller, in his book Priesthood and Diaconate, maintains the Church’s teaching on the distinctively male nature of priesthood and diaconate. With respect to the diaconate, his position is that of Aime Georges Martimort, in Deaconesses: An Historical Study. Yes, the ministry of deaconesses existed in the ancient Church but it was not, so the argument goes, the same as that bestowed on men in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as we understand the sacrament today, in light of the development of doctrine.

Will the bishops of the Synod decide otherwise? We’ll see how the discussion unfolds and what the final document says, as well as how the Holy Father responds to it. Pope Francis has already indicated that the discussion of ordination of women to the priesthood is closed. He allowed the question of ordination to the diaconate to be studied again—it’s been examined twice in the last fifty years—but gives no indication he thinks Church teaching on the subject can or should change. At least he hasn’t done so thus far.

Still, a few people have proposed the development of a new female diaconate that wouldn’t involve the Sacrament of Holy Orders but which would be akin to what used to be called “minor orders”. These “minor orders”, generally suppressed in the Latin-Rite of the Catholic Church and replaced by the “installed’ ministries of lector and acolyte, have come to be understood as creations of the Church rather than developments of a divinely established set of ordained ministries, as episcopacy, priesthood, and diaconate are taught by the Church to be.  There are many problems with this idea, not least that probably most proponents of women’s ordination would reject it as a sort of second-class sacrament. Whether it will be seriously pursued remains to be seen.

At the very least, we can say that we certainly live in interesting times. Oremus.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Mark Brumley 60 Articles
Mark Brumley is president and CEO of Ignatius Press.

41 Comments

  1. Be “women deacons” or even “women priests” of WHAT? A new Church with a “Risen One” who “attracts” in various “creative ways”…to the many diverse “paths” that are “surprises” willed by God…a new Church that requires no new converts…but apparently a greater “more just” distribution of clericalism?

  2. The church teaching stems from Adam and Eve. We need to follow church doctrine, dogma cannot be changed.
    One cannot be a Catholic without Baptism. Baptism is where receives one calling and he or she is transformed into a new creation in Christ.
    Woman cannot be deacons or priests.
    However , married men as priests should be considered since this does not go against dogma. We need to respect priests and we have married priests. Celibacy is a gift , at the same, celibacy or marriage as a priest should be allowed and a careful part of discernment .

    • “However , married men as priests should be considered since this does not go against dogma.”

      No, they shouldn’t. It won’t solve any problems, and it will add other problems. Not to mention that it is an insult to the people of Amazonia to say that they, of all people in all the world in the past 2000 years, just don’t understand celibacy and can’t be taught.

    • Ordaining married men as the norm in the Latin Rite is not the panacea that many foolish believe it would be. The solution going forward is to ban the admittance to seminary and the ordination of homosexuals as well as purging all seminaries, consecrated religious and the Priesthood of homosexuals. Unless and until that is done, all the heretics and apostates we see exposing themselves at this shamazon sinod will continue to gain ground in their mission to destroy the Bride of Christ. And while we’re at it let the obligation of continence for all married clerics be reestablished.

    • It is my understanding ( and please correct me if I’m wrong) that even the married apostles like St. Peter, once they became priests “put away their wives” meaning that they no longer engaged in sexual activity with them. They embraced celibacy from then on.

      • We don’t know that. We know Peter had a mother-in-law, but we don’t know if his wife was still living.

        Btw the Church has allowed married men to be ordained but NEVER has allowed any ordained men to marry. Priests AND deacons are required to be Chaste at all times after ordination. Some argue that part of canon law doesn’t apply to deacons but the codes says all Clergy which includes deacons.

  3. An educational distinction between “authoritative” and “definitive.” And, yes, we “live in interesting times,” but predictable. . .

    In a fragmented Western culture, acceptance of same-sex “civil unions” served as a halfway house to gay “marriage”; in parts of a polygonal Church would a vaguely-defined female diaconate likewise serve in the long run as a halfway house to a female priesthood–“invalid” but met with silence in the front office?

    Under the draft reforms for the curia, of which we have heard nothing in months, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reportedly could be a silent partner to needed but broad-brush evangelization, and to a singularly elevated Secretariat of State. The new paradigm.

    • Having given more attention to what is “definitive” and what is not, and recalling the research done already on the historically non-sacramental nature of women “deacons” (the burden of proof to overturn does not exist—-more than Brumley’s “so the argument goes”), I am not moved by Brumley’s train of thought.

      Sacramental ordination (bishop/priest/AND deacon) of women is categorically excluded—-“definitively”—-by Pope John Paul II (below).

      (Meanwhile, why is the perplexed Amazonia/Germania so aloof/oblivious to the option, value and legitimacy of non-ordained female/male Lay Ecclesial Ministers as now exist in the United States? Why indeed!)

      “Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

      “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful” (Ordinato Sacerdotals, May 22, 1994).

      • “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus exact words. I loved St John Paul II but he forgot that he did have the authority, from Jesus.

  4. So the ‘modern’ teaching:

    + is not the Divine Revelation Teaching, the same today, yesterday and forever….?
    + previously, the ‘pre-modern’, was a different “T”eaching? Which is?
    + when and where did the ‘modern’ teaching begin?
    + the ‘modern’ “t” or “T”eaching, is something new and different? Not the Holy Spirit’s Original Teaching?
    + there can come a ‘post-modern’ teaching as well?
    + et al?

    Confused.

    Blessings in the Immaculata, Padre

    • Doctrine develops. Modern teaching is “modern” in the sense that the teaching of the Church today benefits from the Spirit-guided reflection of the Church throughout the ages as she, assisted by faithful theologians as well as holy men and women, often refines her articulation of faith in response to questions and challenges.

      • Yes, and the key term in your comment is “FAITHFUL theologians”.

        The ambiguity today, however, and as you know better than I, is the similarity between freelance “synods” and, say, a Leninist “vanguard.” We are tutored that “the whole is greater than the part” (Evangelii Gaudium), but on the ground is the reverse the real strategy?

        Here, then, a supportive FOOTNOTE to your remark, and a QUESTION. . .

        The model of “Church” being midwifed by our off-the-cuff version of synodality (as demonstrated with the parallel treatment of the John Paul II Institute) risks replacing a SACRAL understanding of the perennial and universal Catholic Church with more of a FLAT-EARTH scavenger-hunt version—intent on assembling (transforming?) diverse movements more from below.

        Not PENTECOST and a college of bishops, but percolating localisms and ideologies and a collage of whatever.

        Not the shepherd’s staff, but at the Youth Synod a Wiccan stang; in Bolivia a corpus attached to a hammer and sickle; in China a time-travel Investiture Crisis from the 11th century; fideistic Islam is greeted with a kissing of soles and incomprehension; and in Amazonia/Germania in pregnant nudie displaces a crucifix. No longer an “articulation of the faith”, but cut-and-paste of NARRATIVES—-if only to desperately embrace the massive future generation of non-elites before the Marxist/Globalists corral them instead.

        So, waffling theology, and ecclesiology, are explicitly adulterated with sociology.

        And SOCIOLOGY—-the study of social change (rather than of Trinitarian doctrinal development)—is triadic in its options. The (a) middle course selected by Pope Francis and applied to the Church [!] is “ambiguity”. Dismissed (b) at one margin is the risk of “polarization” (viz we bury the elementary first principle of non-contradiction), and (c) at the other margin presumed “complementarity” . . .

        With experimental “synodality”, the end game is for the many contradictory currents, at many levels, now awarded legitimacy to be patched together as (complementary) facets of a polygon Church, all the while discounting impending schism on a global scale. But the helm (if there is a helm) where are the “faithful”—-and competent—-theologians? Instead, pragmatists, willful amnesiacs, infiltrators, and worse.

        My QUESTION: If at this late hour the admitted challenges of modernity and wider turbulence and internal hollowness were actually handled more faithfully (your modifier) AND more prudently, what would this look like?

      • The Pope could extend his hands during an ordination of a woman as a deacon or a priest and nothing would happen. Neither he, nor any bishop, nor any priest designated by a Bishop have any power to convey Holy Orders on a women. No indelible mark of the priesthood would be conveyed.

  5. Although women are beautiful it’s going to get uglier. The trend to distort the God ordained beauty of woman is more than her physical attractiveness rather includes bearer of life complimentary strength of Man. Anathema words for the liberated though bottom line truth. The fundamental unhappiness of both men and women high cause for divorce is in that mutual reversal of identity value. Women priests are not in their nature nor in God’s ordained schemata. Call me bigot could care less. Women in men’s traditional roles drift to polar extremes of being exquisitely endearing, listening, soft on crime to hellions of justice. Yes there are exceptional women though not the rule of their nature. Look to the Blessed Virgin as the measure of truth regards women replacing men. Some things are not natural due to human fault and to refusal of God’s creative wisdom.

  6. I’m betting Francis pulls the chord and goes for the ordination of women deacons. The Church will be split asunder.

    • Heck, we’re inching toward a split this week with Catholics (and others?) making prostrations to (ugly) idols in the presence of the Pope, in the Vatican Gardens, that are also placed in Roman basilicas. (Well, five of them are now floating down the Tiber…)
      Incidentally, has Pope Benedict weighted in with anyone (off the record, of course) on this particular issue?

  7. Why are we so stubbornly blind about what was started and has happened with female Deacons in the Protestant churches? Why are we so stubbornly blind about Protestant female Deacons who opened the doors to homosexual Deacons, Pastors and Bishops and the total fragmentation and corruption of their churches and their doctrine? Why are we so blind to the fact, started in Genesis, that women can choose to be and, indeed, could be as sinful or much worse than the most sinful man?

    Why did Satan in Eden choose Eve as the easiest target for his Anti-God War, as he is doing now? Are women inferior (not at all!!) or are they just more prone to be sentimentally gullible and infinitely more willing to inflict ideological and spiritual rape on others once they themselves are ideologically and spiritually raped? Who will jump in to become female “non-official Deacons” or Ordained Deacons, once that door is opened never to close again? Will they be our brave, holy Catholic women or will they get totally run over by the very aggressive, self-sanctified, power greedy female Catholic activists, like the socialist, deceitful, sentimentalist, homosexuality-promoting nuns?

    Women’s God-given much greater power absolutely requires much greater submission to God to serve the good of all humankind and Creation. That’s why absolute power corrupts absolutely but nowhere like with heathen women. Where women lead, unholy men just follow. Will we real men be silent before the crimes coming from sensual, sexual and very attractive femininity just like Adam was silent before Eve’s horrible sin? Adam didn’t have Jesus Salvation, Redemption and Grace but we do!! Adam failed when God trusted His beautiful Creation to him, but we have St. Joseph’s prayerful aid and example, to whom God trusted His very greatest treasures in Jesus and Mary, and he did NOT fail!!! Neither should we all, women and men!!

    • @Phil

      The Catholic Church is the One True Church and is infallible and indefectible. If they restore the office of Deaconess it won’t be a sacramental office or holy orders.

  8. “At the very least?” (we should be concerned about the very most)! We live in interesting times? I hope that our zeal over this subject will be far greater than “interest”. We are living in dangerous times. If the Church has dispensed with minor orders, yet still in its preparation of the “permanent” male deacon requires that he first serve for a period as lector and acolyte before being ordained, then what kind of havoc and confusion in the parishes will we stir up by creating deaconesses who receive the “ministries” of lector and acolyte. I think it is wrong to suggest that those who favor female ordination will reject this outright. They may scowl for a time, but we must begin to realize the patience of the progressive movement which is the force behind this and the activities of such groups as LCWR who are great supporters of this synod. Further, while we stand around and (rightly) argue authoritative vs. definitive, the present papacy turns its back to us and goes about on its merry, pastoral way.

  9. We already have Deaconesses. Carthusian nuns receive the Blessing of the Deaconess.

    If they extend the use of that Blessing to other women religious and restore the ministry I won’t care as long as they use the Blessing formula which I assume doesn’t indicate the lady receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

    The worst that can happen is they do that but treat those given the Blessing of Deaconess as a recipient of Holy Orders. Which I would not put past the Germans.

  10. I now understand what the Catechism means when it says the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church (CCC 870).

    Somewhere in this institution is the Church Christ founded BUT there is a lot of garbage in this institution that has nothing to do with Christ.

  11. Cardinal Ratzinger said it is to be definitively held and as definitively Taught by the Holy Spirit in the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium and John Paul repeated this Truth as Infallible in the Ordinary and Universal….

    The Holy See
    back up Search
    riga

    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

    RESPONSUM AD PROPOSITUM DUBIUM
    CONCERNING THE TEACHING
    CONTAINED IN “ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS”

    Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

    Responsum: Affirmative.

    This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

    The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

    Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

    Joseph Card. Ratzinger
    Prefect

    Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
    Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli
    Secretary

    • Proponents of women’s ordination will say that JP2’s declaration only dealt with women’s ordination to the priesthood not the diaconate.This is true btw.

      I am against the ordination of women because there is a unity among the various levels of Holy Orders. Nonetheless, it seems to some that JP2 left some wiggle room for the ordination of women to the diaconate when he left that question out of his apostolic letter. Personally, I wish he had definitively dealt with the issue entirely by stating clearly that women cannot be ordained to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopacy. I also wish he did it ex cathedra so as to close the issue once and for all.

    • Enough of this Pachamamma nonsense. That pagan deity was worshipped by the Incas and the Hill people along the Coast not in the Amazon. You might as well say Vikings worships Jupiter. Enough of this BABYLON MYSTERY RELIGION or TWO BABYLONS crap. Are we Catholics or Baptists? That ceremony might have been problematic but the woman who performed it was Catholic not a pagan & she said the Statue was of Our Lady of the Amazon.

      Can we stop majoring in the minors here please? Even the Pope walked out on that ceremony. Now the Ford Foundation donating to groups that fund some of the organizations at the Synod. That looks suspicious let us not suck up the oxygen with non-issues with crap like that going on.

      • No, Jim. Sorry. We MUST question this nonsense. I don’t care what the woman who performed it said. Check out the experts; that image WAS pagan, it was NOT the Mother of God (or her kinswoman Elizabeth). She WAS engaging in a sage-burning ceremony and a bunch of folks (including at least one religious) were doing a full-on prostration toward the (ugly and immodest) idol. (Don’t see any thing like that in the Roman Ritual.) Do I care about deep-pocketed liberal organizations using their power and influence to control church-related entities? Of course. But this issue is fundamental. Reverence for this idol is wrong and sinful. There is NO SUCH THING as Mother Earth; it is merely a personification. And she sure ain’t no god! So why for any reason would people–Christian people–bow-down to the ground toward a personification of something (someone) which does not exist?

  12. There is no new ground being broken here. The Church of England and the Episcopal church USA set the stage some time ago. To their credit, they did so without employing elementary school costume plays and imagined native accoutrements. They went straight to a “new paradigm”. Apologies to any reader who sees this overused phrase. It worked for Thomas Kuhn, but is out of place in Catholic theology. But, who am I to judge?

  13. Its so simple. There is no emergency in the Amazon. They have purposely created a false crisis. They could have solved it at any time, in a number of ways. What they have done is fake a crisis so that the Germans can also fake a crisis, to get married men priests, to get women priests. This whole synod is one big fake, one big exercise in fooling people. If the Vatican wanted to increase the number of real priests in the Amazon, they could start an institute in Rome specifically to provide them. They could recruit men to go there. But they don’t because they want to trick everyone into letting them have married and women priests.

    The smell of sulphur in the Vatican is overwhelming.

  14. I’ll be very disappointed in this Amazonian Synod thing if Pope Francis does not declare five new “Ecological Mysteries of the Rosary.” Oh, I know the editors over at Eye of the Tiber are tired of being upstaged all the time, but the rest of us are enjoying the ongoing competition.

  15. That’s funny. When I read the title I was thinking the church was going to accept 6′-3″ 250 pound, weight lifting, former volleyball and rugby playing women as Deacons.

  16. The Church has no authority to ordain women. Period. If wayward bishops attempt this the Church will go into formal schism. Faithful Catholics will be forced to choose between parishes/diocese’s to avoid invalid Masses. (Yes I argue a women proclaiming the Gospel at Mass can invalidate it, at the very least it’s illicit). Either way a faithful Catholic cannot comply.

  17. It’s a purely speculative question. Whether deaconesses receive a Sacrament or a mere sacramental like the minor orders and subdiaconate (the subdiaconate was not a Sacrament but yet was a major order, not a minor one!)…deacons don’t affect the validity of any other sacrament (as priests do), so deaconesses could be ordained, even with a laying on of hands, and whether this creates an indelible character or just a canonical status and blessing ala the subdiaconate…really could be left unanswered, in practice.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Amazonian Women Deacons? -
  2. MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*