Women Deacons: Objections and Replies

Does the Catholic Church have the authority and ability to ordain women as deacons? If so, should the Church ordain women to the diaconate? This post considers several common objections to the ordination of women deacons.

Objection 1: Women are not valid matter for the Sacrament of Ordination.

Reply 1: The matter of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the imposition of hands used to administer the Sacrament. The person who receives ordination is not the matter of the Sacrament. See this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Similarly, in Baptism, the matter is the water, not the recipient, and in Confirmation, the matter is the chrism, not the recipient. In the Sacrament of Confession (as St. Thomas explains), the matter is the sins of the penitent and his contrition for those sins, not the recipient of forgiveness. In the Anointing of the Sick, the matter is the oil used to anoint the sick.

The Magisterium has never taught that the matter of the Sacrament of Ordination is the person who receives the Sacrament. This claim is based on a misunderstanding of the term “matter” as it applies to Sacraments. So the claim that only a baptized male is “valid matter” for the Sacrament of Holy Orders is patently false.

Objection 2: The same arguments which work for a male only priesthood work for a male only diaconate.

Reply 2: To the contrary, there are substantial doctrinal differences between the diaconate and the priesthood. A priest can administer all the sacraments, except ordination (which is reserved to Bishops). A deacon can only administer baptism and marriage; the only two sacraments that can also be administered by lay persons in extraordinary cases.

The diaconate exists because the Church needed persons “to serve at tables” (Acts 6:2). The role of the deacon is service, and such a role is not in conflict with the teachings of Scripture and Tradition on the proper roles of women. A priest, unlike a deacon, stands in persona Christi, consecrates the Eucharist, forgives sins, and is the head of the parish and the leader at Mass. The bad example of some male deacons notwithstanding, the diaconate is inherently a role of service, not authority.

Given that the diaconate has these substantial differences from the priesthood, one cannot make the sweeping claim that the same arguments would apply.

Objection 3: The deaconesses of the early Church were non-ordained. The Council of Nicea said that women deacons “have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.”

Reply 3: It is debatable whether the Church has ever had ordained women deacons, in some places, at some time. The Council of Nicea simply states what was true at the time. No Council has ever decided the question of women deacons, for or against.

But even if the Church has never had women deacons, the question remains open, as to whether or not She has the authority and ability to ordain women deacons. There is no definition magisterial teaching on the subject. So Pope Francis, or a subsequent Pope or Council, is able to decide the question.

Objection 4: The Church does not need women deacons… [various explanations why].

Reply 4: The Church is not restricted, such that She can only do the things that are necessary. Jesus gave the Church full authority, for the sake of saving souls and worshipping God. The Church can exercise that divinely-appointed authority to do what is necessary, what is useful, and even what is superfluous, in accord with Her own judgment.

Objection 5: Church approval for women deacons will sow confusion among the faithful.

Reply 5: Every new definition or renewed clarification of doctrine includes the possibility that we poor sinners will misunderstand and be confused. The possibility for confusion does not nullify the authority of the Church to teach the truth.

However, I agree that there is a danger of the possibility of confusion, so we must be careful to limit the role of women deacons. It would be all too tempting for a woman deacon, edged on by the crowd that desires women priests, to take as much of the role of a priest as she would like. We must guard against deacons behaving as if they were priests, and against priests behaving as if they were bishop, and against bishops behaving as if they were the Pope. Each person must limit themselves to their proper role in the Church.

Objection 6: The Scripture passage on women’s roles exclude the possibility of women as deacons.

[1 Tim]
{2:11} Let a woman learn in silence with all subjection.
{2:12} For I do not permit a woman to teach, nor to be in authority over a man, but to be in silence.
{2:13} For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Reply 6: The role of a deacon is a role of service, and such a role is fitting to both men and women. Moreover, a woman deacon need not have the same role as a male deacon. In keeping with the passages of Scripture on roles, a woman deacon should not preach a sermon, nor have authority in the parish, nor be appointed as pastor (of a parish that sadly lacks a priest), nor any other role that is fitting to men, rather than to women.

But we all know that the members of the Church, including bishops, priests, and deacons, are influenced heavily by modern culture. So I believe this issue of role and gender will be exacerbated by the ordination of women. Then again, perhaps the Church will be stirred up by this problem, to teach more clearly and more definitively on the proper roles of men and women.

Objection 7: Sacred Tradition has already decided the question: women cannot be ordained deacons because the Church has never ordained women in Her 2000 year history.

Reply 7: The Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. If a Pope or Council decides that women can be ordained, then that is the correct understanding of Tradition and Scripture. Whoever says otherwise places himself above the Magisterium as if he were God.

The tribulation draws ever nearer. A great schism, followed by apostasy, is inevitable. Fast and pray, so that you do not lose faith.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Women Deacons: Objections and Replies

  1. Shane Hogan says:

    A small question re reply 2: In the case of Marriage is it not truer to say that the spouses administer the Sacrament at the moment when they make their vows, and that the role of the deacon or priest is to witness the exchange of vows on behalf of the Church? Shane

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