Arguments against Ordaining Women Deacons

As explained in my previous post, I believe that the Church possesses the authority to ordain women to the diaconate. However, the Magisterium has not yet settled the question. So let’s look at the arguments offered by various persons against ordaining women deacons.

1. Timing

Now is not the right time. The Church has not had women deacons for many centuries, and She perhaps has never had ordained women deacons. Therefore, women deacons are not essential to the work and role of the Church. Presently, sinful secular society teaches many errors on the roles of men and women, and on gender. Ordaining women to the diaconate might confuse the faithful, making them think that men and women should have the same roles in all things (contrary to Scripture).

If the Church ordains women deacons in the present time, many of them are likely to be influenced by secular society to behave in exactly the same way as male deacons, and some will behave very much like priests. This type of error harm souls by setting a bad example. God intends men and women to have different roles in the Church, the family, and society. But if we were to wait until a time when the faithful, if not society as a whole, will have a better understanding of this topic, ordaining women then would do less harm.

Counter argument: The diaconate is a role of service, and such a role is fitting to both men and women. The Church can include clear teachings on how the roles of men and women deacons ought to differ, according to the plan of God, so that the faithful will not be confused. And, no matter when women are ordained, there will always be some who behave sinfully and who misuse any role.

2. Unity of Orders

The Magisterium infallibly teaches that Christ did not give His Church the authority to ordain women as bishops and priests. But the three degrees of holy orders are one Sacrament. If a man is ordained as a deacon, and then becomes a priest, and later a bishop, there are three ceremonies, but he is considered to have receive the Sacrament only once. Thus, any argument or teaching that works for the priesthood and episcopate should also apply to the diaconate. Women cannot be priests and bishops, therefore, they cannot be deacons.

Counter argument: The episcopate is fundamentally different from the priesthood, in that bishops can exercise the Magisterium and bishops can ordain. The priesthood is fundamentally different from the diaconate, in that priests can administer several Sacraments that deacons cannot administer. Therefore, the unity of orders is not complete. Significant distinctions exist.

Furthermore, Revelation 20:6 suggests that, in the distant future, Christ may give to His Church a new authority to ordain some women as priests (after the general resurrection). Therefore, women are not entirely unfit for the Sacrament of holy Orders.

3. Historical Argument

The roles of those who serve the Church, and the terminology used to describe those roles, have changed over the centuries. But there is no substantial evidence that women were ever ordained as deacons, in the sense of the Sacrament of Orders. After two thousand years, it is clear that the Church has no substantial need for women deacons. Moreover, if She has the authority to ordain women, She would have used that authority by now.

Counter argument: The Church must change, as time passes, in order to address the changing needs of the persons She seeks to save. Her teachings do not change, but the means She uses to save souls can change, to some extent. In the present time, women have different roles in society than they had in past generations. And the Church may be better able to appeal to women in society by means of women deacons preaching the Gospel and serving those in need.

4. Different Roles

Sacred Scripture teaches that God intends men and women to have different roles in the Church, the family, and society. Giving women the role of deacons violates that teaching by putting women in a position of leadership, authority, and teaching over men.

Counter argument: The teaching of Sacred Scripture on the differences in roles of men and women, is not necessarily violated by the ordination of women deacons. The role of deacons is primarily and fundamentally one of service, not of teaching or authority. No one can say that women Christians are not called to serve those in need. And female deacons need not have exactly the same role as male deacons.

5. Valid Matter

Some persons claim that women are not valid matter for the Sacrament of Ordination, as Canon law seems to indicate: “Can. 1024 A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.”

Counter argument: 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. Are Women Valid Matter for Ordination?

And Canon law can be changed, to permit women to be ordained as deacons.

6. Bias Against Women

Some persons claim that the prohibition against women being ordained is nothing other than a gender bias. Sometimes this claim is expressed as a prohibition against menstruating women approaching the altar. Historically, Judaism had that type of restriction, so that only young girls and old women were permitted to serve in some areas of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Counter argument: No such prohibition is found in Christianity, and all the Old Testament disciplines have been dispensed by Christ. The prohibition against ordaining women is not an expression of bias against women. For the Virgin Mary has one of the highest roles in the Church, and has been crowned Queen of Heaven. The Church teaches that different roles for men and women is part of the plan of God. Men and women are equal before God, but they are not thereby given the same roles.

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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13 Responses to Arguments against Ordaining Women Deacons

  1. Mark P. says:

    The Church’s teachings on issues such as contraception and abortion may be better received by secular society (and even disagreeing Catholics) if women deacons preach on these issues. Perhaps these teachings will then not be seen as impediments to women’s freedom foisted upon them by men, but rather as the path to truth and freedom from the ways of the world.

  2. Respectful commentator says:

    Can. 764 states

    Without prejudice to the prescript of ⇒ can. 765, presbyters and deacons possess the faculty of preaching everywhere; this faculty is to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church, unless the competent ordinary has restricted or taken away the faculty or particular law requires express permission.

    Not only would you have to abrogate canon 1024, in addition to removing CCC 1577 from the catechism, you would have to eliminate a male deacons role to preach if you wanted to be consistent.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Canons and discipline can change. My opinion is that deacons have been given roles too much like that of priests. I’d like to see more distinctions there. And for female deacons, if that happens, their roles should differ from male deacons. But you are right that male deacons have the role to preach. I’ll stand corrected on that point. Deacons have a role to preach, but their primary role, per Acts 6, is service.

  3. Dora says:

    Women given a more visible role might in some sense act “in persona Mary,” which is parallel to “in persona christi,” the role of priests. Think St. Louis de Montfort.

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