Five Steps to Ordained Women Deacons

The main criticism of the Amazonian Synod has been whether permission for more married priests in that region will then spread to the whole Church. However, the Church has always had some married priests. And it is not permissible (apart from laicization) for a priest to marry subsequent to ordination. But my view is that the Synod will likely do something more controversial: revive non-ordained women deacons. And subsequently, give those women deacons ordination.

I suppose that Pope Francis could simply decree that women can be ordained as deacons, and then permit this worldwide. But a multi-step process seems more likely.

The working document of the Synod suggests that the Church would benefit by giving women something more than what they have now, in the form of ministries in the Church. “Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church.” But most roles in the Church, other than ordained roles, already see women participation: lectors, altar servers, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, pastoral associates, and in some cases women run a parish that lacks a priest, or serve as diocesan chancellors. So what is left? The diaconate.

First step: Revive the ancient role of non-ordained women serving as deaconesses. They would be called deaconesses (or more likely, deacons, due to the influence of modern culture). They would have many of the same roles as male ordained deacons.

The idea that women deacons in the early Church were only used to help baptize women, by immersion, since immersion baptism was (supposedly) done naked, is false and absurd. Scripture testifies that Phoebe, a deaconess, did many different tasks for her church at Cenchreae.

[Romans 16]
{16:1} Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is in the ministry of the church, which is at Cenchreae,
{16:2} so that you may receive her in the Lord with the worthiness of the saints, and so that you may be of assistance to her in whatever task she will have need of you. For she herself has also assisted many, and myself also.

So women deacons were not only or mainly used to assist at baptisms. And since these deaconesses would not be ordained, there can be no fundamental objection to the role. It is an historical fact that the Church had non-ordained women deacons. And there’s no strong argument against women deacons if they are not ordained.

The papal critics might exaggerate and distort the situation to again accuse the Pope of heresy, but there’s no real basis for that accusation if the role is non-ordained women deacons.

Second step: Expand non-ordained women deacons worldwide. Very quickly, there will be tens of thousands of non-ordained women deacons. The absence of ordination means that the path to this role can be quite brief. Many women already have served their parish for many years in many important roles. They would simply be given the title of deacon and be given expanded roles.

Third step: Allow these non-ordained women deacons to baptize and officiate at weddings (in the Latin Rite), as these Sacraments do not require Holy Orders. Lay persons sometimes baptize or officiate at weddings, in extraordinary cases. So non-ordained women deacons could do so, too. This would make the non-ordained women deacons much like make ordained deacons.

Fourth step: Teach that the Church has the authority to ordain women to the diaconate. This will seem, at that point in time, inarguable, if indeed women are already serving in many parishes in much the same roles as male deacons.

Fifth step: Ordain the formerly-non-ordained deaconesses. Having a large set of non-ordained women deacons already trained, given the title of deacon, and serving in parishes will make this step lightning fast and unstoppable. Suddenly, the Church will have ordained women deacons.

That’s what I think will happen, although some of the steps can be done in a different order. Understand, I’m not recommending this course of action. It’s a prediction of future events, not advice on the best way to run the Church.

I believe that the Church has the authority to ordain women to the diaconate, and that Pope Francis will teach the same. He will institute the ordained female diaconate, and as a result, many conservatives will depart from communion, not only with the Pope, but with all the dioceses and parishes which have women deacons.

I believe that ordaining women deacons, at this point in time, will cause many problems in the Church. Some women will abuse the role. Some will try to advance from the diaconate to the priesthood. Some will use the role to teach grave errors. But, on the whole, it is the will of God and it will be best for the Church, in the long run.

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

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