18 April 2023, The Tablet

Catholic Church 'robbed' of richness of women deacons

Catholic Church 'robbed' of richness of women deacons

Dr Phyllis Zagano
Sarah Mac Donald

The Catholic Church has been “robbed” of the richness of women in the diaconate, according to a senior academic and author.

Dr Phyllis Zagano, adjunct professor of religion at Hofstra University, said, “There is not now and never has been any doctrinal finding that women cannot be restored to the diaconate.”

In her reflection on women and ministerial service in the Church at a Loyola Institute’s symposium: “A Servant Church on the Synodal Way”, she  said, “Women can receive the sacrament of order as deacons, just as they did for hundreds of years in the early Church.”

Dr Zagano has just launched her latest book, Just Church: Catholic Social Teaching, Synodality and Women.  

From the twelfth century up to Vatican II, she said the diaconate was essentially on hiatus and this “robbed the church of the richness of the charism”.

She noted that some dismiss requests for the restoration of women to the ordained diaconate as a justice issue by insinuating that it is a political discussion around women’s rights.

“Justice means justice for the people of God, not only for women. It is about ministry. It is about women being ministered to by women,” she said.

Other speakers at the symposium included Dr Bernard Pottier SJ, theologian and member of the International Theological Commission and the Commission on the Female Diaconate instituted by Pope Francis, as well as Dr Margit Eckholt, Professor of Dogmatics and Fundamental Theology at the Institute of Catholic Theology in University of Osnabrück, who spoke about developments at the German Synodal Way.

In his is address, Irish theologian, Dr Gerry O'Hanlon SJ, who is a member of the Synodal Pathway Steering Committee, said it would be helpful if the “voice and suffering” of women who have experienced a call to ministry are heard.

“Often painful experience can be a powerful agent in allowing the Church to truly ‘test the Spirits’ and not to ‘stifle the Holy Spirit,’” the Jesuit said.

Describing the synodal way as “so promising”, he said it facilitated difficult conversations in the atmosphere of encounter with Jesus and one another, watchful for the promptings of the Spirit.

He called on theology to play a greater role in providing ideas, arguments and discussion to the synodal process which would provide the discernment with an intellectual grounding, and be true to the Church’s developing self-understanding.

“In Ireland in particular we may well be at the point where our method of ‘spiritual conversation’ needs some theological analysis and input in order to become a more rounded ‘communal discernment’,” he suggested.

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