The world is crying out for the return of women to the diaconate, says author and scholar Dr. Phyllis Zagano.
In an address on women deacons and synodality, hosted by We Are Church Ireland, Dr Zagano said the Church needed more ministry because more ministers would encourage more priestly vocations.
“No one disputes the historical fact of women deacons – they existed in the early Church,” she said. “The Church has no doctrinal conclusion, no official statement, no history that eliminates women from the ordained office of deacon,” she stressed.
However, she recalled how an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told her, in person, that women cannot be ordained deacons because women cannot represent Christ to themselves. She explained that this is why she titled her most recent book, Women: Icons of Christ.
“The Church – meaning you and me – must strongly affirm that women can be icons of Christ,” she said and she urged people to use their synodal submission to address the question of women deacons.
“I think the synod on synodality is a good thing. You know what you want to say about women and women deacons in your synod report.
In his address, Dr. Zagano highlighted how Pope Francis, through the new apostolic constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, which comes into effect on June 5, hopes to make the Church more inclusive with the most capable people, including women. , who run the offices of the curia.
“Pope Francis sees his new apostolic constitution as part of the ministry of spreading the gospel. I think if he wants to spread the Gospel, he must ordain women to preach the Gospel. And if he wants to argue that women are made in the image and likeness of God, he must have a female deacon standing next to him proclaiming the gospel at St. Peter’s Basilica because large parts of the world unfortunately have the idea that women are chattels. .”
Referring to women who have undergone female genital mutilation, she said there were too many examples of disregard for women’s rights in society. “Too many women and girls are damaged,” she said.
On the issue of restoring women to the diaconate, she noted how recently Pope Francis legislated that women can be installed as lectors and acolytes and amended canon 230 paragraph one to say lay people who possess the age and qualifications, established by decree of the conference of bishops, may be admitted to the ministries of lector and acolyte.
“Since one must be installed as a lector or an acolyte before being ordained a deacon, Pope Francis removed a step that distances women from the diaconate, and he also instituted the lay ministry of catechist. I think we have to recognize that Pope Francis is trying to show the Church that everyone matters and that we all have distinct abilities.
Dr. Zagano, who is a senior research associate at Hofstra University, said history cannot be forgotten when it comes to female deacons in the past.
“Male deacons and female deacons existed as members of the same diaconate until the 12th century and we have evidence of ordained female deacons until the 12th century in Lucca, northern Italy.”
On the question of whether women can become cardinals, she noted that the last unordained lay cardinal, Teodolfo Mertel, died in 1899. He was made cardinal two months before he was appointed deacon. He never became a priest.
While she believed it would be possible to have lay cardinals, this would require a dispensation from the law. She suggested that it would be easier to have a female deacon named a cardinal because of the formal ranks of cardinals, from cardinal deacons to cardinal priests to cardinal bishops.