Review: Phyllis Zagano Makes The Case For Women Deacons

Historians in the News
tags: religion, Catholic Church, womens history


For the past 25 years, Zagano has shaped the discourse on gender and the history of leadership in the Roman Catholic Church with multiple award-winning articles and books. In particular, she is one of the world’s foremost experts on the history of the diaconate. She has written on how the meaning of this role has shifted over the last two millennia. More provocatively, she has written about who has filled this role in different circumstances and times in church history. Zagano’s thorough historical scholarship has shown that we must count women in that number.

While Zagano thoughtfully draws out the theological implications of her research, her main point is historical: There is simply no precedent on which to base the exclusion of women from the diaconate in the Catholic Church. Further, Zagano argues that there can be an ordination of women to the diaconate without any implication that women could be ordained to the priesthood. The formal sacramental ordination of a person into the diaconate and priesthood are different enough in kind that the ordination of women deacons does not imply the possibility of the ordination of women priests.

The question of women in the diaconate became relevant after Vatican II, when a permanent diaconate was established for the first time in centuries. Between the councils of Trent and Vatican II, there was no permanent diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church. The order of deacon was instead part of Holy Orders (one of the seven formally proclaimed sacraments), which has three levels: deacon, priest and bishop. In this understanding, all deacons were priests-to-be. 

After Vatican II, the permanent diaconate, modeled on a role found in the early church, was reinstituted. Today deacons are ordained; they must be over 35; and they can be married. Deacons can baptize, witness marriages, perform funerals and burial services outside of Mass, distribute holy Communion, proclaim the Gospel and preach the homily. Married deacons, who wear a stole diagonally across the chest rather than in parallel lines, are a familiar sight in many U.S. parishes. A deacon cannot, however, administer the sacrament of confirmation, hear confessions, anoint the sick or consecrate the eucharistic gifts.

Could there be a place for women in the permanent diaconate?


Read entire article at America Magazine

comments powered by Disqus