The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate. Canon Law Society of America

The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women
to the Permanent Diaconate

Copyright ©1995, Canon Law Society of America , Washington DC, posted with permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used for any purpose other than personal use.
Therefore, reproduction, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use,
is strictly prohibited without prior written permission.

Report of an Ad Hoc Committee of the Canon Law Society of America, 1995

Table of Contents

Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
I. The Historical Development of the Diaconate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
  A. The Development of Deacons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
  B. The Development of Deaconesses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
      1. Deaconesses in the Early Christian Community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
      2. Deaconesses in the Eastern Churches . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
      3. Deaconesses in the Latin Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
      4. Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
  C. The Decline of the Diaconate in the Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
  D. The Debate about the “Ordination” of Deaconesses in the Early Church . . . . 18
II. The Restoration of the Permanent Diaconate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
III. Theological Reflection  
  A. Issues of Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
  B. Significance of Culture  
      1. Importance of Culture for the Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
      2. Women and Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
  C. The Sacrament of Orders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
IV. Canonical Implications  
  A. Preliminary Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
  B. Analysis of the Canon Law on Orders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
  C. Analysis of the Canon Law on Clergy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
  D. Analysis of the Canon Law on Deacons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  
      1. What Deacons can do According to the Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
      2. What Deacons are Restricted from Doing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
  E. Analysis of the Canon Law on Religious . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
  F. Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
V. Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
  Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52


The following report is the work of the ad hoc committee of the Canon Law Society of America on the canonical implications of the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate. The committee was established by the Board of Governors to implement a resolution adopted by the CLSA membership at their annual meeting in 1992. The committee has been chaired by Nancy Reynolds and Harmon D. Skillin, and included members Lucy Blyskal, James A. Coriden, Lynn Jarrell, James H. Provost, and Joseph W. Pokusa. This report was received by the Canon Law Society of America at the 57th annual meeting at Montreal on October 18, 1995.

The original charge to the committee was to report to the CLSA annual meeting in 1994. A report on progress was made to the membership at that meeting, but the committee's full report proved more difficult to complete and has taken an additional year to finalize. Individual members of the committee, working as teams or as independent researchers, have prepared various portions of the work, but the report is the work of the committee as such and is not divided according to authors.

In developing this report the committee has relied on existing major studies which have dealt with the biblical and historical background. Summarizing the consensus reached in these studies, even while recognizing ongoing debates on the significance of some of the history, the committee has attempted to provide a context for addressing the canonical implications of the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate. This required the committee to take a position on some of these issues, which it has done on the basis of evaluating the available studies. Because the committee's mandate was narrowly focused on the canonical implications, it did not take into consideration such broader issues as the ecumenical experience and its implications for this question, or even further issues in the biblical and historical material. Moreover, this report is limited to the canonical implications in the Latin Church. It is the hope of the committee that this report will stimulate further studies, perhaps even involving other disciplines, in order to continue the dialogue on this significant topic.

The result of the committee's research on the canonical implications in the Latin Church is the following. Women have been ordained permanent deacons in the past, and it would be possible for the Church to determine to do so again. Cultural factors were a major element in the decision, in various local areas of the Church in the past, to ordain women as permanent deacons; cultural factors continue to be a major consideration in the decision to ordain men as permanent deacons today, and would be a major element in any decision to ordain women as permanent deacons in a local area of the Church.

The canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate in the Latin Church are, on the one hand, rather limited; that is, only a few derogations would be required from current church law, and these are within the authority of the Apostolic See to make. A bishops' conference such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States could petition these derogations, and adopt a revised form of Guidelines for the permanent diaconate to reflect the derogations. On the other hand, the canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate are considerable when seen from the perspective of the ministry of women in the Church. It would provide the grace of the sacrament for women who are already doing important service in the Church, would open the way for women to exercise diaconal service in the teaching, sanctifying, and governing functions of the Church, and would make them capable of holding ecclesiastical offices now open to deacons but closed to lay persons.

The committee has reached the conclusion that, in light of its research, ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is possible, and may even be desirable for the United States in the present cultural circumstances. The committee presents the results of its research in the hopes that this report will be of some assistance in clarifying the canonical implications it was charged to investigate.


Two Vatican documents published in the spring of 1994 focused on official ministerial participation of Catholic women in the Church. While one affirmed new initiatives, the other explicitly closed the door on any consideration of women being ordained to the priesthood.

On April 14, 1994 the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released a letter about female altar servers. It reported a June 30, 1992 decision of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts which affirmed that "service at the altar (can) also be counted among the liturgical functions that lay people, either men or women, can fulfill according to canon 230, §2 of the Code of Canon Law."1 While this announcement may seem to be only a slight concession, such an official recognition carries broader implications for interpreting the Church's traditional stance which had clearly excluded the female sex from the altar.

Just a month later, however, on May 22, 1994, John Paul II issued an apostolic letter on priestly ordination and women in which he wrote: "in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 22: 32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."2 In reviewing the question of women's ordination to the priesthood in recent decades, the pope cited Paul VI's directive to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "to set forth and expound the teaching of the Church on this matter," which resulted in the 1976 Declaration on Women in the Ministerial Priesthood.3

Given the pope's explicit citation of this document, some have concluded that he had no intention of closing the door to the ordination of women to the diaconate in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Vatican's own commentary on the 1976 declaration stated regarding deaconesses that "it is a question which must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas; hence the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that it should be kept for the future and not touched upon in the present document."4

On June 2, 1994, just days after John Paul It's letter on the ordination of women to the priesthood, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Archbishop of Milan, is reported to have stated at the Eucharistic Congress in Siena that "the pope has said nothing about the ordination of women to the diaconate. "5 The cardinal added, "our real task is ... to see how ... a path of ecumenical dialogue remains possible ... in which one can show the presence of women in every field."6 Writing three days later in the Italian daily, L'lnformazione, theologian Bruno Forte urged the Church to "pinpoint the best possible ways for female ministry to make its own original and irreplaceable contribution to ecclesial unity, expressed and served by ordained ministry. It might not be incongruent here to make appeal to the female diaconate in the ancient church...."7

As early as 1975 the Joint Synod of the Dioceses of the Federal Republic of Germany requested Paul VI to examine "the question of the diaconate of women in the light of contemporary theological findings, and in light of the current pastoral situation, if possible, to permit the ordination of women to the diaconate."8 In the United States, a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its first two drafts (1988, 1990) of the pastoral letter on women's concerns, strongly urged that the study of admitting women to the diaconate "be undertaken and brought to completion soon."9 The third and fourth drafts (1991, 1992) reiterated "the need for continuing reflection on the meaning of ministry in the Church, particularly in regard to the diaconate."10 In addition, at its annual meetings since 1990 the National Association of Permanent Diaconate Directors has repeatedly requested the United States bishops to encourage the appropriate Vatican congregations to initiate studies on the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate.11

Prompted by these recommendations to take up the question of the female permanent diaconate and impelled by the urgent pastoral needs of today's Church, the Canon Law Society of America passed the following resolution at its 1992 annual meeting:

Whereasboth the 1976 Declaration Inter insigniores and its commentary published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke of the need to study the ordination of women to the diaconate; and

Whereas this need is also evident in the United States, as was even expressed in an earlier NCCB draft of the pastoral letter on women's concerns which recommended a study of the possibility of the ordination of women to the diaconate;

Be it resolved that the Board of Governors commission a study of the canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate and report to the membership at the 1994 Convention of the Society.12

A committee was named by the Board of Governors to conduct the study, and after several drafts presents its report. After exploring the historical development of deacons and deaconesses in the first millennium, this study focuses on the theology of the diaconate and the canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate today. This is followed by conclusions and a bibliography.

I. The Historical Development of the Diaconate

Prior to the 1967 restoration of the diaconate most Catholic deacons of the last ten centuries were those who knew the diaconate only as a step in transition to priesthood. Yet in the Church's early history permanent deacons were ordained for a life-long ministry of service and discharged occasional liturgical duties. Likewise, deaconesses also made a distinctive contribution to the church life of their own day. To appreciate the diaconate for men or women today, a review of the rise and the fall of the office of the diaconate in the ancient church offers an important basis for further discussion.

In discussing these historical matters, this report synthesizes the findings of scholars, drawing on their points of agreement and then assessing a serious disagreement among them on the meaning of this historical evidence.13 While it is beyond the scope of this report to attempt original research in these matters, the following review is intended to provide a basis for further considerations on the canonical implications of ordaining women to the diaconate.

A. The Development of Deacons

New Testament experiences in orders and ministry provide the starting point. Jesus established the Twelve as his special apostles chosen from the larger community of disciples. Under the impetus of the Holy Spirit other ministers were later added for church communities. Matthias was included among the Twelve (Acts 1: 26). Barnabas and Saul were chosen apostles (Acts 13: 2). Church leaders in Jerusalem appointed seven other men for a ministry of service in order that the Twelve might not "neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables" (Acts 6: 2). The Epistle to Titus says that among Paul's purposes in leaving Titus at Crete was to "accomplish ... the appointment of presbyters in every town" (Tit. 1: 5). The Epistle to Timothy offers qualifications for bishops and for deacons (1 Tim. 3: 1-13).

St. Paul reflected on the New Testament's experience of how ministries arose. He wrote that "God has set up in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators ..." (1 Cor. 12: 28). St. Paul acknowledged "different ministries but the same Lord" (1 Cor. 12: 5) and affirmed that "the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor. 12: 7). By the end of the Apostolic Age, patterns had emerged for Christians about how the church community could best organize for the common good the charismatic gifts distributed by the Spirit to believers. Titus, Timothy, and the Acts of the Apostles reflect that bishops, deacons, and presbyters became normative ministers for church life.

The Didache,written between 90 and 110, is the oldest non-biblical mirror of development. This ancient book of church order directed: "Appoint ... for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord ... for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers."14 Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch who was martyred in Rome about 107, affirmed a normative structure: "do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the Council of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ."15

The first churches, under the Spirit's guidance, developed this triad for ministry in the local church community. A bishop, assisted by his deacons, cared for a community with the support of his presbyters. Within this structure an important role for deacons was secured in the ancient church. The diaconate was a ministry of service. Parallel to the Scriptures, in various church traditions East and West, the normal situation of the deacon was to serve the Lord by caring for particular community needs to which he was assigned by the bishop (or later under the priest).

When St. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna who died about 155, wrote to the Christians at Philippi, he treated deacons first saying: "Likewise must the deacons be blameless before his righteousness, as the servants of God and Christ and not of men" (5: 2). Then he addressed the elders: "let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered, caring for all the weak, neglecting neither the widow, nor orphan nor poor" (6:1).16

Deacons regularly provided assistance to bishops in regard to non-priestly responsibilities. Duties such as assuring charitable assistance, providing information about individual situations and caring for fiscal administration tie in well with the New Testament qualifications that "deacons must be serious, straightforward and trustful.... not overindulge in drink or give in to greed" (1 Tim. 3: 8-10).

The Letter of Polycarp expressed the same concern about what is required of deacons. Polycarp wrote: "Likewise must the deacons be blameless ... not slanderers, not doubletongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all things, compassionate, careful, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the 'servant of all'" (5: 2).17

Early in the third century the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome clearly emphasized the deacon's relationship to his bishop. Hippolytus wrote that the deacon "is not ordained for a priesthood, but for the service of the bishop ... that which is entrusted to him under the bishop's authority."18 The Didascalia Apostolorum, a collection of directives addressed to clergy and laity in third century Syria, also affirmed such responsibility for deacons. It stated: "Let the bishop and the deacons, then, be of one mind.... Let the deacon be the hearing of the bishop, his mouth and his heart and his soul...."19

Having reviewed the establishment of the male diaconate in the early church, we now turn to the historical development of deaconesses.

B. The Development of Deaconesses

1. Deaconesses in the Early Christian Community

Gryson and Martimort agree that there is no evidence available to substantiate a New Testament diaconate for women, parallel to what the New Testament authors termed "deacons." There are two passages in the Pauline epistles which some have taken to refer to deaconesses, Romans 16: 1 and 1 Timothy 3: 11. In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul commends to them "our sister Phoebe, a diaconos of the church at Cenchreae, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well." Although many modern editions of the Bible translate this as "deaconess,"20 it appears anachronistic to call Phoebe a deaconess since this term was utilized to specify an ecclesiastical institution of a much later date.21 Gryson does suggest that Paul's description of Phoebe as the diaconos of Cenchreae may well indicate the point where the original charism is becoming an office.22

The first letter to Timothy contains the most detailed passage on the office of deacons (3: 8-11), with an interesting insert on women: "Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine,... The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things." Despite the parallelism between verses 8 and 11 (deacons likewise ... the women likewise), and the similarities of the qualities required of deacons and the women in this case, there are too many questions about the proper meaning of this passage for it to be read in a compelling way as supporting the existence of deaconesses at this time.23

In his third century commentary, Clement of Alexandria spoke of the "women deacons" in 1 Tim. 3: 11, while his student Origen, commenting on Rom. 16: 1, later emphasized that "even women are instituted deacons in the church." In ancient secular documents, one of the earliest references to women as ministers is found in Pliny's epistle to Trajan (circa 111-113). Writing from northwest Asia Minor, Pliny found it necessary "to extract the real truth, with the use of torture, from two female slaves who were called (female) ministers."24

2. Deaconesses in the Eastern Churches

In the Eastern Churches both canonical and non-canonical sources attest to the development of deaconesses.

a. Early Church Documents

The earliest official church document that refers to the office of deaconess is the third century Didascalia Apostolorum.According to the baptismal ritual described in the Didascalia, after the celebrant anointed only the head of the woman candidate, the deaconess would apply the holy oil over the whole body. When the woman who had been baptized came up out of the water, the deaconess assumed the role of a godmother and would "receive her and instruct and educate her" in the faith. In addition, since social custom prohibited a bishop of third century Syria from sending a deacon to minister to Christian women in a pagan household, he would assign deaconesses to visit these women and fulfill their various needs including catechesis, nursing care, or whatever pastoral care was needed.25

In a recasting of the Didascalia a century later, the Apostolic Constitutions, possibly from Antioch or Constantinople, portrays deaconesses as a definite order open only to virgins or monogamous widows of proven character who received the rite of ordination. Like other clerics, deaconesses were to be ordained within the sanctuary by the imposition of hands and the prayer of the bishop celebrated in the presence of the priests, the deacons, and the deaconesses.26 Although the ordination rite for the deaconess closely paralleled that of the deacon and both were "appointed unto ministry,"27 certain functions were prohibited to deaconesses including assisting the bishop or the priests at the altar, distributing Communion, giving blessings, or excommunicating anyone.28 In addition to their liturgical role in the baptisms of women, deaconesses also delivered messages for the bishop and controlled the entrance of women at the church door.

Written in Greek in the second half of the fifth century, the Testament of Our Lord Jesus Christ was probably composed in a Monophysite milieu within Syria. In contrast to the Didascalia and the Constitutions which gave a liturgical and a pastoral role to deaconesses, the Testament assigned these functions to the widows. Besides welcoming women to church assemblies, deaconesses had only one other responsibility: to bring Communion to pregnant women who were unable to attend the Easter Mass.29

Deaconesses were so widely present in the Eastern Church, as evidenced by the above documents, that they could not be ignored in church legislation.

b. Church Legislation

The early ecumenical councils addressed questions related to deaconesses. Although the Council of Nicea in the early part of the fourth century did not consider deaconesses as part of the clergy,30 by the time of Chalcedon (451) they were clearly counted among the clergy. In contrast to earlier imperial legislation which imposed a minimum of sixty years (symbolizing old age), Chalcedon allowed women access to orders at forty years of age, but only after ascertaining their worthiness. In addition, if a deaconess were to be ordained and then to marry, she was to be anathematized along with the man she married.31

c. Eastern Fathers of the Church

Some of the Eastern Fathers also addressed questions related to deaconesses. According to Epiphanius (fourth century), the order of deaconesses existed solely for service to women, whether in connection with baptism, or at the time of illness. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and Theodoret of Cyr referred to or knew of the dignity and ministry of deaconesses, and Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia added that deaconesses had to be as zealous for virtue as deacons were.32

d. Greek Pontificals

The Barberini Greek Pontifical, probably from southern Italy and utilized in the Eastern Church from the fourth to the twelfth centuries, contained a rite for the ordination of deaconesses. The deaconess was to be either a virgin or a monogamous widow (or, later, a nun or an abbess of a monastery) who was sixty, fifty, or, finally, forty years of age (according to the prevailing legislation), and always of exemplary character. Since the Byzantine ordoattempted to structure a ritual as parallel as possible to that of the deacons, the deaconess was always ordained at the foot of the altar in the sanctuary, the same place where a deacon was ordained. Additional similarities existed in the use of the same prayer formula calling down "the divine grace," the three signs of the cross over the person to be ordained, and the laying on of hands.

With his hands on the head of the deaconess to be ordained, the bishop prayed that she be given the gift of the diaconate in the Holy Spirit, just as Phoebe was. Then the bishop placed around her neck the deacon's stole, bringing its two ends out in front (in contrast to the deacon's stole whose ends were worn to the side). After having received the sacred Body and the Precious Blood, the bishop gave the chalice to the deaconess who took it and put it down on the altar (unlike the deacon who then distributed Communion to the faithful).33 According to some scholars, these ordination formulas and ceremonies demonstrate that, unlike a blessing, here it is a matter of ordination on a par with the ordination of a deacon, an ordination in the strictest sense whose formally sacramental character cannot be questioned.34 Having received a "sacred ordination," the deaconess was clearly considered part of the "clergy" in official canonical and imperial listings.35

e. Later Eastern Developments

While the deacon was to serve as ''steward of the mysteries of God," i.e., as a minister of the Eucharist, the deaconess was to "apply herself to household government," that is, to exercise the role of the superior of a convent of contemplative nuns. Evidently, the role of the deaconess had changed; there is no longer any indication of work outside a monastery or of a liturgical role at baptisms of women, partly because, by the sixth century, infant baptism had become the norm.36 Distributing the Eucharist may have been one of the earlier privileges of abbesses who were deaconesses among the Maronites.37 While it is unknown when abbess-deaconesses actually ceased functioning as Eucharistic ministers, the Maronite Synod of Mt. Lebanon in 1736 decreed that although abbesses received the blessing of deaconesses, they no longer anointed the entire body, nor could they give Communion to nuns, but continued to administer the sacred hermitages of virgins dedicated to God.38 That the title of deaconess was transferred to abbesses is corroborated by non-canonical legislation, letters, and biographies.

f. Eastern Non-canonical Sources

In 535, due to a strain on the imperial budget from the many clerics receiving state stipends in Constantinople, Emperor Justinian fixed the number of clerics at 425, including forty deaconesses. Justinian's legislation likewise treated deaconesses like other clerics in several respects: they received an ordination; they had a minimum age requirement; they received their subsistence from the Church; they enjoyed a tribunal privilege (i.e., any complaints against a deaconess had to be taken first to the bishop and then, if the matter remained unresolved, to a civil court); and they were bound to perfect continence whose transgression resulted in capital punishment and the distribution of their possessions to the church to which they had been attached.39

Not only were deaconesses noted in state laws, they also appeared in secular literature and epitaphs. Mentioned in several letters of Chrysostom, and in Sozomen's Life of the Deaconess Olympias (circa 450), Olympias of Constantinople emerges as an outstanding woman and deaconess. Ordained a deaconess because of her exemplary life, Olympias was renowned for her charity, for her faithful friendship with Chrysostom, and for building a monastery which soon housed two hundred fifty nuns. Because her life and activity are well documented, Olympias serves as the historical link between being a deaconess and being the superior of a convent.40

Among some letters that mention deaconesses, the epistles of St. Basil, Bishop Otreus of Armenia, and Theodoret of Cyr are addressed to deaconesses either known to them or ordained by them. Besides Olympias in Constantinople, several other deaconesses are named in documents as ruling monasteries in Egypt and in Gaza.41

In an epitaph found in Jerusalem, the inscription for the deaconess Sophia describes her as a "servant and spouse of Christ" and a "second Phoebe" for she assisted many people. Dating back to the fifth century, many epitaphs to deaconesses have been found in both the eastern half of the Empire and in Arabia.42

In sum, from the third to the eighteenth century in the Eastern Churches, both ecclesiastical and secular sources demonstrate that the institution of a deaconess assumed different forms according to the needs of particular churches, from assisting at baptisms to directing a convent of nuns.

3. Deaconesses in the Latin Church

For the Latin Church several references to deaconesses are found in both canonical legislation and in pontificals, as well as in some non-canonical sources.

a. Western Church Legislation

While deaconesses were known in the Latin Church, its councils from the third to the sixth century consistently forbade their ordination. The Council of Nimes (394) made the first official declaration in the West on deaconesses where it basically rejected this institution because it was "improper."44 Some fifty years later the First Council of Orange (441),45 and then the Council of Epaone (517)46 both decreed against the "diaconal blessing" which certain bishops had begun to confer upon widows of high rank, in imitation of the Byzantine institution of Olympias as a deaconess. In 533, the Second Council of Orleans decided that no woman may receive diaconal benediction "due to the frailty of her sex" and excommunicated widows who had received the diaconal blessing but who then attempted to marry.47

According to the Latin discipline at that time, married men who became ordained priests or deacons were required to practice continence but not to separate from their wives, who were called their "priestess" or their "deaconess" and who were given a special blessing found in a ninth century ordo.48 In 567 the Second Council of Tours decided that if any priest or deacon had marital relations with his priestess or deaconess, he was to be excommunicated and deposed from every clerical office.49

b. Western Pontificals

Although deaconesses were not considered an order (ordo) in the Western Church, the various Latin Pontificals contained rites for the institution or consecration of deaconesses from the third to the fifteenth centuries. As early as the seventh century, the sacramentary of Trent included a prayer for instituting a deaconess; by the tenth century, the deaconess was commissioned to govern pious women grouped in a kind of third order.50

Dating from 950, the monumental Pontifical of St. Alban of Mainz, which was utilized throughout the West and even in Rome, included a Mass for instituting a deaconess.51 This Mass, including the consecratory prayer and the bestowal of the diaconal stole, was recopied in later pontificals for the next three hundred years. While the question remains whether these deaconesses may have been the wives of deacons, another decretal does list deaconesses alongside nuns, as did the Mainz pontifical.52 From the fifteenth century to the 1962 edition, the Roman Pontifical reproduced an allusion to the deaconess contained in certain ancient pontificals. In some monasteries, she was given the faculty of beginning the canonical hours in church.53

c. Western Non-canonical Sources

Dating back to the sixth century, several epitaphs have been found in Italy which attest to the presence of deaconesses in the West. In necrologies from the tenth and twelfth centuries, abbesses are also listed as deaconesses.54 There is no further explanation of the function of these deaconesses. In a twelfth century document, Abelard listed the head of a convent as the "deaconess, now known as the abbess," to whom all owe obedience.55

Among the Latin medieval scholars, John the Teuton surmised that if deaconesses had once been ordained, their function must have been similar to that of deacons in his particular period, namely, to read the Gospel. There is no indication in Gratian, Peter Lombard, in their

commentators, or in the great scholastics that deaconesses were known in their day.56 The term deaconess, however, is found in medieval monastic life.

d. Western Deaconesses and the Monastic Life

By the Middle Ages the Benedictines utilized a ritual in which the bishop prayed over the consecrated nun and handed her the breviary, thereby empowering her as a deaconess to lead the Divine Office. According to a fourteenth century Dominican commentary, this deaconess was to receive "the veil of ordination."57 Writing at the same time, Durandus de Sancto Porciano, the Dominican bishop of Le Puy and later of Meaux, France, commented that one became a deaconess not by a diaconal ordination but by a blessing, which empowered her to read the homily at matins.58

In fifteenth century Italy St. Antoninus listed the classical states of perfection for women as symbolized by their veils, including "the veil of ordination" given to a deaconess. Although the diaconal order was not conferred upon her, the deaconess received a certain blessing by which she accepted the office of beginning the Hours in choir and of reading the homily.59 Reflecting a similar ritual, a pontifical from Perugia included the ordo for the blessing of a deaconess, followed by another ritual for the ordination of a deaconess, with both ceremonies empowering her to read the Gospel and to lead the Office.60 Finally, a seventeenth century ritual for the consecration of virgins in the Carthusian Order directed the bishop to place the stole around the nun's neck as part of her "virginal and diaconal" consecration, which enabled her to read the Epistle in public.61

e4. Summary

To what conclusions does the historical evidence lead? This study has focused on the development and function of deaconesses over a wide geographical area from France to Arabia over a period of nearly twenty centuries. The term "deaconess" is certainly not a univocal concept. Not only were there marked differences between the Churches of the East and of the West, but there was also great variety in the discipline followed by the local churches within these larger regions. Only in the East was there a primary and long-lasting need for women deaconesses to perform the baptismal anointings. Although a similar anointing was also practiced in the West, there is no mention of the need to have deaconesses perform this ritual for women.

In contrast to the Eastern Churches where deaconesses flourished in various roles for about a thousand years, the Latin Church also had deaconesses, but its councils up to the sixth century repeatedly denied or prohibited the continued ordination of deaconesses. Nonetheless, the Latin pontificals up to the twentieth century faithfully kept the rituals of instituting, blessing, or consecrating deaconesses who seemed to function mainly within monastic life. Although age requirements, marital status, and designation as clergy or laity varied, all traditions both in the East and in the West required deaconesses to be celibate after their official institution.

Since the title or order of deaconess was conferred upon a woman who was to function as a baptismal assistant, a catechist, a doorkeeper, a contemplative nun, a religious superior, a deacon's wife, a visiting nurse, an exemplary Christian, a Eucharistic minister, a lector, or a leader of the Divine Office, there can be no clear line of evolution of the office of deaconess from one century to the next or from one place to another. Her functions were as varied as the diverse pastoral needs of local churches in succeeding ages — striking evidence of the freedom of the Church to recognize and appoint gifted women to minister to the needs at hand.

After the institution of deacons and of deaconesses spread and flourished in various local churches for several centuries, cultural and ecclesial changes exerted profound effects on these offices and eventually led to their decline — which the next section will explore.

C. The Decline of the Diaconate in the Church

To understand variations in deaconess functions, what was happening to the male diaconate must be appreciated. As local church structures changed, so too did deacons' roles. Eventually bishops authorized presbyters, but not deacons, to offer the Eucharist for Christians who could no longer assemble with the chief priest of the local church. A council at Aries (314) noted, however, that in many places deacons had "offered" the Eucharist and the council prohibited such a practice.62 It is not altogether clear just what the council had in mind. But such a situation may imply that some deacons functioned "at a distance" from their bishops. During persecutions, perhaps, deacons presided at the Eucharist when no one else was available. In any case, however, such deacons were no longer acting simply as "assistants to the bishop" for well-defined, non-priestly duties.

Canon law began to reflect new relationships. The Council of Nicea (325) affirmed that deacons "are indeed ministers of the bishops" but also insisted that deacons "be judged subordinate to presbyters" and "do not have the power of offering."63 On the one hand, such legislation verifies the distinction between deacons as the bishop's assistants for non-priestly duties and presbyters as the bishop's delegates for liturgical duties. On the other hand, however, emphasis on the subordination of deacons may start to reflect a new relationship of the two orders. The deacon was no longer just a bishop's minister. Deacons also began to assist the presbyters. The Statuta Ecclesiae Antigua, dating from about 475, stated: "the deacon shall know that he is the presbyter's minister as well as the bishop's."64

The changing church situation also tended toward a restricted ministry for most deacons. Only deacons who remained the principal assistants of their bishops expanded their roles by reason of this association. The duties that characterized the bishop's deacon were precisely those non-liturgical roles of assistance to bishops. In the Glossa Ordinaria on the Decretum of Gratian, John the Teuton observed: "Note especially that the archdeacons, who are called oculi episcopi, have succeeded to the place of deacons and they are the ones who examine the communities. "65 In the West, the "bishop's deacon" remained for centuries just about the only permanent deacon known. By the seventh century, Latin churches usually had few other permanent deacons. Limiting deacons to seven had been traditional even at cathedrals. For rural churches in many Latin dioceses, moreover, bishops often had a hard enough time simply assuring the presence of priests to celebrate Mass. Aside from the archdeacon, other deacons assigned in major churches might usually fulfill only liturgical roles that were proper to the diaconate. They usually did not seem to exercise other important responsibilities. Perhaps such other deacons were actually just young men who were really in training for the priesthood much as transitional deacons today. In most Western parish churches, a deacon was rare indeed.

In Eastern Churches, artificial numerical limitations were not placed on the number of deacons. In this part of the world there was a greater likelihood of having other clergymen available. Celibacy was not strictly imposed on deacons or presbyters in the East. Eastern Christians also felt it very important that a deacon be available for proper celebration of liturgy even in smaller churches. In the East, a deacon's ministry was chiefly liturgical.

As the male diaconate became progressively a more restricted office, implications of this decline should not be overlooked with respect to the even more limited roles that were afforded to women who were called deaconesses. Since Eastern churches usually had deacons available for liturgy, literally no room was left for any liturgical ministries by females beyond what was judged strictly necessary according to the mores of time and place or by the actual unavailability of a male minister. While in some localities female deacons had been required for baptism of adult women, as noted earlier this practice died out once such a need was no longer pressing. Deaconesses, however, continued to perform non-liturgical ministries of service according to local need. When necessary, some deaconesses acted as extraordinary ministers of Communion. But the practice was limited to situations in which a male minister could not be present. As deacons were gradually performing fewer functions, a fortiori, the opportunities for deaconesses to function became more restricted as well, until the total disappearance of the female diaconate.

While history demonstrates the undeniable existence of deaconesses, there is a debate among scholars as to whether they were truly ordained. This question will now be explored.

D. The Debate about the "Ordination" of Deaconesses in the Early Church

As a result of exhaustive studies of the diverse usages in the Church with regard to deaconesses, Roger Gryson and Aime Martimort came to different conclusions about the ordination of female deacons.66

Using the same sources as Gryson, Martimort cites two fundamental objections to the possibility that female deacons were ordained. Martimort insists first that ancient church practice denied a "laying on of hands" for women. He cites the express interdiction of St. Hippolytus of Rome67 and uses it to reject the ritual for ordination of deaconesses found in a later church Order. He feels that "the Apostolic Constitutions depart completely from the model of St. Hippolytus as well as from the doctrine justifying it."68 Second, Martimort emphasizes that the deaconess performed only limited duties. He gives great importance to the fact that deaconesses did not function at Mass in the same way as deacons did. He concedes that "in out-of-the-way places where the regular presence of priests and deacons could hardly be counted on," a woman deacon who was superior of a convent might distribute Communion and recite the office.69 But he cites the Patriarch of Antioch who stated that "in the case of deaconesses, especially in convents, ordination is performed less with regard to the needs of the mysteries [i.e., sacramental celebrations] than exclusively with regard to doing honor."70 Martimort argues that "the institution of deaconesses lasted only as long as adult baptisms were the norm; the necessity that had brought about its creation was geographically limited and it rapidly became obsolete."71

On the contrary, Gryson sees evidence for authentic ordination "in a series of concordant testimonies tending to prove that in the milieu termed 'Syrian-Byzantine,' from at least the end of the fourth century, women deacons received an ordination analogous to that of men deacons."72 He cites the Didascalia Apostolorum, which provides the oldest source for deaconesses as an ecclesiastical office, and the Council of Chalcedon (451), an ecumenical council.

Gryson points out that the Didascalia Apostolorum was contemporaneous with Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition rather than dependent upon it. The Didascalia, however, did not provide a ritual by which a deaconess began her ministry. The Eastern Churches were certainly aware of the differences between "ordaining" and "instituting," since they knew from the Council of Nicea (325) that deaconesses need not necessarily have been validly ordained.

Later tradition, nevertheless, came to speak expressly of ordination for deaconesses and specified, moreover, the laying on of hands at the Council of Chalcedon (451). After legislating several norms on the discipline for bishops, monks, and clerics, this council decreed, in canon 15, that "a woman under forty years of age shall not receive the laying on of hands (cheirotoneisthai) as a deaconess, and then only after searching examination. And if, after she has had hands laid on her (cheirotonian) ... and then should marry, she shall be anathematized."73 Gryson argues that the use of the verb cheirotonein and of the substantive cheirothesia clearly indicate that deaconesses were ordained by the laying on of hands. In addition, he notes that the prohibition against marrying once the deaconess had been ordained was identical to the one placed upon clerics in major orders.74

Gryson's acceptance of the authentic ordination of deaconesses is supported by the research of Cipriano Vagaggini, noted liturgical scholar, who wrote a comprehensive study of the Barberini Greek Pontifical (utilized in the East from the fourth to the twelfth centuries).75 Vagaggini emphasizes that the Greek term cheirotonia clearly meant ordination by the imposition of hands, which was utilized only for the ordination of bishops, presbyters, deacons, and deaconesses. The ordination rites were similar for each of these four orders; i.e., with regard to the minister (the bishop), the gesture of the imposition of hands and the prayer that accompanied it, and the special place in the sanctuary at the foot of the altar where they were performed. On the other hand, in the case of lesser ministers, i.e., subdeacons, lectors, and cantors, the term cheirotesia — "institution" or "establishment" by a simple blessing — was used in a ceremony that took place outside the sanctuary. Thus Vagaggini concludes that the "laying on of hands" for deaconesses according to the Byzantine tradition was a ritual of the same nature and significance as the one for deacons.76

In the orthodox tradition, the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on Women and the Question of Ordination held in 1988 affirmed the authentic ordination of deaconesses.77 After citing "ample evidence" from the apostolic, patristic, canonical, and liturgical tradition, the consultation noted that "the deaconess was ordained within the sanctuary during the Divine Liturgy with two prayers, she received the deacons's stole and received Holy Communion at the altar."78 In arguing for the revival of this ancient order, the consultation stated that it should be envisaged on the basis of the ancient prototypes found in several sources and "with the prayers found in the Apostolic Constitutions and the ancient Byzantine liturgical books."79 While cautioning against a diaconate which would be restricted to purely liturgical roles or seen as a step to higher clerical ranks, the consultation advocated a revival of this office as "a positive response to many of the needs and demands of the contemporary world."80

Among modern Greek Orthodox scholars who support the authentic ordination of deaconesses in the early Church, Evangelos Theodorou also bases his conclusions on the ordination rite of the Byzantine deaconess as found in the Barberini codex. Theodorou affirms that deaconesses received a genuine ordination because the service took place during the Eucharist, as is characteristic of ordinations for the higher clergy. "Although deaconesses were regarded as clergy," Theodorou maintains that "they were a special class. There was no other female clergy, either with higher or with lower status. Deaconesses were the only class of female ministers in the Church."81

In agreement with Vagaggini and Theodorou, Gryson emphasizes that "the term used constantly from the end of the fourth century for the rite marking the beginning of a deaconess' office is cheirotoneim, which properly means 'to ordain,' not kathistasthai, which means more generally 'to appoint' or 'to establish.'"82 Gryson feels himself justified in concluding that "after examining all that M. Martimort contends, I find no reason to change my opinion, namely, that, according to the Apostolic Constitutions, deaconesses received an ordination similar to that of their male colleagues."83

Even Martimort concedes that "it appears that the distinction between 'institution' and 'ordination' prevailed.... from the beginning of the fifth century on, cheirotoneim and cheirotonia were used with respect to the ordination of deaconesses. Thus the Apostolic Constitutions, where this usage also occurred, were consistent with the usage of Antioch and Constantinople in this respect."84 Martimort concludes that, although the manuscripts evidence some hesitation between cheirotonia and cheirothesia, canon 15 of the Council of Chalcedon made this usage official.

Despite this evidence, many questions remain about some aspects of the ordination of a deaconess. Martimort insists that "some of the received ideas on the subject of deaconesses are in need of revision."85 Yet, when he reviewed Martimort's book, Frederick McManus had to note that "almost without exception all the instances and all the functions attributed to deaconesses are evaluated negatively, as the author, correctly enough, seeks to establish that there is no continuous, single or certain tradition of the institution."86 McManus, moreover, felt compelled to point out that "the reader, however, might reach the very opposite conclusion: given the cultural and religious obstacles, the extraordinary thing is that any functions even slightly comparable to those of male deacons should have been received in so many churches and at so many different times."87 Martimort's colleague, Cipriano Vagaggini, seems quite correct when he concluded that ancient Eastern bishops realized they conferred on deaconesses something much more than just a blessing, however extraordinary.88 It seems that those bishops, especially in the Syrian-Byzantine dioceses, felt that they acted properly, indeed, even traditionally, in ordaining women to the diaconal rank.

In summary, while Martimort and Gryson agree on the extant data, their interpretation of the evidence leads them to contradictory conclusions. Martimort concludes that there actually were no truly ordained church women. On the other hand, in light of the weight of historical evidence a majority of scholars conclude that women were in fact ordained; see, for example, Vagaggini, Theodorou, and Gryson.

In the twentieth century movement to restore the permanent diaconate for men, it was precisely the urgent need for ministers to perform certain services in the contemporary church that spurred the restoration of this office -- which the following section will explore.

II. The Restoration of the Permanent Diaconate

Following many centuries of desuetude, the movement for the restoration of the permanent diaconate took root among several priests in the Dachau concentration camp of Nazi Germany, and blossomed in 1951 in the first "Community of the Diaconate" established in Freiburg, Germany.89 Composed of married laymen devoted to works of service and charity, similar diaconal circles arose in five German dioceses, with the hope of being formally recognized by the Church. Eventually, the Munich diaconal circle submitted a formal written request for the restoration of the permanent diaconate to the members of the Second Vatican Council.90 This petition spurred the publication of a scholarly book by thirty authors which made a major contribution to the position of Lumen gentium on the permanent diaconate.91

After describing the nature and duties of the diaconate in chapter three of Lumen gentium, the council taught that "it will be possible in the future to restore the diaconate as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy."92 This same section allowed for married as well as celibate deacons, and for the determination by each episcopal conference of its own norms for the formation and the evaluation of the diaconate programs in its region. Later, in Ad gentes, the council pointed out how the work of a deacon would be strengthened by the grace of the sacrament, thereby tying these servants of the Church more closely to the altar. Again, the council left it to the bishops of an episcopal conference to determine if this were opportune in their situation.93 In contrast to leaving the decision to conferences in the Western Church, the council called for all Eastern Churches to restore the permanent diaconate wherever it had fallen into disuse.94

On June 18, 1967, Paul VI established canonical norms for the permanent diaconate in his apostolic letter, Sacrum diaconatus ordinem. He noted that although many of the works assigned to deacons can be and already are being performed by the laity, the deacon would be greatly strengthened by sacramental grace.95 In 1968 Paul VI continued the work of restoration by promulgating a revision of the rite of ordination.96 Finally, in 1972 Paul VI established norms concerning the diaconate, addressing the admission and training of deacons, and the requirement of celibacy for unmarried deacons.97

In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops requested the permission to restore the permanent diaconate on May 2, 1968. They offered the following reasons for this request:

· to enrich and strengthen the many and various diaconal ministries at work in this country with the sacramental grace of the diaconate;

· to enlist a new group of devout and competent men in the active ministry of the Church;

· to aid in extending needed liturgical and charitable services to the faithful in both large urban and small rural communities;

· to provide an official and sacramental presence of the Church in many areas of secular life, as well as in communities within large cities and sparsely settled regions where few or no priests are available;

· to provide an impetus and source for creative adaptations of diaconal ministries to the rapidly changing needs of our society.98

By August 30, 1968, the requested permission had been received from Rome and a Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate was established.99

The foregoing brief review of history sets the stage for a discussion of theological and canonical issues related to ordaining women to the permanent diaconate.

III. Theological Reflection

A. Issues of Method

1. Uses of History

The above historical background demonstrates the existence of deaconesses in the past, as well as a number of questions concerning the understanding of who they were and what they did. It is important to recognize the significance and also the limitations of such historical findings in this report.

What the Church did in the past may or may not be significant for what the Church can do today. This is true for a variety of issues, including the question of ordination of women to the permanent diaconate. Indeed, history can be put to several uses.

Sometimes history is used anachronistically. That is, some might argue that because something was done in the past, we ought to be doing it today. But this fails to take into consideration the actual situation of the Church today, and whether such past practices would indeed be beneficial for the Church now. Whether in liturgical, catechetical, pastoral, or administrative dimensions of the Church, the weakness of such argumentation makes clear the need for a better criterion to relate past to present. The Church is a living organism, not a museum, and what it retains from the past must be determined by reliable criteria in keeping with its nature. Whether women should again be ordained to the permanent diaconate, therefore, is a question which cannot be solved on historical precedent alone but which needs to attend to the Church's own nature.

History, however, can also serve to illustrate the legitimacy of options: that the Church did something officially in the past is generally an indication that it is not ruled out for the Church to be able to do the same or something similar today. The Church does not have to exercise all its options at every moment, but those options remain available to it and the selection among them must be determined by reliable criteria. Thus the fact that women were ordained as deaconesses in the past indicates, at a minimum, that the possibility of ordaining deaconesses today may not be ruled out a priori.

History sometimes presents irreformable decisions by the Church; i.e., in the past there were various legitimate options which the Church could take, but the Church selected among those options and foreclosed the use of the other options in the future. This raises the question of what is ius divinum by the decision of the Church, a topic much discussed in theology and in ecumenical dialogue.100 How does one determine which options remain open, and which are now foreclosed? In particular, does the fact that the ordination of deaconesses ceased sometime in the past indicate a decision by the Church which is irreformable, so that women can no longer be ordained deaconesses?

Without entering into the complex question of how it is determined whether something is de iure divino, it is possible to differentiate those matters which the Church itself presents as fixed, and those which the Church has not so designated. Ordination of women to the diaconate is a matter which has not been so designated. This is clear from the care with which official statements of the magisterium have specified priesthood when discussing the ordination of women, and is further supported by the statement of the commentary from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicating that the question requires further study.101

So whether it is desirable to activate this option of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate is not a question which has been foreclosed, but it is also an option which does not appear to be historically required. Therefore, it is one which depends primarily on other criteria.

2. Criteria

Such criteria, as suggested above, can be taken from a proper understanding of the Church itself. The Church is communion in mission.102

Communion, rooted in the Trinity's own inner life and established among us by Christ, exists through the power of the Spirit. It is a communion in sacred things, especially the Eucharist, expressed through various bonds of communion, and served by the hierarchical communion of those who preside in the community. The ordained are called to a ministry of service within this communion, and in service to the communion itself.

The Church, moreover, is communion in mission: it exists by Christ's will and command to continue the mission he came to accomplish in the world. This mission takes its origin from the Trinity itself, through whose Missions its inner life is revealed. Guided by the Spirit, the Church as God's people continue that mission under the leadership of those who have been given a special charge of service through ordination. While mission can be understood from several perspectives, today it is seen primarily in terms of evangelization and pastoral care (AG 6).

Determining what is appropriate for the Church as communion and mission has to take into consideration the real world in which that communion and mission operate. At the Second Vatican Council this was referred to as "reading the signs of the times."103 In subsequent reflections, it has been addressed in terms of inculturation.104

Whether ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is appropriate today, therefore, needs to be evaluated in light of the Church's communion and mission in the context of where that communion and mission are lived. Today, is diaconal ordination of women necessary or at least useful for promoting the mission of evangelization and pastoral care which Christ entrusted to the Church to carry out in the world, particularly in the United States? Does the breadth and diversity of the Church's communion embrace the possibility of ordination of women to the permanent diaconate in at least some local areas of the communion, much as ordination of men to the permanent diaconate has become an option in some local areas of the Church without it being necessarily embraced by all areas of the Church?

These are the questions which this report addresses from several perspectives. First we will consider the cultural situation in which the question is raised for the Church in the United States; then we will reflect on the theology of the sacrament of orders and on the relationship of ordination to the Church as communion and mission.

B. Significance of Culture 1.

Importance of Culture for the Church

The gospel is not preached in a vacuum, neither can the Church be abstracted from the various cultures in which it exists and carries out its mission. The Second Vatican Council recognized this not only in terms of discerning the signs of the times, but also in terms of the mutual interaction by which the Church contributes to individuals and society and by which the Church receives help from the modern world (GS 42-44). Attention to culture is at the base of effective evangelization (AG 15),105 a major consideration in renewal of the liturgy,106 a significant factor in Churches sui iuris within the Catholic communion,107 and in the determination of which forms of ministry are appropriate in the particular churches (LG 29, AG 16).

The importance of culture within the unity of Catholic communion has also been emphasized by the magisterium since the council. Cultural considerations were first seen as significant in applying liturgical reforms to the life of the people, leading to the introduction of the vernacular in the Latin rite and appropriate processes of inculturation.108 These same concerns were applied to other dimensions of the Church's life, such as the sacrament of matrimony.109 Cultural considerations enter into a proper interpretation of canon law itself.110

More to the point of this present study is the application of cultural considerations to a diversity of formal ministries in the Church. When Paul VI abolished tonsure and the minor orders, setting up instead the lay ministries of lector and acolyte, he observed that episcopal conferences could petition for other ministries which they judged to be necessary or useful for their regions.111

As noted above, the decision to restore the diaconate as a permanent rank in the Latin Church was to be made by episcopal conferences, subject to approval by the Apostolic See. While instituted lay ministers have not become a major group within the Church, permanent deacons have, although this varies considerably depending on the place. For example, the permanent diaconate has flourished in certain cultures, such as the United States, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, and Brazil; but not in others, such as most of Africa (South Africa has the largest number for that continent, 177).112 Clearly the Church is living with considerable diversity in ordained ministry, by decision of the bishops of the respective regions in keeping with their cultural and pastoral situations, and this is taking place peacefully within the communion of the universal Church.

It is appropriate, therefore, to attend to cultural factors in addressing the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate. Cultural factors have been considered significant not only for the historical development of the Church, but also for decisions affecting its ministry today, and for the diversity of ministries as these are legitimately found within the Catholic communion.

2. Women and Culture

a. Acknowledged Importance by Church Leaders

Church leaders acknowledge that the status of women constitutes one of the significant elements of contemporary culture, world-wide but also in a very clear way in the United States. The bishops of this country have recognized this fact by a long process of dialogue with a view toward a pastoral letter; moreover, the decision not to issue the letter did not deny the importance of this cultural factor, but rather led to a deeper consideration of it within the Church in this country.113

These cultural factors in the United States are also significant for canon law, as was clear when the Canon Law Society of America commissioned a study on the Equal Rights Amendment and its significance for church law.114 As part of that study, 145 provisions of the 1917 Code of Canon Law were identified as differentiating between men and women, usually in favor of men. 115 Calls to correct such gender discrimination in church law were heeded to a great extent in the drafting of the present Code of Canon Law.116

On a broader scale, the Church has been sensitive to the world-wide attention to the condition of women in various cultures. John Paul II chronicled some of this activity in his apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem.117 He characterized "the dignity and the vocation of women" as "a subject of constant human and Christian reflection." He then referred to a series of ecclesiastical pronouncements and expressions of concern for the promotion of the dignity and responsibility of women, indicating that these expressions (issued by the Second Vatican Council, Popes Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI) are responses to the signs of the times.118 In concluding the letter the pope expressed appreciation for what women have meant to the Church in the past, and stated:

The Church asks at the same time that these invaluable "manifestations of the Spirit" (cf. 1 Cor. 12; 4 ff.), which with great generosity are poured forth upon the "daughters" of the eternal Jerusalem, may be attentively recognized and appreciated so that they may return for the common good of the Church and of humanity, especially in our times,119

A continued, substantial and recognized participation of woman in the life of the Church is called for in the apostolic exhortation Christifideles laid issued by John Paul II in light of the 1987 Synod of Bishops:

... in her earliest days and in her successive development, the Church ... has always known women who have exercised an oftentimes decisive role in the Church herself and accomplished tasks of considerable value on her behalf. History is marked by grand works, quite often lowly and hidden, but not for this reason any less decisive to the growth and holiness of the Church. It is necessary that this history continue, indeed that it be expanded and intensified in the face of the growing and widespread awareness of the personal dignity of woman and her vocation, particularly in light of the urgency of a "re-evangelization" and a major effort toward "humanizing" social relations.120

In its efforts to interact with the world cultural developments in an effective and positive way while maintaining its own values and principles, the Holy See issued a statement of partial association with the consensus of the U.N. Conference on Population and Development. Archbishop Renato Martino who delivered the statement, said that the Holy See "recognizes Chapter 4, 'Gender Equality, Equity and Empowerment of Woman.'" In the same document he praised sections of the consensus statement where "women's advancement and the improvement of women's status through education and better health care services are stressed."121

b. Significance for Official Ministry by Women

Church officials have been sensitive to the implications of these cultural factors for the official ministry which women may perform in the Church. For example, with specific reference to the role of women in the work of the Church, John Paul II reaffirmed this basic principle:

In particular when speaking of active and responsible participation in the life and mission of the Church, emphasis should be placed on what has already been stated and clearly urged by the Second Vatican Council: 'Since in our days women are taking an increasingly active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various fields of the Church's apostolate.'122

The bishops of the United States applied this principle to women in terms of leadership, equality, and the diversity of gifts.123 Recognizing in light of Ordinatio sacerdotalis that alternative ways are needed in which women can exercise leadership in the Church, the bishops committed themselves "to enhancing the participation of women in every possible aspect of church life." They listed the many ways in which women have responsible national positions in the Church as well as leadership ministerial positions in parishes. They called for increased cooperation of women in the exercise of jurisdiction, and for them to be models of the servanthood dimension of leadership.

The cultural signs of the times are being read by the bishops of the United States as calling for a new approach to the role of women in the Church. Although the bishops did not address it in their reflections, there is an evident parallel in their presentation of the practical situation in the United States with the situation mentioned in a different context by the bishops at the Second Vatican Council relative to ordaining men as permanent deacons:

There are men who are actually carrying out the functions of the deacon's office, either by preaching the word of God as catechists, or by presiding over scattered Christian communities in the name of the pastor and the bishop, or by practicing charity in social or relief work. It will be helpful to strengthen them by that imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles, and to bind them more closely to the altar (AG 16).

c. Summary

Historically, cultural realities were influential in the determination to ordain women to the diaconate. The Church continues to recognize the significance of cultural realities for its life and mission. The decision to reintroduce permanent deacons is in part culturally conditioned, as it has been left to the prudent determination of the various episcopal conferences.

The condition and status of women is a notable cultural factor today, one which church officials recognize as significant for the ministry and mission of the Church. It would seem appropriate, therefore, that the decision to reintroduce the permanent diaconate for women would take this contemporary cultural factor into account, as earlier church decisions took other cultural factors into account in ordaining deaconesses in the past.

The determination to ordain permanent deacons, or to ordain women to the permanent diaconate, is not just a cultural question, however. It is even more a theological and pastoral question, to which we now turn.

C. The Sacrament of Orders

I. Sacrament and Sacramental Grace

Sacraments are actions of Christ and the Church. They are symbolic actions which effect what they signify. Even as they confer grace to carry out the Christian life in the mission of the Church, sacraments result in more than a function. Catholic theology is rooted in sacramental realism.

Thus the baptized are not only empowered by the Spirit to share in the mission which Christ gave the Church to fulfill in the world (i.e., to carry out a function, participating in the functions of Christ); the baptized are essentially a living sign, by being incorporated into Christ, of Christ's continued presence in the world through the people of God, the Body of Christ. The baptized have been truly transformed, not merely given a job or charge.

Similarly the ordained are not only empowered by the Spirit to shepherd the people of God, each in accord with their proper grade of orders, by fulfilling the functions of teaching, sanctifying and governing (c. 1008); the ordained are essentially a living sign of Christ, the Good Shepherd and servant of all, continually present among his people.

The grace of a sacrament, therefore, is not the same as sanctifying grace or even charism. By sanctifying grace one participates in divine life, is brought into an intimate communion with God. By charisms one is gifted by the Spirit, whether in special or ordinary ways, for the sake of others. Sacramental grace enables one to be what the sacrament signifies, and to carry out the obligations and responsibilities that come from that.

The grace of the sacrament of orders corresponds to the order received. Thus bishops and presbyters, who are ordained unto the priesthood, receive the sacramental grace to be signs of Christ the priest. Deacons, who are ordained unto service, receive the sacramental grace to be signs of Christ the servant. The same would be true of women ordained to the permanent diaconate. Not only would they receive the Spirit empowering them to serve through the threefold functions of the Church, they would especially receive the sacramental grace to be signs of service in the Church. It is this type of leadership which the United States bishops have emphasized as truly important today.124

2. Power of the Church over the Sacraments

The sacraments exist for people (sacramenta propter homines). They are neither magic nor rigid rites; they are actions of Christ and the Church, and through them the Church itself is in some way the sacrament of salvation in the here and now. Thus the Church has power over the sacraments to determine what is necessary for their valid and lawful celebration, and to provide for their ready availability to all God's people. This authority is exercised first and foremost by the supreme authority of the Church (c. 841), although others participate in the exercise of this power according to the norm of law.

Such power also carries responsibility not only to see that the sacraments are readily available for those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them (c. 843, §1). It also carries the duty to assure that the sacraments are meaningful signs, suited to the times and circumstances of the communion of God's people and in light of the mission of evangelization and pastoral care. Thus over the centuries church authorities have modified the celebration of certain sacraments, including the determination of what is necessary for their valid celebration.

In light of what the Church has determined in the past, it is within the competence of appropriate church authorities to determine who may be ordained a permanent deacon. At the Second Vatican Council, supreme church authority decided to reinstate the diaconate as a permanent order, and to permit the possibility of mature married men being ordained to this order. It left the practical judgment on this to the episcopal conferences and, if they were favorable, to individual bishops for their dioceses. Similarly, in light of past experience, it is within the competence of supreme church authority to determine that women may be ordained to the permanent diaconate, while leaving it to episcopal conferences and individual bishops to determine whether to institute this in practice in their areas.

3. Meaning of "Sacrament of Orders" Today

With the elimination of the minor orders in the Latin Church, the focus of ordained ministry has been placed on the sacred orders of deacons, presbyters, and bishops. Presbyters

and bishops are ordained to the priesthood, whereas deacons are ordained "unto a ministry of service."125 All three are marked with an indelible character (c. 1008) and exist among the Christian faithful as sacred ministers who are also called clerics in law (c. 207, §1).

One of the significant developments of Vatican II was to recognize that each of these three ordinations is sacramental; that is, the sacrament of holy orders is conferred on those being ordained, in keeping with the order received. The fullness of the sacrament of orders is conferred in episcopal consecration (LG 21). Presbyters receive the sacrament of orders but depend on the bishops in its exercise (LG 28). Deacons receive the grace of this sacrament, to serve the people of God in communion with the bishop and his presbyters (LG 29). Both the Code of Canon Law (c. 1009) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognize the diaconate as a sacrament.126

Vatican II taught clearly that there is a difference in kind and not just degree between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood (LG 10). While this distinction is in reference to priesthood and not ordination as such, it follows that the ordained of any type are not "super-Christians," Christians to a greater degree. Rather, by ordination as deacons, presbyters, or bishops, they stand in a different kind of relationship to the communion and mission of the Church, as ones who serve in the name of Christ, accomplishing this by their presence as well as through their functions.

Likewise, women ordained to the permanent diaconate would not be singled out as "super-Christians." They would, however, be constituted in a different kind of relationship to the communion and mission of the Church through the reception of the sacrament of holy orders, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament to accomplish through their presence as well as through their functions the ministerial service appropriate to the order of deacons.

4. Relationship Between Orders and Ministry

One is ordained to serve. Indeed, a bishop is not to ordain anyone unless this is considered to be useful for the ministry of the Church (c. 1025, §2). This ministry may be focused on evangelization, building up the communion of the Church; it may find expression in pastoral care; it may be a ministry of charity, justice, and peace.

On the other hand, ministry in the Church is not restricted to the ordained alone. A variety of ministries, exercised by ordained and non-ordained, enrich the pastoral life of the Church today, contribute to its self-awareness as a communion, and enliven its evangelizing presence in the world. The stable performance of certain ministries, or ecclesiastical office, is no longer restricted to the ordained but in many instances can also be entrusted to lay persons.

This has helped to clarify the role of the ordained in the Church. Although some offices are restricted to them because of the close relationship of these offices to the exercise of the sacrament of orders, increasingly the sacramental nature of ordination is being appreciated in and for itself, and not specifically in relationship to specific church functions.

As those who serve, deacons make present in the world at large, as well as within the Christian community itself, the witness of Christ who came to serve, not to be served. By words and deeds, in quiet as well as very public ways, their ministry of presence helps to stimulate a deeper awareness on the part of the whole Christian community of its call to service in the Lord. Strengthened by the grace of the sacrament of holy orders, deacons are called to be witnesses within the community and in the world, sharing the ordinary cares and experiences of the common priesthood while at the same time participating in the sacramental responsibility of the ordained for a leadership of service in the communion and mission of the Church.

Deacons bear this sacramental witness as part of their formation for ordination to the presbyterate ("transitional deacons"), or in a stable manner ("permanent deacons"). Insofar as they are ordained ministers of the Church, there is no difference between them. They share without distinction in the permanent sacrament they have received.

Women ordained to the permanent diaconate would participate in this witness function of deacons, and would bring to their service the unique gifts and experiences they have received for the good of the Church - gifts and experiences extolled by both the pope and the United States bishops.127 Moreover, the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate would enhance, not restrict, the ministry of lay women. The same has been true of the ordination of men to the permanent diaconate. Moreover, women permanent deacons would have the same duty as men permanent deacons to build up the apostolate of the laity (c. 275, §2).

5. Permanence of Orders

Holy orders is a sacrament which imparts a "character," as do baptism and confirmation. "Character" sacraments cannot be repeated, for they are permanent. Through the Holy Spirit they configure the recipient to Christ and to the Church, remaining "for ever in the Christian as a positive disposition for grace, a promise and guarantee of divine protection, and as a vocation to divine worship and to the service of the Church."128

Ordination, therefore, establishes a permanent difference for the ordained. This perdures, even though the ordained may voluntarily withdraw from active ministry or be removed from it. Ordination also establishes a relationship with the Church which in law is termed the clerical state. The obligations and rights of a cleric, once these are established for an individual through ordination, are not lost except by loss of the clerical state itself. But the permanent difference of being ordained is never lost. This is true not only of bishops and priests, but also of deacons. It would likewise apply to women ordained to the permanent diaconate.

6. Summary

The decision to ordain brings significant consequences for the person and for the Church. In every instance, this decision requires careful attention to the criteria of the Church's communion and mission, and the situation of the local church. This applies also to the decision to institute the diaconate as a permanent order in a given territory, and should apply as well to the decision to ordain women to the permanent diaconate.

Ordination of women to the permanent diaconate would impart sacramental grace to strengthen the ministry they already provide in the Church, establishing them in a distinct presence of service appropriate to the diaconate. It would not replace the important role of lay persons in the Church and in the world, but as with other permanent deacons, would provide a sacramentally-based service to strengthen the communion of the Church and to support the mission of all the people of God.

IV. Canonical Implications

A. Preliminary Issues

1. Role of Particular Law and Universal Law

The importance of particular legislation has been highlighted by the promulgation of two codes of canons, one for the Latin Church and the other for the Eastern Churches. Indeed, the Eastern code emphasizes even more the importance of particular legislation, since it is for each of the Eastern Churches themselves to adopt further legislation adapting the universal code to their tradition and pastoral situation. For the purposes of this report, however, it has been necessary to focus on the canonical implications only for the Latin Church, leaving to the individual Eastern Churches the appropriate considerations in light of their canonical tradition and cultural situation. But even in the Latin Church, the role of particular law has a significance particularly in regard to adapting universal law to the pastoral, cultural situation of the Church in various places.

For example, the provisions for particular legislation in the 1983 Code of Canon Law afford the appropriate means for accomplishing pastoral accommodations for the particular churches within an episcopal conference. The conference of bishops is to exercise its pastoral function "through forms and programs of the apostolate which are fittingly adapted to the circumstances of time and place" (c. 447).

The conference can issue general decrees, which are laws properly speaking (c. 29) and which require the exercise of legislative authority. The conference can take such action when the Apostolic See grants the mandate to do so; the conference may even request such a mandate. The Apostolic See then reviews the decree before its final promulgation (c. 455).

Historically, such particular legislation predated the general or universal legislation now issued by the Apostolic See. In the early church local bishops and regional synods of bishops routinely made rules (sometimes called kanones) for their respective territories. In this way they formulated pastoral policies and regulations for the Christian lives of their people.

The principle of legitimate diversity within the universal Church has long been preserved by the use of such particular legislation. "Unity in essentials, freedom in doubtful things, and charity in all things" is an aphorism long honored both in church teachings and in matters of discipline. A healthy zone for pastoral discretion is an important part of our Catholic heritage. Thoughtful pastoral accommodation to local needs and circumstances has always been a hallmark of good leadership in the Church.

The principle of subsidiarity strongly recommends the adaptation of ministries through discernment and decision by the churches within a given region. Subsidiarity in our Church's canonical discipline was specifically urged in the "Principles to Guide the Revision of the Code" approved by the 1967 Synod of Bishops.129

A case in point is the entire process of the restoration of the diaconate in the Latin Church after the Second Vatican Council. It is a classic study in diversity, subsidiarity, and pastoral accommodation. The permanent diaconate was encouraged and supported, developed and flourished in some parts of the Church, and is still almost unheard of in others.130 This radically diverse development in the Church's diaconal ministry represents local pastoral decision-making and the exercise of episcopal legislative options, all under the surveillance of the Apostolic See.

The ordination of women to the permanent diaconate in the United States would provide another opportunity for a ministerial adaptation to a specific cultural setting. To inaugurate the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate in some places and not in others is consistent with the way in which the diaconal movement has progressed over the past twenty-five years.

Particular legislation, then, rather than a change in the Church's universal canons, is the fitting and proper way to accomplish the integration of women within the order of the diaconate. To accomplish this, an indult from the Apostolic See containing the necessary derogations from the general law would be sought for the United States, and once it was obtained particular legislation would be crafted by the bishops' conference to spell out detailed provisions.131

A further exercise of legislative authority would then ensue at the level of individual dioceses. This is the present situation with the male permanent diaconate. Dioceses differ with regard to programs of preparation and actual ministry. Most dioceses have active diaconate programs, but some never inaugurated them, while still others began them and later suspended them for one reason or another. Dioceses would have the same options with regard to women deacons.

2. Relationship of Orders and Jurisdiction

"Those who have received sacred orders are capable of the power of governance" (c. 129, §1). The restriction of jurisdiction to the ordained is of long standing in the Church, and it was only partially modified by the innovation contained in the second paragraph of the same canon: "Lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate (cooperari possunt) in the exercise of this power in accord with the norm of law."

While the notion of "sharing in the exercise of authority" as over against possessing authority oneself may seem like a distinction without a difference,132 still the ability to receive the power of governance in one's own name has been and is an enduring mark of leadership in our Church. Hence, in this sense to be "in orders" is much more than merely nominal; it has real significance. The order of the diaconate gives access to the authentic power of governance which emanates from and is tied to the sacrament of holy orders. In the modern church, this new mode of sacramental participation and consequent juridical empowerment would be a very important step for women.133

Ordination to the diaconate carries with it entry into the clerical state. "Only clerics can obtain those offices for whose exercise the power of orders or the power of ecclesiastical governance is required" (c. 274, §1). Offices which require jurisdiction (e.g., serving as a single judge on a church court), but which do not require the order of priesthood, would be open to women deacons. Juridically as well as sacramentally, diaconal ordination is a meaningful event.

B. Analysis of the Canon Law on Orders

1. Restriction of Orders to Baptized Males for Validity

Canon 1024 restates the long-standing practice of the Roman Catholic Church which restricts sacramental ordination to baptized males. The canon stipulates that the qualification affects the validity of the ordination and not simply its legitimacy or lawfulness.134

Notwithstanding the relative consistency (some historical exceptions have been examined above with regard to the ordination of women to the diaconate) and the long duration of this restriction, the limitation of diaconal ordination to males is a "merely ecclesiastical law" (c. 11). Its modification is within the authority of the Church.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by stating that the question of the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is under study and deserves further study, concedes that such a modification of the general practice is possible.135 The requests from the episcopal conferences of Germany and of the United States likewise reflect a conviction in those hierarchies that women's diaconal ordination is certainly possible.136

The most obvious canonical means to realize this, at least on an experimental basis, would be to request and receive an indult from the Apostolic See modifying the restriction of canon 1024 in regard to the permanent diaconate for specific particular churches, i.e., those governed by the United States episcopal conference. The "Pastoral Provision" for the reception of married Anglican priests into the Roman Catholic Church is an example of an analogous special exception regarding sacred ordination and ministry.137

The Church's canonical discipline adds the qualification "for validity," in canon 1024 and elsewhere, as a sign of seriousness. The expression "for validity" does not necessarily imply something of divine law or the presence of an essentially constitutive element (c. 86). It means that the factor is one which must be attended to, because otherwise the action (in this case a sacramental action) might be judged to be without juridical effect.138

In sum, even though the qualification of canon 1024 which reserves diaconal ordination to baptized males ad validitatem is a serious matter, it is also of purely ecclesiastical law which

is capable of exception and modification. An indult from the Apostolic See would be the simplest and most obvious way for this exception to be effected.

2. Canonical Requirements for Licit Ordination

Women candidates for the permanent diaconate would be subject to the same requirements as other candidates, that is, those listed in canons 1025 and following. These prerequisites for ordination include: a completed period of probation, required qualities for the order, absence of irregularities or other impediments, freedom from coercion, careful preparation, twenty-five years of age (thirty-five if married, in which case she also would need her husband's consent), confirmed, acceptance into candidacy, reception of the ministries of lector and acolyte, and a five-day retreat. An exception would be required to canon 230, §1, which limits installation in the permanent ministries of lector and acolyte to lay men.

Candidates who meet all these requirements can be called to orders by their proper ordinary or superior, and may be ordained only by their own bishop or a bishop who has received dimissorial letters from their own bishop or superior (c. 1015).

The irregularities, that is, impediments which are considered perpetual, mentioned in canon 1041 would also apply to women:

· insanity or serious psychic defect;

· apostasy, heresy, or schism;

· attempted marriage while already subject to the bond of marriage or bound by a vow of chastity, or to a man who was already subject to the bond of marriage, or in sacred orders, or bound by a vow of chastity;

· committed murder or abortion, or positively cooperated in either;

· serious and malicious mutilation or attempted suicide;

· performed forbidden acts of orders.139

Unless dispensed (c. 1047), women with one of these conditions would be permanently prevented from receiving orders, just as men are.

The "simple impediments" of canon 1042 also pertain:

· holding offices or duties which are unbecoming or alien to the clerical state (c. 285, Q§§1 & 2)

· newly baptized into the Church as an adult until proven firm in the faith (i.e., neophytes).

Such persons are forbidden to be ordained to the permanent diaconate until the condition has been rectified.

All of these canonical pre-conditions and prohibitions for the reception of holy orders would apply to women diaconal candidates just as they do to men.

C. Analysis of the Canon Law on Clergy

1. Incardination and Mobility of Deacons

The canons on the inscription or incardination of clerics (cc. 265-272) apply to permanent deacons, and would also apply to women ordained to the permanent diaconate. These call for a stable attachment to a diocese or religious institute which is based on a presumption of permanent service (c. 1036). The canons would occasion the same opportunities and problems in regard to personal mobility that are presently experienced by male permanent deacons.140

Some of these problems of mobility would be mitigated for women deacons who are members of religious institutes (c. 266, §2).141 Professed women religious could be ordained as deacons and remain incorporated in their religious institute. .142They would be clerical members of non-clerical communities. Religious brothers have faced this same modest anomaly with apparent equanimity

Those women who were incardinated into dioceses by their diaconal ordination would have the same opportunities for temporary service or permanent incardination elsewhere that other clerics do (cc. 267-272). The process for excardination and incardination would be the same (cc. 267-268).

2. Rights and Obligations of Clergy

Women deacons would be bound by and enjoy the same obligations and rights as other clerics (cc. 273-289).143 Specifically, they would show reverence and obedience to the pope and to their own ordinary (c. 273). They would be eligible for offices which require the power of orders or the power of governance, and would be obliged to fulfill the duties assigned to them (c. 274). They would be expected to promote the mission of lay persons in Church and world (c. 275, §2).

Like other clerics, women deacons would be required to pursue holiness because of their consecration to God in their ordination as dispensers of God's mysteries in the service of the people. This includes fidelity in pastoral ministry, participation in eucharistic celebrations and the liturgy of the hours, retreats, meditation, and other means of sanctification (c. 276).

Unmarried women would be obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence, and therefore celibacy, and married women would not normally be permitted to remarry after their ordination, i.e., in the event that their husbands died or their marriage were annulled (cc. 1037, 1087, 277).

Women permanent deacons would be responsible for their continuing education, expected to cultivate a simple lifestyle, and observe the rule of residence (cc. 279, 282, 283). If fully employed in the Church's ministry, they would receive a remuneration suitable for their own support and that of their family. However, if they were principally engaged in a civil profession, their remuneration would continue to be derived from that source (c. 281, §3). If they were members of a religious institute, they would have additional responsibilities as religious (cc. 662-672). If secular, they would enjoy the same exemptions regarding clerical garb, secular occupations, political and union activities as other secular permanent deacons (c. 288).

D. Analysis of the Canon Law on Deacons

1. What Deacons Can Do According to the Law a. Purposes of the Permanent Diaconate

The NCCB Guidelines for the Permanent Diaconate describe three purposes or motives for restoring the permanent diaconate:

· a desire to restore to the Church the full complement of active apostolic ministries;

· the desire to integrate and strengthen with sacramental ordination and grace those who were, in fact, already exercising diaconal functions

· to provide ministers for those regions where functions vital to the Church's life could not be carried out.144

This is an initial indication of "what deacons can do." The ordination of women to the permanent diaconate would have a similar purpose in light of the history of the Church discussed above, and in keeping with the pastoral experience which also gave rise to the decision to restore the permanent diaconate for men. Thus ordaining women as permanent deacons would integrate and strengthen with sacramental grace those women who in fact exercise diaconal functions already. It would provide ordained ministers for those regions where women are already carrying out functions vital to the Church's life, as in places where women have been placed in charge of communities of the faithful in keeping with canon 517, §2. In this sense, it would help to restore the full complement of active apostolic ministries to the Church.

The United States guidelines also emphasize that the current experience of the permanent diaconate must not be restricted to the ancient practices of the office. This is because of numerous changes in our theology and in our culture.145 The permanent diaconate has been allowed to develop creatively. This creativity has led permanent deacons to assume positions and ministries as situations warrant. At this time it is clear that the permanent deacon is part of the ordained ministry of the Church with a role distinct from that of bishop and priest, and also that permanent deacons do not take the place of appropriate lay ministers. So, too, with women ordained to the permanent diaconate, legitimate creativity within appropriate limits would help to clarify what their ministry will entail.

The question arises as to what is the distinct role or ministry of the deacon. It is essential to focus on the meaning of the name "deacon" and on the ancient tradition as repeated in Lumen gentium: deacons are ordained for service (LG 29).146

This quality of service throughout the body of Christian faithful was what Paul VI accentuated at the time of the restoration of the permanent diaconate and then at the publication of particular norms for these ministers. The life of service assumed by ordained deacons takes on a sacramental symbolism representing all persons who give service in the Church. The deacon is to become the promoter of the Church's service diaconally in local Christian communities, thus bringing Jesus Christ's redemption to where the people are.147

The ministry of service divides into: (1) the ministry of love and justice; (2) the ministry of the Word of God; (3) the ministry of liturgy. Sometimes the call to serve may lead a deacon to a leadership position over a group of Christian faithful or to another church position. The essential difference here in the service of the deacon and the laity is that the deacon's service is sacramental and, thus, symbolic of Christ who came to serve. Women ordained to the diaconate would provide the same ministry in their own manner.

b. Diaconal Actions Authorized by Church Law

In the practical order, deacons are serving in a variety of ways. The possible roles deacons can fill within the Church's structure are determined by what type of jurisdiction is involved and if there has been a normative limiting of a specific role to priests or bishops. In only a few cases is the basis of qualifying for a particular office rooted in ordination. In fact, frequently the service of a permanent deacon is parallel to that of the laity.

The 1983 code specifies that as a result of the valid reception of the diaconate a number of actions flow. These actions are part of the teaching, sanctifying, and governing offices of the Church.

· Teaching Office of the Church

The deacon's specific role here is to preach (cc, 764 and 767, §1). A deacon possesses this faculty to preach everywhere unless explicitly restricted by diocesan law or, in an individual case by the ordinary or by the pastor within a specific church building.

· Sanctifying Office of the Church

The permanent deacon is an ordinary minister of baptism (c. 861, §1) and Holy Communion (c. 910, §1), and is able to assist at marriage (cc. 1108; 1111; 1116, §2; 1121, §2). The deacon is an ordinary minister of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Eucharistic Benediction (c. 943). The deacon may also conduct funeral services and burials, and administer sacramentals as determined in the liturgical books (cc. 1168; 1169, §3). The extent of a deacon's role in the administration of these sacraments and sacramentals also depends on both the faculties the deacon receives from the bishop and the permission of the pastor to allow the deacon to function within the parish (c. 530).

In each of the sacraments and sacramentals mentioned above, the properly delegated deacon has the power to act because of his ordination and accompanying faculties. A permanent deacon is not seen by the 1983 code as a substitute for a priest. Rather, as with a priest, so the deacon is an ordinary minister in these rites. The deacon's presence and proper participation can be essential to the valid celebration of each of these sacraments and sacramentals.

· Governing Office of the Church

The 1983 code makes no distinction between priests and deacons when specifying that only a cleric can hold an office requiring the power of orders or ecclesiastical governance (c. 274, §1). It is this very point that empowers a deacon to be an intimate part of the pastoral life of the parish (cc. 517, §2 and 519) and diocese. Depending on the individual's faculties and the pastor, a deacon could have an influential position in decision-making matters in the parish as well as in the on-going spiritual care of the people of God. A deacon may also be called by the bishop to a greater role in the governance of the diocese (e.g., as a tribunal judge, chancellor, finance officer, etc.).

Women already participate in many of these same functions, not in virtue of ordination but in virtue of delegation or other designation by competent church authorities. There is nothing inherent in the functions a deacon performs which would preclude a woman from being ordained to the permanent diaconate. Moreover, ordination would provide women, as permanent deacons, with the added grace of the sacrament and the standing in the Church to perform these functions.

c. Pattern of Qualities Needed by Deacons

The experience of these past twenty-five years has helped to develop a pattern of themes or strengths a deacon needs in order to minister successfully.148 An instrument, the Deacon Perceiver Interview, has been developed to assist those working with Diaconal Formation Programs. These following themes stand out:

Core themes which have been found to be essential in rendering successful, sensitive services as a deacon are:

· Helping - attentive to someone in need and proactive in giving assistance: puts person first over problem;

· Teaming — strong in building and enhancing team work;

· Accommodating — giving of self and highly flexible, seeks affirmation by pleasing others (gives of self ceaselessly without counting the cost.)

Motivational themes which move the core themes and have to do with people are:

· Relator - enjoys warm relationships with other people and builds trust with others;

· Some sacramental actions are restricted to priests, such as confirmation (c. 882), celebration of the Eucharist (c. 900, §1), penance (c. 965), and anointing of the sick (c. 1003, §1). Deacons are restricted from saying most prayers, in particular the Eucharistic prayer, during the celebration of the Eucharist (c. 907).

Do these restrictions have canonical implications for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate?

The restrictions need to be considered from two aspects. The first is what actions are tied to the core of priesthood. Celebration of the Eucharist and the forgiveness of sins are ministerial actions that both the magisterium and Catholic theology link closely to priesthood. Thus, the law restricts deacons from performing sacramental actions that could blur the distinction between priesthood and the diaconate. Or to look at it from the perspective of the deacon, the restriction on the deacon concerning the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation is because of the distinct natures of priesthood and diaconate. This distinction needs to exist whether the deacon is male or female.

The second of these perspectives is the issue of who is able to exercise jurisdiction in the Church, at least in offices named in the 1983 code. The restriction on deacons is that they are not to hold any office reserved to priests or bishops. In this way, deacons can never assume the full care of souls in a pastoral situation nor have the jurisdiction over a priest such as the judicial vicar in a tribunal. Such limiting of jurisdiction and the care of souls is based on the Church's teaching and, generally, by a centuries-old tradition. Once again, the restriction is the same whether the deacon is male or female.

The implication that emerges is the need to maintain a sharp distinction between priesthood and the diaconate. The law directs the deacon to assist the priest in particular ways in the care of souls and in carrying out the three munera of Christ. The deacon is not to be seen in the persona of Christ in the same way the priest is. The deacon's role is rather to be one of service.

The clarity in the law about the role of the deacon assists in understanding who is eligible to be ordained a permanent deacon. Determining this eligibility does not challenge the Church's teaching on priesthood. Whether male or female, permanent deacons would assist the priest in the same way. In addition, the restrictions stated in the law establish the framework out of which any deacon is to carry out the ministry.

E. Analysis of the Canon Law on Religious

1. Law and Practice of Deacons Among Lay Religious

Some religious institutes are clerical, others are lay (c. 588). The Second Vatican Council permitted even lay religious institutes such as brothers to decide to admit some of their members to holy orders without changing the lay character of the institute; the decision to do this must be made by the general chapter.150 When Paul VI issued norms on the restoration of the permanent diaconate he provided for religious institutes to include some of their members as deacons provided the institute obtained prior authorization of the Apostolic See.151The same provisions continue in effect today. No difference is made between clerical and lay institutes in this regard, and the same norms apply to secular institutes and societies of apostolic life.152

An individual who is both a permanent deacon and a religious is bound by the regulations set forth on permanent deacons as well as by the constitution of the individual's religious institute.153 Before ordination, a religious must be definitively incorporated in the institute; through ordination to the diaconate, a religious becomes incardinated as a cleric in the religious institute (c. 266, §2). Permanent deacons who are members of religious institutes are bound by the same laws as a priest in the institute.154 The special norms approved by the Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men repeat these provisions, and add some practical norms relative to preparation of candidates for ordination to the permanent diaconate.155

2. Ministry of Women Religious

Women religious today carry out a great variety of "apostolates" or ministries in the Church and in the world. These range from immediate service to the poor and needy, to pastoral work in parishes, teaching in schools, serving in various diocesan and national church offices, even to chief executive officers of hospitals, colleges and universities.156 In reality women religious already are and have been for centuries successfully carrying out the works of charity and other ministries that are described in the documents for the restoration of the permanent diaconate (e.g., AG 16). A decision to admit women to the permanent diaconate could well lead to a request for the ordination of women religious as permanent deacons.

For members of a religious institute of women to be ordained to the permanent diaconate, the same norms would apply as for a religious institute of men. That is, the general chapter

would have to vote for this possibility and prior authorization of the Apostolic See would be needed for the institute to have permanent deacons among its members.157 Any candidate would have to be definitively incorporated into the institute prior to ordination, and ordination as a permanent deacon would add the new bond of incardination in the institute.

F. Summary

Canonically, a decision to ordain women to the permanent diaconate is possible. To implement this possibility the appropriate procedures would have to be followed. Sufficient reason would have to be given for the Apostolic See to grant an indult to the bishops of a country such as the United States to derogate from canon 1024, which restricts ordination to the permanent diaconate to males, and to adjust the application of various canons dealing with irregularities and impediments, as well as with clerical obligations and rights, so that they would be phrased in terms applicable to women as well as to men.

Once such an indult was obtained, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops would have to adopt particular law, similar to the particular law by which it authorized bishops to introduce the permanent diaconate for men in their dioceses, to authorize bishops to determine whether to introduce the permanent diaconate for women in their dioceses. The NCCB would also have to revise the current Guidelines for the permanent diaconate in the United States to reflect the derogations from the Apostolic See, and could also adopt any other adjustments in the Guidelines they consider appropriate to reflect the new situation. These Guidelines, since they contain general decrees and general executory decrees as well as instructions and advice, would require the review of the Apostolic See prior to promulgation, as has occurred for past versions of the Guidelines.

Canonically, women preparing for the permanent diaconate would be bound by the same provisions of the law as men preparing for this sacrament. They would be subject to the same impediments and irregularities, and all the other requirements for admission to orders. Once ordained, they would be subject to the same obligations and rights which bind all permanent deacons.

Women permanent deacons would participate in the same manner as men permanent deacons in the three-fold functions of the Church - teaching, sanctifying, and governing. They would be eligible for offices open to any permanent deacons. Thus they would be eligible to hold offices which require the exercise of the diaconal order, or which entail the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction appropriate to the order of deacon. They would also be subject to the same restrictions which bind men as permanent deacons.

For women who are members of an institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life, adjustments would have to be made in the constitutions to permit diaconal members of a lay institute or society. They would be subject to the same provisions that now apply to men permanent deacons in lay institutes and societies.

In effect, the amount of adjustments in law which would be required to open the permanent diaconate to women are within the authority of the Church to make, and are relatively few in number. The practical effect, however, would be to open up ordained ministry as permanent deacons to women, enabling them to receive all seven sacraments, and making them capable of assuming offices which entail the exercise of the diaconal order and of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, which are now closed to women because they are closed to lay persons.

V. Conclusions

This study has been designed to determine the canonical implications of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate. It has found the following.

1. Historically, women have been ordained as deaconesses. While it would be anachronistic to call "deaconesses" the women whose ministry is recorded in the New Testament, by the third century there clearly were women deacons. What their ministry involved has varied from place to place, and from century to century. Although some debate whether they were indeed "ordained," the evidence points to an ordination parallel to that conferred on men to be deacons. Although this past experience does not require that women be ordained to the permanent diaconate today, it does indicate that this possibility is not foreclosed to the Church.

2. Cultural factors play a significant role in decisions to introduce the permanent diaconate today. Cultural factors were also significant factors in the decision to ordain deaconesses in local churches in the past. It is appropriate, therefore, that contemporary cultural factors recognized by church officials involving women be taken into consideration in determining whether to ordain women to the permanent diaconate today.

3. The diaconate is presented in canon law as a sacrament, a grade in the sacrament of holy orders. It is a permanent or character sacrament, and those ordained deacons stand in a different kind of relationship within the community and not just a difference of degree. Ordination provides sacramental grace for the witnessing presence of the ordained, but does not impede or denigrate the proper role of lay persons in the Church or in the world.

4. The supreme authority of the Church is competent to decide to ordain women to the permanent diaconate. It would require a derogation from canon 1024 which restricts all ordinations, including that to the permanent diaconate, to males. This can be done by legislation or individual indults to episcopal conferences.

5. It would not be necessary to adopt ordination of women to the permanent diaconate throughout the entire Church; as with the ordination of men to the permanent diaconate, this is a question properly left to decisions by the episcopal conference and individual diocesan bishops.

6. Women ordained to the permanent diaconate would be bound by the canon law which applies to men ordained to the permanent diaconate, and women who are members of religious institutes would be bound by the law which applies to male religious who are clerics. Some adjustments would be required in some specific provisions concerning clergy which are currently expressed in masculine terms.

7. Women ordained to the permanent diaconate, moreover, would be able to exercise ministries and to hold offices from which they are now excluded, but which are in keeping with the services women currently provide in the Church. They would be given the added assistance of sacramental grace as a result of ordination, in the same manner that men already involved in church service have received this sacramental aid through their own ordination as permanent deacons.

In light of these conclusions from its research, the committee has reached the conclusion that ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is possible, and may even be desirable for the United States in the present cultural circumstances.

VII. Bibliography

Instead of repeating all the works cited in the report,  the following is  a specialized bibliography focused on the ordination of women to the diaconate.

Aubert, Marie-Josephine.    Des femmes diacres: un nouveau chemin pour I'Eglise.    Paris: Beauchesne, 1987.

Carrillo Cazares, Alberto. El diaconado femenino: La tradicion eclesial y las perspectivas ante el problema del clero latino-americano. Bilbao: Mensajero, 1971.

Davies, J.G.    “Deacons, Deaconesses and the Minor Orders in the Patristic Period.”    The Journal of Ecclesiastical History 14 (April, 1963) 1-15.

Gryson, Roger.   The Ministry of Women in the Early Church.   Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1976. (with bibliography)

Hopko, Thomas, ed.   Women and the Priesthood.   Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1983.

Hunermann, Peter.   “Conclusions Regarding the Female Diaconate.”   Theological Studies 36 (1975) 325-333.

Karidoyanes  Fitzgerald, Kyriaki.     "The Characteristics  and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess."  In Women and the Priesthood, ed. Thomas Hopko.

Martimort, Aime Georges.   Deaconesses: An Historical Study.   Trans. K.D. Whitehead.   San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.

Mayer, Josephine, ed.   Monumenta de viduis diaconissis virginibusque tractantia.   Bonn: P. Henstein, 1938.

McManus, Frederick R.   "Book Reviews: 'Deaconesses: An Historical Study,'" The Jurist 47 (1987) 596-598.

Messie, Gerit.  Les Diaconesses de Reuilly: un germe fecund.   Paris: Cerf, 1992.

Munley, Anne.   Threads for the Loom.  LCWR Planning and Ministry Studies.  Silver Spring, MD: Leadership Conference of Women Religious, 1992.

Olson, Jeannine.  One Ministry Many Roles: Deacons and Deaconesses Through the Centuries. St. Louis: Concordia, 1992.

O'Malley,  John J. "Priesthood, Ministry, and Religious Life: Some Historical and Historiographical Considerations." Theological Studies 49 (1988) 223-257.

Ratigan, Virginia Kaib and Arlene Anderson Swidler. A New Phoebe: Perspectives on Roman Catholic Women and the Permanent Diaconate. Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1990.

Theodorou, Evangelos. “The Ministry of the Deaconess in the Greek Orthodox Church.” In The Deaconess: A Service of Women in the World of Today. World Council of Churches Studies 4. Geneva: WCC, 1966. Pp. 25-30.

Tornielli, Andrea. "Career Women." 30 Days in the Church and in the World. 6/7-8 (1994) 16-19.

Vagaggini, Cipriano. "L'ordinazione delle diaconesse nella tradizione greca e bizantina." Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40 (1974) 146-189.


1 Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, letter dated March 15, 1994, "Use of Female Altar Servers Allowed," Origins 23/45 {April 28, 1994) 777, 779. See Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, "Responsio ad propositum dubium," June 30, 1992: AAS 86 (1994) 541-542.

2John Paul II, apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, May 22, 1994; English translation, "Apostolic Letter on Ordination and Women," Origins 23/4 (June 9, 1994) 51.

3 Ibid., 49. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declaration Inter insigniores, October 15, 1976: AAS 69 (1977) 98-116.

4 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "A Commentary on the Declaration," January 27, 1977: Origins 6/33 (February 3, 1977) 526.

5 Peter Hebblethwaite, "A Search for Openings in the Absence of 'Infallible,'" National Catholic Reporter, June 17, 1994: 10.

6 Ibid.

7 Andrea Tornielli, "Career Women," 30 Days in the Church and in the World 6/7-8 (1994) 17.

8 Gemeinsame Synode der Bistiimer in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Offizielle Gesamtausga.be I (Freiburg: Herder, 1976) 634, votum 7.1, 3·.

9 NCCB Ad Hoc Committee for a Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns, "Partners in the Mystery of Redemption: First Draft of a Pastoral Response to Women's Concerns for Church and Society," Origins 17/45 (April 21, 1988) 781; and "One in Christ Jesus; A Pastoral Response to the Concerns of Women for Church and Society," Origins 19/44 (April 5, 1990) 730.

10 Idem, "Called to Be One in Christ Jesus," Origins 21/46 (April 23, 1992) 772; and "One in Christ Jesus," Origins 22/13 (September 19, 1992) 235.

11Resolution of the National Association of Permanent Diaconate Directors of America, Orlando, Florida, April 23, 1993.

12 CLSA Proceedings 54 (1992) 276-277.

13 See especially the following: Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976); Airae Georges Martimort, Deaconesses: An Historical Study, trans. K. D. Whitehead (San Francisco; Ignatius Press, 1986); Cipriano Vagaggini, "L'ordinazione delle diaconesse nella tradizione greca e bizantina," Orientalia christiana periodica 40 (1974) 146-189.

14 "The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," 15: 1, in The Apostolic Fathers, trans. Krisopp Lake, 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965) 1: 331.

15 "Ignatius to the Magnesians," 6, in The Apostolic Fathers, 1: 201.

16 "Epistle to the Philippians of Saint Polycarp," in The Apostolic Fathers, 1: 289 and 1: 291.

17 Ibid., 1: 291.

18 Gregory Dix, The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome (London, 1937; reprinted., London: SPCK, 1968} 15.

19 R. Hugh Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum, The Syriac Version Translated and Accompanied by the Verona Latin Fragment (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1929) 109.

20 See The Jerusalem Bible (1956), the Revised Standard Version Second Edition (1971), the French Ecumenical Translation of The Bible (1975), and the New American Bible (1970).

21 Gryson (3-4) and Martimort (22) agree on this point; see also A. Kalsbach, s.v. "Diakonisse," Reallexikon fur Antike und Christentum, III, ed. Theodor Klauser (Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann, 1957) col. 917.

22 Gryson, 3-5.

Martimort, 22. Gryson (8), however, lists several scholars who argue that the parallelism suggests that the ministry of these women was analogous to that of "deacons" at the time; he cites Zscharnack, Forget, Huls, Leipoldt, Colson, Danielou, and Spicq.

24 Ibid., 30-32; 14-15.

25 Martimort, 38-39.

26 Vagaggini, 151.

27 J. G. Davies, "Deacons, Deaconesses and the Minor Orders in the Patristic Period," The Journal, of Ecclesiastical History 14 (April, 1963) 1.

28 Martimort, 72.

29 Gryson, 61-69.

30 Ibid., 48-49.

31 Ibid., 63-64. Cf. Chalcedon, c. 15: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta [COD], ed, losepho Alberigo et al., 3rd. ed. (Bologna: Istituto per le Scienze Religiose, 1972) 94.

32 Gryson, 51, 77, 80-86.

33 Martimort, 148-152.

34 Peter Hunermann, "Conclusions Regarding the Female Diaconate," Theological Studies 36 (1975) 328.

35 Vagaggini, 176.

36 Martimort, 156, 183.

37 "On the Early History and the Modern Revival of Deaconesses," Church Quarterly Review 48 (1898-1899)317.

38 Ada et Decreta Sacrorum Conciliorum Recentiorum Collectio Lacensis, 2/3 (Freiburg: Herder, 1876) Chapter fII, 5, I-IV, cols. 271-272.

39 R. Schoell and G. Kroll, Novellae, 5th ed., Corpus iuris civilis, 3 (Berlin: Widemann, 1928) 18-22.

40 Martimort, 136.

41 Gryson, 89-90.

42 Ibid., 90-91.

43 "Latin Church" and "Western Church" are used interchangeably in this section of the report. Today, "Latin Church" has a technical meaning (cf. 1983 code c. 1), but historically the discipline reported here comes from the Western Empire, or Church of the West, depending on the historical period, which forms the historical root for the "Latin Church" of today.

44 Concilia Galliae A. 314 - A. 506, ed. Charles Munier, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina [CCL] 148 (Turnholt; Brepols, 1963) 50 (c. 2).

45 Ibid., 84 (c. 25).

46 Concilia Galliae A. 511 - A. 695, ed. Charles de Clercq, CCL 148 A (Turnholt: Brepols, 1963) 29 (c. 21).

47 Ibid., 101 (c. 17).

48 Martimort, 201.

49 Ibid.; de Clercq, 184 (c. 20/19).

50Martimort, 202-204. The seventh century Tridentium should not be confused with the sixteenth century liturgical books implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent, and which are sometimes popularly referred to by the name of "Trent."

51 Le Pontifical romano-germanique du dixieme siecle, ed. Cyrille Vogel et al., vol. 1, Studi e testi 226 (Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1963) 54-59.

52 Martimort, 215.

53 Ibid., 234.

54 Ibid.,205.

55 Ibid., 220.

56 Ibid., 221-228.

57 Ibid., 229.

58 Ibid., 230.

59 Ibid., 233-232.

60 Ibid., 232-233.

61 Ibid., 235-240.

62 Munier, 12 (c. 16 [15]).

63 Nicea, c. 18; COD 14-15.

64 Munier, 175 (c. 57).

65 Decretum Gratiani emendatum et notationibus illustratum cum glossis, Gregorii XIII, Pont. Max., iussu editum (Rome, 1582), Glossa Ordinaria ad D. XCIII, 6, s.v. Oculi.

66 The debate between Gryson and Martimort about the "ordination" of deaconesses began when Gryson published Le Ministere desfemmes dans I 'Eglise ancienne (Gembloux: J. Duculot, 1972) and Martimort criticized his methodology in a 1974 article (which is basically repeated in Martimort's Deaconesses: An Historical Study, 73-75 - supra, note 13). In a rebuttal to Martimort's criticism, in March of 1974 Gryson wrote, "L'Ordination des diaconesses d'apres les Constitutions apostoliques," Melanges de science religieuse 31 (1974) 41-45. This article is translated into English and reprinted as an appendix in the 1976 English translation of Gryson's 1972 book, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, 115-120 (supra, note 13).

67 Martimort, Deaconesses, 69, 74.

68 Ibid., 68.

69 Ibid., 183.

70 Ibid., 128.

71 Ibid., 242. In the Greek Orthodox tradition, John Karmiris also holds that deaconesses were not ordained because their ministry was clearly an "auxiliary institution in the Church" not to be confused with the ministry of the deacon, which, according to him, is a "purely priestly ministry." For his theory that the diaconate is the third level of the ordained priesthood to which only certain men are called, see John Karmiris, "The Status and the Service of Women in the Orthodox Church" as cited in Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald, "The Characteristics and Nature of the Order of the Deaconess," in Women and the Priesthood, ed. Thomas Hopko (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1983) 84-85.

72 Gryson, The Ministry of Women, 120.

73 Ibid., 63. Cf. COD 94 (c. 15).

74 Gryson, The Ministry ofWomen, 64.

75 Cf. supra, note 13.

76 Vagaggini, 182.

77 "Conclusions of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation on Women and the Question of Ordination," Ecumenical Trends 18 (1989)41.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid.

80 Ibed

81 Evangelos Theodorou, "The Ministry of the Deaconess in the Greek Orthodox Church," in The Deaconess: A Service of Women in the World of Today, World Council of Churches Studies 4 (Geneva: WCC, 1966) 29, as cited in Fitzgerald, 86-88.

82 Gryson, The Ministry of Women, 53.

83 Ibid., 120. .

84 Martimort, Deaconesses, 75.

85 Ibid., 241.

86 Frederick R. McManus, "Book Reviews: 'Deaconesses: An Historical Study,'" The Jurist 47 (1987) 597.

87 Ibid.

88 Vagaggini, 182.

89 For a history of the movement to restore the permanent diaconate, see Edward P, Ecklin, The Deacon in the Church (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1971), chapter 6,

90 "Formal Request to Restore the Diaconate as a Permanent Order" presented to the Fathers of Vatican Council II by the Original Deacon Circle of Munich, West Germany as published in Patrick McCaslin and Michael G. Lawler, Sacrament of Service: A Vision of the Permanent Diaconate Today (New York: Paulist Press, 1986).

91 Diaconia in Christo: Uber die Erneuerung des Diakonates, ed. Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler (Freiburg: Herder, 1962).

92 Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium [LG], 29; trans., The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott (New York: Guild Press, 1966).

93 Vatican Council II, Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity Ad gentes [AG], 16.

94 Vatican Council II, Decree on the Eastern Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 17.

95 Paul VI, motu proprio Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, June 18, 1967: AAS 59 (1967) 697-704.

96 Paul VI, apostolic constitution Pontificalis Romani recognitio, June 17, 1968: AAS 60 (1968) 369-373.

97Paul VI, motu proprio Act pascendum, August 15, 1972: AAS 64 (1972) 534-540.

98 NCCB Bishops' Committee on the Permanent Diaconate, Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry, rev. ed. (Washington: USCC, 1984) 1-2.

99 Ibid., 2.

100 See discussion in J. Michael Miller, "Interpretation of Ius Divinum in Contemporary Catholic Theology," in The Divine Right of the Papacy in Recent Ecumenical Theology, Analecta Gregoriana 218 (Rome: Universita Gregoriana Editrice, 1980) 137-169.

101 See supra, note 4.

102This is a theme which appears frequently in the writings of John Paul II, and has its roots in church Tradition. For an early exploration of these themes by the Canon Law Society of America, see its Permanent Seminar reports: The Church as Communion, ed. James H. Provost (Washington: CLSA, 1974); The Church as Mission, ed. James H. Provost (Washington: CLSA, 1974).

103 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes [GS], 4.

104 John Paul II, encyclical Slavorum Apostoli, June 2, 1985, n. 21: AAS 77 (1985) 802-803.

105 See also the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches [CCEO] c. 584, §2; "The evangelization of the nations should be so done that, preserving the integrity of faith and morals, the Gospel can be expressed in the culture of individual peoples; namely, in catechetics, their own liturgical rites, in sacred art, in particular law, and, in short, the whole ecclesial life."

106 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC], 37-39.

107 LG 13; Second Vatican Council, Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 5-6. See also CCEO c. 28, §1 where "culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people" are among the elements constitutive of a rite.

108 See Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, instruction "Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy," January 25, 1994: Origins 23/43 (April 14, 1994) 745, 747-756.

109 See, for example, John Paul II, address to the Roman Rota, January 28, 1991: AAS 83 (1991) 947-953; English translation in Papal Allocutions to the Roman Rota 1939-1994, ed. William H. Woestman (Ottawa: Saint Paul University, 1994) 214-218.

110 See John M. Huels, "Interpreting Canon Law in Diverse Cultures," The Jurist 47 (1987) 249-293.

111 Paul VI, motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, August 15, 1972: MS 64 (1972) 530; CLD 7: 692.

112 See Secretaria Status, Annuarium Statistician Ecclesiae 1992 (Vatican City: Typis Vaticanis, n.d.) 86-93.

113 See supra, notes 9 and 10, for references to drafts of the pastoral letter. The final version of the text was published as a committee report and serves as the basis for action, study and dialogue by all the conference's units. See Origins 22/29 (December 31, 1992) 489.

114 Anthony J. Bevilacqua, The ERA in Debate: What can it mean for Church Law? (Toledo, OH: CLSA, 1978).

115 Ibid., 71-77.

116 See Nancy Reynolds, "A Comparison of the Specific Juridical Status of Women in the 1917 and 1983 Codes of Canon Law," JCL dissertation, The Catholic University of America, 1984; see also the pre-code comments by Lucy Vazquez, "The Position of Women According to the Code," The Jurist 34 (1974) 128-142, and Rose McDermott, The Legal Condition of Women in the Church: Shifting Policies and Norms, Canon Law Studies 449 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1979); and the post-code comments by James H. Provost, "Human and Legal Rights of Women in the Church," in Women in the Church, ed. Madonna Kolbenschlag (Washington: Pastoral Press, 1987) 31-50.

117 John Paul II, apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem, August 15, 1988: AAS 80 (1988) 1653-1729; Origins 18/17 (October 6, 1988) 261, 263-283.

118Ibid., n. 1.

119 Ibid., n. 31; Origins, 281.

120 John Paul II, apostolic exhortation Christifideles laid, December 30, 1988, n. 49: AAS 81 (1989) 491; Origins 18/35 (February 9, 1989) 585. John Paul II reaffirmed this position most explicitly in his letter to women of June 29, 1995; see "Letter to Women," Origins 25/9 (July 27, 1995) 138, 139-143.

121 "Holy See: Partial Association With the Consensus," Origins 24/15 (September 22, 1994) 259.

122 John Paul II, Christifideles laici, n. 49; Origins, 585.

123 NCCB, "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace," November 16, 1994: Origins 24/25 (December 1, 1994) 417, 419-422.

124Ibid., 420. See also the emphasis on the "service" dimension of women in John Paul II's "Letter to Women,

125 LG29; cf. LG 21 and 28.

126 Catechism of the Catholic Church (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994) n. 1554.

127 See John Paul II, Christifideles laici, nn. 49-50; NCCB, "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace," 419-421.

128 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1121.

129 Principle 2 in "Principia quae Codicis Iuris Canonici recognitionem dirigant," Communicationes 1 (1969) 80-82; see also the Preface to the 1983 code.

130 Over half of all the permanent deacons in the world are in the United States. Those in the U.S. and Germany account for about 75% of the total. As of January, 1992, there were 17,856 permanent deacons in the world; 10,120 of them were in the United States, and 1,600 in Germany. There were about 4,400 in Europe, 250 in all of Africa, about 100 in all of Asia. See Annuarium Statistician Ecclestae 1992, 93. See also Jeannine Olson, One Ministry Many Roles: Deacons and Deaconesses Through the Centuries (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992) 358; and Karl Lehmann, "In Everything Like the Eye of the Church," Diakonia Christi 29 (June, 1994) 65. Lehmann is head of the German Conference of Bishops. His article is based on a talk he delivered on January 21, 1993 in Cologne, Germany and which was subtitled "25 Years of the Permanent Diaconate in Germany -- An Attempt at an Interim Balance Sheet." It appeared in Dokumentation 10 (1993) 9-27, and in English translation in Deacon Digest (May/June, 1994) 24-26, and (July/August, 1994) 21-25, as well as in Diakonia Christi.

131 The procedure would parallel the guidelines by the NCCB Committee on the Permanent Diaconate, Permanent Deacons in the United States (supra, note 98). These were originally issued in 1971 in light of Sacrum diaconatus ordinem (supra, note 95) and were revised In 1984.

132 The NCCB urged this matter be studied, and that studies under way be brought to a conclusion. "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace," 420.

133 In light of the conciliar and canonical teaching on the sacramentality of the diaconate, and in light of the opinion of knowledgeable experts on the ordination of women to the diaconate (see discussion supra), it does not appear acceptable to consider the possibility of women deacons or "deaconesses" being introduced simply as a "ministry of deaconesses" or "order of deaconesses," as "an order of ministry," but not a sacrament or a participation in the sacrament of holy orders.

134"Only those laws which expressly state that an act is null or that a person is incapable of acting are to be considered to be invalidating or incapacitating" (c. 10). Canon 1024 is an example of such a law.

135 Inter insigniores (supra, note 3) in nn. 1 and 5, explicitly restricted its negative judgment on the ordination of women to the orders of episcopacy and priesthood. Likewise, Ordinatio sacerdotalis (supra, note 2) focused exclusively on presbyteral ordination.

The official commentary on Inter insigniores acknowledged that some medieval theologians and canonists hesitated on the question of women's ordination because they knew that there had been deaconesses in the past. But had they received true sacramental ordination? The commentary goes on to say:

It was by no means unknown to the 17th and 18th century theologians, who had an excellent knowledge of the history of literature. In any case, it is a question that must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas; hence the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that it should be kept for the future and not touched upon in the present document. (Origins 6/33 [February 3, 1977] 526.)

This recognition that the diaconal ordination of women in the past is an open question implicitly affirms that it was and is a real possibility for the Church.

136 The votum of the Joint Synod of the Dioceses of the Federal Republic of Germany (supra, note 8) was made prior to the promulgation of the 1983 code, and the German bishops repeated the request in 1981 and in 1987.

According to Bishop Lehmann, the requests of the German bishops were based on the study made in 1973 by Yves Congar, Peter Hunermann, and Herbert Vorgrimler, on the question of women's ordination to the diaconate. They agreed upon a recommendation that the female diaconate be restored. Congar summarized their findings:

The admission of women to the sacramental diaconate is possible; the female diaconate existed for centuries. Serious arguments support it. However, it would have to be clearly emphasized that the question of the exclusion of women from the priesthood is not affected by this [recommendation] . . . whereby it cannot be asserted, that the question here concerns a matter of divine law.

See Lehmann (supra, note 130); a third of the published form of his address was on the diaconate of women.

The requests from the NCCB have been less formal than those of the German hierarchy. Several positive recommendations were made to and by various committees and related groups between the years 1975 and 1983. Informal conversations and inquiries have occurred between representatives of the NCCB and members of the Roman congregations in recent years, the latest as recently as 1994. See also supra at note 9.

These repeated public requests for study and resolution of this issue by these two large national bishops' conferences strongly imply their conviction that the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is within the realm of possibility.

137 Richard Hill, "Study of the Ordination of Married Men," CLSA Proceedings 50 (1988) 304-309, and idem, "The Pastoral Provision: Ordination of Married Protestant Ministers," CLSA Proceedings 51 (1989) 95-100.

138 For a discussion of the origins of the term "valid" in relation to the sacraments, see John Gurrieri, "Sacramental Validity: The Origins and Use of A Vocabulary," The Jurist 41 (1981) 21-58.

139 Canon 1041, §3 is expressed in male terms, that is, for those who attempt marriage "with a woman bound by a valid marriage" or in vows; it would be extended to apply to a woman's attempted marriage to a man as well.

140 For example, when a permanent deacon must relocate because of transfer caused by employment or military service, he may have to seek to be incardinated in the diocese of his new domicile. Since not all dioceses encourage and employ permanent deacons, difficulties sometimes occur. See NCCB, Permanent Deacons in the United States, n. 120, and Clergy Procedural Handbook, ed. Randolph R. Calvo and Nevin J. Klinger (Washington: CLSA, 1992) for a detailed discussion of these issues.

141 However, there could be the complicating factor of the religious woman deacon's dual obedience, to her religious superior and to the local ordinary who might assign her to an office. This has not been a major difficulty for religious brothers ordained to the diaconate, and would be subject to the same provision as that for religious who are named to ecclesiastical offices in a diocese (c. 682). See discussion infra on the canon law on religious.

142 The constitutions of the institute would need to provide for diaconal members (cf. c. 266, §2).

143 The bond of brotherhood which unites clerics, referred to in canon 275, §1, would be expanded to include the bond of sisterhood, and the fraternal assistance toward holiness in the exercise of ministry of secular clerics (c. 278, §2) would be enhanced by the sororal.

144 NCCB, Permanent Deacons in the United States, n. 19.

145 Ibid., n. 20.

146Ibid., n. 25.

147 Ibid., n. 28.

148 McCaslin and Lawler, chapter 4 (supra, note 90). This pattern has been developed since 1978 through the collaboration of the National Association of Permanent Diaconate Directors and Selected Research Incorporated of Lincoln, Nebraska. The end result is the "Deacon Perceiver Interview."

150 Vatican Council II, Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of Religious Life Perfectae caritatis, n. 10.

151 Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, n. 32.

152 Ibid., n. 35.

153 Ibid., n. 33.

154 Ibid.

155 NCCB, Permanent Deacons in the United States, Appendix.

156 NCCB, "Strengthening the Bonds of Peace," 419. See also the extensive study of ministries by religious women today in Anne Munley, Threads for the Loom, LCWR Planning and Ministry Studies (Silver Spring, MD: LCWR, 1992).

157 Sacrum diaconatus ordinem, n. 32: "Institution of the permanent diaconate among religious is a right reserved to the Holy See, which alone is competent to examine and approve the votes of general chapters in the matter." CLD 6: 583-584. This appears to apply to both diocesan and pontifical institutes.

This website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

Dear visitor, you are welcome to use our material. However: building up and maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but find it difficult to pay our overheads. Please, become a Friend or support us with a donation. Also, as some of you recommended to us, we are exploring how to generate income by advertising. Please, support us in this effort and send us your suggestions.
John Wijngaards

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research

Miriam Duignan

Please, support our campaign
for women priests

Visit our new websites:

Natural Law and Conscience

Synod on the Family 2015

Catholics and Contraception

Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.