Vatican publishes document declaring a “female diaconate” is a possibility in the Catholic Church

Vatican publishes document declaring a “female diaconate” is a possibility in the Catholic Church

[What the Catholic Church can “learn” from the Anglican Communion from their latest ecumenical statement; it does not mention Anglican acceptance of sodomarriage  (including members of the clergy, although currently only in civil marriages or unions);  Anglican members of the joint commission include the Rt Revd Linda Nicholls, Bishop of Huron, Canada, and the Revd Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Co-Secretary from the Anglican Communion Office! – AQ Tom]

Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

July 12, 2018 ( – A group of Catholic clergy and theologians, including two bishops, have signed an ecumenical declaration with Anglican clergy published on the Vatican website that affirms the possibility that the Catholic Church might create a “female diaconate” in the future, which would imply a contradiction of Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Church’s 2000-year tradition.

The declaration also refers to the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood.

The document, entitled “Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church—Local, Regional, Universal,” purports to explore ways that Anglican practices might influence the Catholic Church, and vice versa. It was agreed to by the “Third Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission,” an ecumenical dialogue group instituted by the Catholic and Anglican churches.

In paragraph 102 of the document, the commission recognizes that “some decisions regarding ministry made by provinces of the Anglican Communion are not open to the Roman Catholic community” but admits that “others potentially are.”

Among these it lists “a female diaconate; a fuller implementation of licensed lay pastoral assistants; the priestly ordination of mature married men (viri probati); and the authorization of lay people to preach.” It also adds “the canonical opening of the ministry of lector to women.”

Professor Janet E. Smith of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, whose name appears on the declaration as a commission member, told LifeSite that she served on the commission for seven years, but was not satisfied with the text that was ultimately produced for “Walking together on the way.”

Smith said that she had “serious concerns” about some of the recommendations and other content and about the fact the some of the most significant points in the document, such as speaking of the “regional” church” the promotion of a synod of laity who would take part in determining doctrine, and the ordination of female deacons, were not fully discussed during the course of the meetings.  She was not invited back to be a part of the commission as it considers the question of how the universal and local church in communion discern right ethical teaching.

Could the Catholic Church institute a “female diaconate”?

The notion of a “female diaconate” is not defined by the document. If it were to refer to the office of the “deaconess,” which ceased to exist in the Catholic Church a thousand years ago, it would not indicate that women may enter the clergy as deacons, but rather that they may be given a non-clerical title that would seem to be no longer applicable in the Church.

“Deaconesses,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, were women who were assigned to tasks that were only seen as proper for women to carry out, such as the baptism of adult women, who entered into the baptismal font naked, or the delivery of Holy Communion to sick women alone in their homes.

The Council of Nicea, the first ecumenical council held in the Catholic Church, declared expressly that “deaconesses” were not members of the clergy, and did not have an ordination.

“And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity,” stated canon 19 of Nicea, written in 325 A.D.

However, with the use of the term “female diaconate,” the document may be easily interpreted to mean that a woman may receive ordination to the sacramental grade of order of the Diaconate, a claim that is contradicted by the Catechism of the Church (par. 1577), which quotes the Code of Canon Law by stating, “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.”

The Catechism explains that this is not merely a matter of Canon Law, but the will of God himself for the Church: “The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice [to not ordain women] made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.” The Catechism also cites Pope John Paul II’s motu proprio Ordinatio sacerdotalis and Pope Paul VI’s Inter Insigniores.

The Anglican Church, which was created by England’s King Henry VIII to facilitate his divorce of his wife Catherine of Aragon and his remarriage to Anne Boleyn in the 16th century, in the 20th century began in recent decades to appoint women as “deacons,” “priests,” and finally “bishops.” However, the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of the Anglican orders in general, regarding them as non-sacramental.

In “Walking together on the way,” texts are placed parallel to a text about the Anglican Church in order to indicate similarities with the Anglican tradition. The placement of the text on a “female diaconate” in a parallel column in the document further suggests that the authors intend to claim that the sacramental grade of order of the Diaconate could be opened to women in the Catholic Church, in a way analogous to that of the Anglicans, who allow women in all of their orders.

Anglicans also have married “priests” and “bishops.” As the declaration states, the Catholic Church has the option of permitting the ordination of married clergy, although the Church’s ancient custom is to require celibacy of married clerics, a principle that continues to be enshrined in the Church’s Code of Canon Law for Latin Churches. A small minority of priests, mostly in the eastern rites of the Church, may be ordained as married men who are not required to be celibate, although they cannot remarry if their wife dies.

Among those on the commission are Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, England, and Arthur Kennedy, Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, as well as a number of priests, both secular and religious.

Read the full text of “Walking together on the way” here.

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2 comments on “Vatican publishes document declaring a “female diaconate” is a possibility in the Catholic Church

  1. [What the Catholic Church can further “learn” from the Anglican Communion on synodality: The Episcopal Church (the branch of the Anglican Communion in the US) at its recent triennial synod (called “General Convention”) approved that sodomarriages in churches are now permitted with no opt-out by dioceses opposing such!]

    Episcopal convention approves a ‘pastoral solution’ on same-sex marriage

    Religion New Service – July 13, 2018


    Deputies, bishops and visitors pack a meeting room in the Austin Hilton Hotel on July 5, 2018, to testify on three marriage-related resolutions during the Episcopal triennial General Convention. [The lack of formal attire (especially clerical such as the Anglican-style “dog-collar” or the purple rabat or vest worn by bishops) makes the meeting look like the recent Association of United States Priests convention (including the bishop keynote speaker similarly dressed) with some womyn thrown in!]


    AUSTIN, Texas (RNS) — Same-sex couples will now be able to marry in their home parish even if their local bishop has moral objections to gay marriage, Episcopal Church leaders decided on Friday (July 13).

    Meeting in Austin at their triennial convention, the House of Bishops and House of Deputies, the bicameral governing body of the church, approved the controversial resolution after days of debate.

    Under the new rule, couples can request gender-neutral marriage rites, which were approved for trial use at the church’s 2015 convention, in the church where they worship. Even if the local bishop opposes same-sex weddings, the priest of the parish can still conduct the ceremony, requesting “pastoral support” from a bishop in another diocese if necessary.

    Currently, eight of the United States’ 101 Episcopal dioceses — Albany, N.Y.; Central Florida; Dallas; Florida; North Dakota; Springfield, Ill.; Tennessee; and the Virgin Islands — do not authorize the liturgies.

    Bishop Lawrence Provenzano of Long Island, N.Y., who helped craft the resolution, said the arrangement provides greater inclusion for LGBT couples without alienating traditionalists. A previous resolution would have effectively made same-sex marriage part of the official theology of the church by inserting the new liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer.

    That would have been “a step too fast,” Provenzano said, for bishops who are biblically at odds with same-sex marriage and have threatened to leave the denomination over the issue.

    “This was really a pastoral solution,” he said, “one that was mindful of trying to hold on to everybody.”

    Some convention delegates who support marriage equality still found fault with the resolution. One bishop worried LGBT Episcopalians would feel like second-class citizens without official adoption of the new marriage liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer. Other bishops said it was likely only a matter of time before the liturgies were added officially.

    Opponents of the resolution raised concerns about undermining bishops’ authority and about possible schism within the church. Bishop John Howard of Florida said his diocese was still reeling from the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, in New Hampshire, which led some Episcopal clergy and lay people to break from the denomination.

    Bishop William Love of the Diocese of Albany warned that the resolution could trigger upheaval similar to 2003.

    “I’m concerned that when this passes, the floodgates are going to open once again, the bloodshed is going to open once again, the insidious lawsuits are going to continue once again,” he said during the debate.

    Love also said he would follow “God’s words” and intimated that he may not abide by the resolution.

    Before General Convention began, bishops from several predominantly Latin American dioceses issued a statement urging delegates not to broaden the use of same-sex marriage rites, saying that such a move would force traditional Episcopalians “to accept social and cultural practices that have no Biblical basis in Christian worship.”

    For Mary Glasspool, an assistant bishop in the Diocese of New York, the resolution is a step in the right direction. She recalled that she married her wife in her therapist’s office because there was no option for a church wedding. It’s time, she said, not only to embrace marriage equality but to “honor the gift” of gay and lesbian relationships.

    After lengthy discussion on ecclesiastical authority, scriptural interpretation and technicalities of the resolution, Bishop Brian Thom of Idaho offered his take as a member of the task force that studied the marriage issue over the past three years. What he heard from people in congregations around the country, he said, was simple: “Folks just want to be married at home.”

    On Wednesday, not long after the bishops voted in favor of the resolution, Provenzano told Religion News Service he was “joyfully surprised” by what he described as a “spirit of reconciliation” at the convention even in the midst of heated debate.

    Finding compromise on the marriage resolution while scaling back on proposed revisions to the Book of Common Prayer, he said, allows the church to focus on responding to critical problems in the world.

    “The last thing the church needs to be doing right now is fighting over the rites in the prayer book,” he said. “We need to provide better leadership than that.”

  2. AmChurch is watching every move with glee.

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