BY PHYLLIS ZAGANO
Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and author of "Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church."
March 20, 2006
A hundred years from now, women will remember Don Marco Valentini, a 39-year-old parochial vicar of the Church of San Girolamo a Corviale in the Diocese of Rome. At a meeting with other priests of his diocese on March 2, Don Marco asked his bishop, who happens to be Pope Benedict XVI, why not include women in the governance of the church?
Then Benedict dropped an ecclesiastical bombshell, proving his merit as a historian and a pastor. He said that sacramental ordination to priesthood was not the only avenue to ministerial service, but "nevertheless, it is right to ask oneself if more space, more positions of responsibility, can be given to women, even in the ministerial services."
He did not elaborate.
Why is this such a bombshell? The priest asked about governance and ministry, each of which is restricted to the clergy. The pope answered that each might be possible for women.
How? Well, the word was not mentioned, but the ancient order of the diaconate is an ordained ministry of the Catholic Church, demonstrably open to women. Two ecumenical councils agreed to by all Christendom - Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451) - speak to the ordination of women to the diaconate. Copious evidence demonstrates the continuance of that tradition well into the 11th century.
The, ah, bombshell may not be quite that much. Though he examines it in a different context (Phyllis Zagano was correcting him on something else it seems), John Allen in The Word from Rome provides an informative quote:
In 2002, the International Theological Commission, the main advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a study on the diaconate. It concluded that deaconesses in the ancient church "cannot purely and simply be compared to the sacramental diaconate" today, since there is no clarity about the rite of institution that was used or what functions they exercised. Second, it asserted that "the unity of the sacrament of orders" is "strongly imprinted by ecclesiastical tradition, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium." The document said there is a need for "discernment about what the Lord has established for the church."
An interesting link on the subject: A Resurrecting, Remembering & Re-enacting.
This document is a script for the commentated reconstruction/dramatization of the ancient liturgical rite through which women were ordained as deacons in the Catholic Church. The rite we have derives from the Greek-language, Byzantine part of the Early Church (Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, Cyprus, Crete, South Italy).
Click to enlarge.