An excellent insight into the role of catholic deacons and the issue of allowing women deacons.
A good video to use for group discussion? (10 minutes).
“In the Roman Catholic Church, laymen called deacons may perform some duties of priests, such as presiding at baptisms, marriages and funerals.”
“Currently, only men are allowed to be Catholic deacons. Pope Francis recently said he would establish a commission to study whether the diaconate should be opened to women as well. Judy Valente (pbs.org) reports on efforts to see women included.”
Visit pbs.org to watch video here
What was most poignant for me in this video was that the wife of one of the deacons, despite over four years, having done all the training her husband did, and despite having a degree in Pastoral counselling, had to remain in the pews as her husband was called forward on the day of ordination. This for no other reason other than her being a woman. Nuts! She said she would love to be able to reflect (publicaly) on the Gospel using her woman’s voice (insight). She would also love to minister at baptisms and wedding along with her husband.
Another deacon’s wife who feels equally called to this ministry says “Its not about self or about being at the altar. Its about the gift you give to others of yourself”. Again this is a highly qualified woman with a Masters Degree in Divinity and a Certificate in Spiritual Formation.
The report reveals that the numbers of deacons in the US has begun to decline.
To be honest, I found that video depressing, it really does show how truly dreadful is the attitude of our Church towards women.
Leaving that aside, I am not at all convinced about the value of the diaconate, either male or female. It is heavily integrated into the current model of priesthood – other than the performance of the Consecration, it would have been hard to distinguish between priest and deacon in that video. That present model of priesthood is in rapid decline and the diaconate comes across to me as the equivalent of giving aspirin to someone whose organs are deteriorating.
Back in 1969/70 a certain Father Joseph Ratzinger, forecasting the future of the Church, said:
“Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion.” (He did add that the full time priesthood would be retained alongside that.)
I think that time has come and that is closer to the sort of model we need to be looking at and trying to develop.
I don’t know whether Father Ratzinger did it deliberately or not but it is perhaps worth noting that he said “approved Christians” not “approved men”!
Martin H, I found the video helpful in highlighting what the diaconate has to offer while at the same time revealing the church’s terrible attitude towards women that you mentioned.
I too am not sure of the virtue of adding another clerical layer to the Catholic hierarchical cake, but anything to break the current mold is worth a try, if only to lessen the rigid and sterile division between the clerical and lay church.
Having said that, I agree wholeheartedly that the model for priesthood suggested by the Fr Ratzinger of the 70’s is much preferable. [Fr Ratzinger said some wonderful things during and after Vatican II. It was a huge tragedy that he changed his stance so completely in the years that follwed]. Its just that I don’t share your optimism this model is on the cards anytime soon despite the crying need. However the Holy Spirit has a habit of surprising us, and as a friend of mine used to say feigning humility, “I might be wrong; I was wrong once before” 🙂
I don’t think it’s so much optimism as realism, Martin M – in less than 20 years, I reckon that we will have a fraction of the number of priests we have now so something different will have to be tried whether the hierarchy like it or not 🙂
I doubt Fr Ratzinger was even THINKING of women, Martin!! It’s a lovely idea though and I like the model that he proposed. The present system of priestly formation is no longer effective so perhaps all this controversy over accusations, innuendo, bullying and silliness about “gayness” in Maynooth will lead to a deeper discussion about what would be a better, more effective model of ministry. Or will the hierarchs just bury their heads in the sand, as usual, wait for the storm to blow over and carry on as before because THINKING and DISCUSSING might lead to change?
Mary says, ‘The present system of priestly formation is no longer effective so perhaps all this controversy over accusations…in Maynooth will lead to a deeper discussion about..a more effective model of ministry’.
I believe this ‘deeper discussion’ is urgently needed. For a living, vibrant Christian community we need leadership. How essential to leadership of the Christian community is ordained priesthood, keeping in mind the centrality of Eucharist?
What is our understanding of Eucharistic celebration as centre of the Christian way of life? Do we experience it as a community celebration or as a celebration by an individual priest?
This is only the beginning of what we need to explore and discuss, maybe through getting together in small groups
“What is our understanding of Eucharistic celebration as centre of the Christian way of life?”
A very pertinent and timely question Teresa.
For me Eucharist remains central. We don’t gather around the Pope or the Bishops or the Magisterium, but around the altar with them.
What saddens me is that on first communion days around the country every year young children will be told they are coming to meet Jesus in the Eucharist on the altar made present by the priest , when the more important central message is overlooked, namely that we come to meet Christ in each other; and not just in each other but in everyone and in all God’s creation. The body of Christ; what used to be called the real presence (the mystical presence was on the altar).
Eucharist is supposed to give witness to our objective oneness; the good news we and the world badly needs to hear again and again. Occasionally we manage to live out of this truth although its a struggle. But its the reality none the less.
Just in case you thought my previous comment was unorthodox, I read today that way back in the fourth century Augustine said, “The church consists of the communion of the whole world.”
In other words, wherever there is communion, that’s the church. Wherever there is love, that’s where God is.
I’m pleased that Augustine agrees with me – or should that be the other way around 🙂
So with the Eucharist its a matter of where we put the emphasis. Unfortunately for the most part we largely miss the point.
Very definitely for me, Teresa, Mass is a community celebration. Much of my friendship network developed out of my local parish community, met so frequently for Eucharist. That network became for us a ‘safety net’ in trying family circumstance. The need for that community seems to grow as we age.
I do not believe the clerical ministry can recover in Ireland until we, the ‘common priesthood’, have learned to meet together for vocal as well as sacramental communion.
The latter is withering because the former has typically been denied to most of us. This is surely why, in 2015, the members of Dublin’s pastoral councils were typically unsure what ‘evangelisation’ could mean, and how to go about it. They had never learned, together, how to articulate the ‘Good News’.
It is surely clerical fear of spontaneous vocal communion that has led to this situation – and unfortunately that problem has intensified with recent scandals. “Do they want to talk to us just to berate us?” That question will tend to be uppermost in the priest’s mind. We need to find a pathway of reassurance as well as criticism of all that is wrong.
“laymen called deacons” ? That’s an oxymoron. A deacon is not a layman. Deacons are clerics.
You are right Michael and have put your finger on a major reason why the Vatican seems so reluctant to admit women to the clerical rank of the diaconate. It would then indirectly make the next step to the clerical rank of priesthood by women harder to resist!