synod proposal for women deacons is a call to dialogue

Source: Synod should reflect on possibly allowing female deacons, says archbishop | CNS top stories

Archbishop Paul Andre Durocher, of Gatineau, Quebec, used his three minute intervention at the Synod on the Family to address the following section in the working document on the role of women.

A contributing factor in acknowledging the determining role of women in society could be a greater appreciation of their responsibility in the Church, namely, their involvement in the decision-making process, their participation — not simply in a formal way — in the governing of some institutions; and their involvement in the formation of ordained ministers. (Instrumentum Laboris, 30)

He offered several practical proposals.

  • Opening more opportunities for women in decision making curial and diocesan roles
  • Allowing married couples to give homilies
  • Welcoming women into the permanent diaconate

This last proposal has caused quite a stir within the media and on various Catholic web-sites.

I was excited to read the news, and doubly proud that this progressive proposal was made by one of our own Canadian bishops. A dialogue is good and necessary and, I believe, this is what Archbishop Durocher was proposing. A quick read of some discussion boards showed how far we are from civil and reasonable dialogue in our church.

An NCR online article quickly garnered over three hundred responses. What was surprising, at least to me, was the lack of enthusiasm from some progressive posters. Instead of supporting Durocher’s proposal, they vehemently insisted that opening the diaconate to women was a half measure and nothing less than full ordination would do.

Not surprisingly, zealous traditionalists were quick to attack not only the proposal, but Archbishop Durocher himself; even on his own blog. 

Meanwhile, the Women’s Ordination Conference published this statement,

We applaud Archbishop Durocher for raising the suggestion to the exclusively male-voting body, and furthermore, for highlighting the relationship between the “degradation” of women in Church and society and violence against women around the world…

Though restoration of an ordained women’s diaconate would not alone be a satisfactory progression to including women in all realms of Church leadership, governance, and sacramental ministry – only ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy could begin to accomplish this – WOW supports restoration of the diaconate.

This response acknowledges and affirms the common ground held by the Archbishop and WOW. It is a gracious statement of gratefulness and hope, not an angry demand for more.

Dialogue is impossible if heels are dug deeply into idealogical trenches with no intention of the slightest of movements. Simply reiterating our position as proof that the discussion is closed does not allow for genuine listening or the seeking of common ground. Taking an extreme position on either side of the trad-lib pendulum posits the risk of a fundamentalism that too often leads to judgmental diatribes and uncharitable words.

What Archbishop Durocher has proposed is one way to better include women’s voices in the church. It will not give women the full decision making authority that is currently within the exclusive domain of ordination. But, it is a step forward.

The diaconate is considered to be more a role of ministerial service; especially to the poor and those in need. And, it can be argued, countless women are already doing this service. But, the diaconate also includes administering the sacraments of baptism and marriage, presiding at funerals, proclaiming the Word of God and breaking open that Word in the homily.

Stop for a moment and picture a woman you know who would do a brilliant job in any of this tasks? Think of how different your parish life would be with a woman deacon?

3 thoughts on “synod proposal for women deacons is a call to dialogue

  1. I am one of the progressive commenters who sees this as a half measure. To me, it’s pertinent that the bishop gave this reason: “because the diaconate in the Church’s tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry.”
    But even if he hadn’t, I’m not sure what purpose is served by implying (or stating?) that those of us who believe that this half-way measure is insufficient are “angrily demanding more.”
    I would have thought that it’s OK to disagree. As a matter of fact, if I remember correctly, in one of your past columns, you focused on the need for civil dialogue.
    I’m not labeling those who disagree with me. Why would those who disagree have a need to label me?
    If your interested in the rationale of some of us, perhaps it might be more helpful to ask, rather than to dismiss as as being “angry”.

  2. Hi Alexandra,

    I certainly didn’t mean to dismiss or label anyone. I read a lot of discussion boards to better understand all sides of an issue. The discussion that I’m talking about surprised me. I do admit, that with over 300 responses, I did not read it in full. I read several pages and the ones that I read were passionate to say the least. I was surprised that there wasn’t more support for Bishop Durocher’s proposal. After all the recent reminders of closed doors, it seemed that there was promise of a crack being opened. I’m eager to see how it unfolds.


  3. In a sense it is a “punishment fitting the crime” situation. Women participating in the decision making authority of the church will not be achieved by the Diaconate. Yes, it is progress in women’s participation at in a function or role that they have been heretofore (at least in recent centuries) been excluded from but it is not corporate or institutional “participation” unless one can term “consultation” are participation. Seems more “casual” than “causal”. Progress yes – over the moat, but within the walls?
    If this is the context or principle then it doesn’t equate with the essential principle of peership before God within church and with man in the world.
    It would be unreasonable to expect unadulterated acceptance – even if it is by a “homey” and a good man.

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