The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Chicago pastor pushes for women deacons

It will be interesting to see how far this discussion goes.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Roman Catholic Church is pretty clear on who may join the priesthood: men only.

And the way church leaders see it, there’s no room for debate, even though many adherents to the faith would like to see women in the ranks.

ST0906FrBillCropped[1].jpgNow, an Evanston pastor, the Rev. Bill Tkachuk, is raising the question of whether women can become deacons — ordained ministers a step below priests.

His parish, St. Nicholas, has been kicking around the topic for months, and a longtime female member has expressed interest in becoming a deacon should the Vatican open up the option to women.

Experts said that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon, given how slowly change comes to the church.

Like bishops and priests, deacons are ordained through a sacrament called Holy Orders, which is available only to men. Deacons aren’t allowed to consecrate the Eucharist at mass or hear confessions, but they can preside at baptisms and weddings. They often help priests with other liturgical and administrative duties.

There are “transitional” deacons who are on the road to the priesthood, and “permanent” deacons, who are not studying for the priesthood and, unlike most Catholic priests, may marry and have children. There are perhaps 500 active permanent deacons in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Pope John Paul II closed off internal debate on allowing women to become priests. Among the church’s arguments: Jesus selected only male apostles. But there’s no ban on talking about female deacons.

Supporters note that the New Testament references female deacons, though the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops indicates “there is no conclusive evidence that this office or the persons who fulfilled these roles were truly ‘ordained’ like the male deacons.”

While many Chicago area parishes have husband-and- wife “deacon couples” who minister in a variety of ways, only the husband technically is a deacon. Tkachuk would like to see women serve in that role, and he’s pushing for “a broader conversation” on this unresolved issue.

St. Nicholas has hosted parish events centered on the topic, and Tkachuk has used the weekly bulletin to spur discussion and chronicle developments. He plans to reach out to Cardinal Francis George to take up the issue. George didn’t return phone calls on the matter.

Read on.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 8:38 am

I think women can be deacons (deaconess) according to living history, tradition, and theology.
But I do not expect any soon.
And besides, we have a very good thing going at the present time building the permanant male diaconate, especially in the U.S. No reason to cause a mess here for the sake of arguement and discussion.
Let’s leave this for the next generation or so.

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Ryan Ellis

posted November 1, 2010 at 9:02 am

This is why you can rack the permanent diaconate up as another failed experiment of the post-Conciliar Church. It’s like getting rid of the Friday mandatory abstinence or abandoning the maniple:
Perfectly within the bounds of the Church in her authority, but simply prudentially-unwise.
Since its inception, the permanent diaconate has simply been a wedge liberals have used to tear down a celibate priesthood. Now, liberals seem to want to use it to tear down an all-male clergy. Why give this occasion of attack to our enemies? It’s stupid.
Better to encourage this new Springtime of vocations of young, orthodox priests. That’s the future. The permanent diaconate is the past, today being populated by liberal Baby Boomers, mostly.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

“Failed experiment”? You have to be kidding. At a time when most dioceses are ordaining three or four or five priests, at most, diaconate ordinations are booming. We had over 50 in my class, and most subsequent classes are numbering 15-20 per year. That seems to be the story all over the country.
If that’s failure, I’d like more of it, please.
Dcn. G.

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Deacon Bill

posted November 1, 2010 at 10:24 am

Hmmm. Let’s look at some facts, not just “wags”.
In 1967, NO deacons serving in the Latin church except as seminarians finishing their preparations for ordination as presbyters. Today, more than 36,000 deacons serving in dioceses and religious congregations around the world, with more than 16,000 alone here in the US. “Failed experiment”? Certainly not in terms of raw numbers.
Deacons come from a variety of professional backgrounds: farmers, teachers, military, law enforcement, social workers, business, medical and legal communities. In terms of overall education, deacons are as well educated as priests (seminarians and deacon candidates enter formation with the same percentage of graduate degrees), and even more important, all deacons and their families (if married) have demonstrated a profound commitment to the church, as witnessed by their voluntary dedication to YEARS of intense formation and education prior to ordination. I might also point out that after ordination the commitment continues even more intently, especially when dealing with some (fortunately, few) people who like to mischaracterize the diaconoate out of ignorance or a desire to pursue their own ecclesial agendas.
I always get a charge when someone describes the diaconate as associated with “liberals”. Yes, some of us are “liberal” — but even more are “conservative” (in the best sense of that word). Personally, in my decades of association with deacons and their formation, I have met far more “conservative” deacons than liberal ones. Perhaps anyone who thinks that “the diaconate” is a liberal body of baby boomers ought to join me on some of my travels, especially when visiting with deacons who had careers in law enforcement or the military! LOL! Of course, I have to admit that most of us are baby boomers, though. Our average age is 64; but that really doesn’t mean we all think alike or have the same political or ecclesial point of view.
“Failed experiment”? Yeah, right. We should have more of ‘em.
God bless,

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Gerard Nadal

posted November 1, 2010 at 10:39 am

My Dear Deacons,
I wish for much more such failure.
If there is any failure attached to the Permanent Diaconate, it is the failure of priests in certain quarters to utilize them to their full potential. But even that is beginning to change in those quarters.
As for women being ordained, no Pope in his right mind would open that can of worms.

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Fran Rossi Szypylczyn

posted November 1, 2010 at 10:55 am

There is no really good reason not to ordain women as deacons and there is ample evidence of women deacons in the early church. However, it is unlikely to happen any time soon, although I am the first to say that there is no accounting for grace. God bless the thriving diaconate as it stands with permanent male deacons today, may God further bless this ordained ministry with women once again.

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Gigi Gurl

posted November 1, 2010 at 11:11 am


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Fr. Marc

posted November 1, 2010 at 11:35 am

There are a few things, I think we need to careful about regarding this issue.
We cannot necessarily correlate “success” with numbers. Because there are so many deacons being ordained does not necessarily mean it is a successful endeavor. The same thing with priesthood ordination classes. I would rather have quality AND quantity, but if it is between the two, I would much rather have quality.
Secondly, the diaconate is part of the priesthood. They are not a “step below”, but deacons are ordained to a lesser degree of the priesthood. Bishops are ordained to the fullness fo the priesthood. This means that a woman cannot be ordained to the diaconate because it is part of the priesthood.
A change in the ordained priesthood is not going to happen, and anyone (especially the priest mentioned in the article) who has studied fundamental and dogmatic theology would have studied this in particular. It is not just “a matter of time” or an eventuality because “Rome just moves slowly”. It would render a major shift in the nature and understanding of the priesthood. It would redefine the priesthood and the Church.
The male clergy is more than just service, as if that were the case, anyone who is baptized can serve. The priest represents the male character of the relationship that Jesus has with his Church: Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride. The priest represent the groom, espoused to the one whom he serves and is ordained for, the Church.
This complimentarity continues to reveal why we do not have same-sex marriages in the Church and why we so exalt the Sacrament of Marriage, as it represents the Divine Plan for marriage so as to imitate the union between Christ and the Church.
No wonder why the Church and society in general struggles to understand the proper use of marriage and sexuality. At the same time, so many within our Church do not come to understand the fundamentals of the faith but are willing to take up conversation regarding the speculative elements of faith. Let’s get back to understanding the basics.

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Deacon Bill

posted November 1, 2010 at 11:52 am

Fr. Marc,
I agree: success cannot be a function of numbers alone. I’m sorry if I left that impression.
However, recent teaching of the official church has gone to great pains to distinguish the diaconal mode of participation in the sacrament of Holy Orders from the sacerdotal: deacon are NOT part of the ministerial priesthood, and several documents now stress that point. It was quite common, in the 1970’s and early 1980’s to hear about deacons being a part of the ministerial priesthood, but not any longer.
Documents now describe the one sacrament of Holy Orders as having two modes of participation: one diaconal, one sacerdotal. Therefore, we have to be very careful not to apply theological language which has developed to describe the sacerdotal orders uncritically to the diaconate. Sometimes that language applies, sometimes it doesn’t. In short, the church speaks both of the diversity as well as the unicity of the sacrament.
This question then, hinges on where we find the “fulcrum” point of balance between these two modes of participation in the one sacrament.
God bless,

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Fr. Marc

posted November 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Deacon Bill:
Of course there are two modes of participation, however, do not forget that all in Holy Orders take part in both modes, even though deacons stress the diaconal element. Clearly they take part in the “sacerdotal” element when they preach and read the Gospel and baptise and marry, etc. We cannot simply look at deacons and see them as “ordained servers” and say, “Why not ordain women deacons?”
The discussion on the ministry of the deacon was not really the thrust of my post, as much as the fact that originally, deacons were not to take part in the ministry of our Lord as women, as his total ministry was relationship with His Bride, the Church.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

“Roma movet, sed lente movet.” Rome moves, but she moves slowly. We Catholics must keep this saying in mind at all times.
I think the time will and must come when the Church permits women to become deacons. The ancient Church had them and so should we, now. Customs, traditions, anachronistic reasons stand in the way of this happening. The “People of God” are the Church. The hierarchy is only one facet of the Church; however it is the group that pulls the strings, and this is lamentable.
We need priests and deacons, badly. The hierarchy must begin listening to the rest of the Church instead of “fiddling while Rome burns.”

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Mr Flapatap

posted November 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm

One nitpick about the article: married men can be ordained as deacons; deacons do not marry.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm

I agree with Fr. Marc. He has given us a deeper analysis than the facile “let’s ordain women deacons” one.

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Deacon Bill

posted November 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Dear Fr. Marc,
I suppose this isn’t the place to pursue this theological debate much further, but if you’d like to contact me privately at
The bottom line is this: While what you hold in your posts reflects where our theology was about 20 or so years ago, things have been changing. In fact, no church document would any longer EVER say the diaconate participates in any way in a “sacerdotal” ministry. The problem is this: the church has been moving away from an understanding where all things involved with ordained ministry was contained within the sacerdotal. However, more recent teaching, from the pope, from the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for Clergy and elsewhere, now distinguish certain things as no longer exclusively sacerdotal. Proclaiming the Gospel, as one simple example, is not a sacerdotal/presiding function, but a diaconal/ministerial function. These are distinctions now being made, not merely by theologians such as myself, but in official documents of the church.
Up until the renewal of the (permanent) diaconate, all ordination found its “end” in sacerdotal ministry; that is no longer the case, and what “ordination” means is no longer defined solely in “priestly” terms. Being ordained a deacon is no less sacramentally significant than being ordained a presbyter. And yet that is not the same as saying that the way for this significance to be understood is that deacons somehow have “priestly” functions conferred by ordination.
So, yes, just as it was possible to approach a renewed (permanent) diaconate in different contexts than the priesthood (opening ordination up to married men, for example), it means that we can (and should) be asking if, how and when diaconate might be opened up to women.
God bless,

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posted November 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

You folks might do well to actually read your bible before talking about rome or any local person’s thoughts on the matter. 1 Timothy, chaper 3 might be a good place to start. Dust off your bible, and read it.
[Paul…interestingly, this passage in this translation does not say anything about deacons being only male. In fact, the footnote suggests otherwise. Dcn. G.]

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posted November 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I would like to comment as a woman in non-Catholic liturgical ministry. 1)If a person wants to serve God in ministry there are plenty of opportunities inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church. The priesthood is not the only way you can serve God.
2) While I enjoy what I do and I believe God created me to do just that being a pastor or a deacon is a hard job. It is not easy; especially when you do full time ministry with people who have problems, (we run a Recovery ministry). Our deacons work just as hard as I do or more. So you better have a real vocation to service before you think about any ministry.
3)I think that a time of persecution is coming to the Church in general. What is happening in foreign countries will come to our doorstep, if we don’t all repent. When this happens, the least of our problems will be who’s wearing a collar and who’s not.
4) With all respect, Father, Christ is also our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. We are the branches and He is the Vine. We are also the lamp and He is the Light. There are a lot of ways that we can understand the relationship of Christ to the Church besides the Bridal metaphor. To say that is that “”his total ministry was relationship with His Bride, the Church” is not the whole picture. And for a lot of men the whole idea of Jesus as the Bridegroom is not palatable.
I know CS Lewis’s views on all of us being female to God’s male but the Bible says otherwise. That’s why we are offered more than the Bride as a picture of the Church. My male deacons are both married and should they decide to become pastors, I would encourage them both to see their wives as their brides and the Church as their children. That’s why pastors in our church are called Atbi or Atbo which means nursing Mothers or nursing Fathers instead of Mr. or Mrs. Church.
We are spiritual parents not spouses to the Church.
But that’s what we believe. God bless you all if you believe differently. As I said, when the persecution comes I don’t think we’ll care if we’re sharing a jail cell together!

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posted November 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm

There is one really good reason not to ordain women to the diaconate right now: while we know for certain that there were female deacons, we don’t know for certain if female deacons received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. We do know for certain that in some places and times that they did not. We don’t know for certain if in other places and times. We know that the female diaconate was not just a female version of the male diaconate, but something different.
I hope to see a renewed female diaconate, and I hope that it will include the Sacrament of Holy Orders. I even have hope to see it in my lifetime. However, I think it is unwise to move forward without certainty. And as the discussion above displays, there is a lack of clarity in the theology of the diaconate as it relates to the priesthood (if only on the reception end). I think it is therefore unwise to move forward until that theology can be clarified.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 7:40 pm

According to Canon Law the diaconate is included in the sacrament of Holy Orders and only baptized males may receive this Sacrament. Once a man receives this Sacrament, if he is not married, I believe he must remain unmarried. If he is married and his wife passes away, I believe he may not remarry
Requirements for Orders:
Only confirmed (Canon 1033) baptised males validly receives sacred orders (Canon 1024) who freely request ordination (Canon 1026), and have received an accurate formation (Canon 1027). Such candidates must be judged by the proper ordinary to be motivated by a right intention, possess the required knowledge, enjoy a good reputation, morals, and proven virtues (Canon 1029).
A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is married must have completed his 35th year and have the consent of his wife (Canon 1031[2]). An unmarried man must not be admitted to the permanent diaconate unless he has completed his 25th year, and has manifested a desire to remain unmarried (Canons 1031[2] and 1037). In accord with Canon 87 the local ordinary could dispense from the age requirement within his territory for a just cause for a period up to a one year (cf: Canon 1031[4]).

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posted November 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Sounds like a plan, but like a lot of good ideas, the RCC won’t do anything about it for —–thousands more years! After all, women are involved!

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posted November 1, 2010 at 7:59 pm

to the people pushing the agenda for “female deacons”: how do you know that, e.g., Phoebe (Romans 16:1) was performing the tasks that a male deacon performs today? she could have perfectly been what nowadays we would call a “nun”. Where does it say that women deacons in the early church did what today’s male deacons do?
I think we all know what the consequences of letting women in the clergy are (see the Anglican Church).
FYI, i’m a lady. And no,i’m not a chauvinist :)

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Liberal Dissident

posted November 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Don’t you love when Satan attempts to undermine the Church by using one of her own against her.

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posted November 1, 2010 at 8:38 pm

oh, how cute and immature are your attacks “liberal dissident” :) But, oh surprise!!!! you haven’t answered my questions!!
fortunately, God knows it’s not true… and that’s all I care about :)

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Liberal Dissident

posted November 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm

I do think my name is cute thank you. I find my faith in the One, True, Church rather mature as well. I don’t know how calling an attack upon a definitive teaching of the Church an act of Satan but maybe you can enlighten me. :):) Perhaps you have a better grasp of Catholic teaching than I. Oh, and for the record I didn’t read your previous comment and was not responding to it, I was simply commenting on the article above. I usually don’t care to read the commentary. :) God Bless You Belen, I shall pray for you and I hope you for me. (all joking aside)

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Liberal Dissident

posted November 1, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Quick edit “I don’t understand how I am acting immature in calling an attack on a definitive teaching of the Church from a Catholic priest a work of Satan?”
My apologies, got excited and typed too fast lol

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posted November 2, 2010 at 12:21 am

Where does it say that the women did NOT do the things the male deacons did? How do any of us know that she wasn’t doing many of the things presently reserved to priests?

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posted November 2, 2010 at 3:10 am

Thanks for posting this article, Deacon Greg. I’ve posted about it on my own blog (and given you a hat tip). My post examines why the Vatican will prove so very resistant to this very reasonable proposal.

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posted November 2, 2010 at 4:36 am

Well, from what I understand deacons “waited on tables” and administered to the poor and to widows.
If this implies minister of Communion/Eucharist then we already have extraordinary ministers. If the Biblical account is real, in some sense the deacon is the ORDINARY minister of Communion/Eucharists and is actually better suited to it than priest/bishop or extraordinary minister.
[Goodguy…It’s not “in some sense.” Canonically, the deacon– like the priest and bishop — IS an ordinary minister of holy communion. Dcn. G.]

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posted November 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Having attended Northwestern University this is a familiar parish. This is one of those parish that is less than faithful to the Church’s teaching parishes. It has an active homsexual ministry(see their web site) that promotes homosexuality instead of chastity. If this priest and parish affirmed the church’s teaching on marriage and family, women’s ordination to the priesthood and abortion I would take this inquiry seriously instead of what it probably is and that is encroachment on woman’s ordination.
As I understand women deacons in the Eastern churches are similar to nuns in the West. They minister to women and children exclusively and are not part of the Divine Liturgy. I’m no expert so I could be wrong. A female deacons is not ordained to priestly orders as in the West.
It is a legitimate discussion to have but not in this parish. I think the order of permanaent deacons is a great benefit to the church. The one abuse I do see at my parent’s parish are permanent deacons (they have three) preaching each Sunday. Per Redemptionis Sacramentum, homilies are to be given by the celebrant with deacon’s allowed occasionally.
[Well, as a deacon who himself preaches every Sunday, I’m not sure I would classify frequent or regular preaching as an “abuse.” I’m not aware of anything in canon law that prescribes a limit (or a quota) to the amount of preaching done by the deacon — though Redemptionis Sacramentum does say the homily is “ordinarily” given by the celebrating priest. Dcn. G.]

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posted November 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Deacon Greg,
Here is the passage from the English version of RS on the USCCB site. My Latin is too rusty too properly translate the original. Perhaps abuse is not the correct term but the English translation does say occasionally.
64. The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself,142 “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson.143 In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate.”144

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posted November 3, 2010 at 9:49 pm

we so exalt the Sacrament of Marriage, as it represents the Divine Plan for marriage so as to imitate the union between Christ and the Church.

So the “Divine Plan” for marriage is that a wife violates the First Commandment in her relationship with her husband… Gee, did God “amend” any of the other Ten Commandments along the way, too?

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Regina Faighes

posted November 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Yesterday evening, I attended Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at our parish. The presiding minister was Deacon Greg, the author of this blog. He was assisted by Deacon Bill, who serves as our parish’s Director of Religious Education. Deacon Greg and Deacon Bill enrich our parish is so many wonderful ways. Yesterday evening’s service was, on many levels, a beautiful tribute to the permanent diaconate. I wonder if any of the men who were present in the congregation were moved to discern a vocation to that ministry. I am praying for the Holy Spirit to continue to call wonderful men to serve both in the priesthood and in the permanent diaconate. As far as ordination of women is concerned, I prefer to leave that matter in the hands of the Magisterium.

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