The Deacon's Bench

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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