Female Deacons is the Hoped-For Launching Pad to Higher Offices
It’s no secret that a dissident group of disaffected feminists, while claiming to be ‘faithful’ Catholics, are hard at work in remaking the priesthood in their own image and likeness. They operate through heretical organizations like Future Church, the American Catholic Council, Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, and the Women’s Ordination Conference, and they enjoy the publicity given them by feckless and heterodox publications like America Magazine, Commonweal, US Catholic, and especially the condemned National Catholic Reporter.
Over the years, those cheerleading the effort for women’s ordination to the priestesshood have been set on the fringe, eventually leaving the Church in order to attempt the ordinations that are not only excommunicable offenses, but are completely impossible. But today, the effort is finding renewed vigor through the efforts of their new champion, Dr. Phyllis Zagano.
Dr. Zagano has long been an advocate of the ordination of female deacons (or deaconesses), being ever so careful as to not cross that fine line into advocating for the priestly ordination of women. Even as she spoke at the Women’s Ordination Conference, which claims to be “the oldest and largest national organization that works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops,” her topic kept strictly to the question on whether or not women could be ordained as deaconesses. Even in a 2003 article she wrote for America Magazine, after outlining the case for how the ordination of deaconesses opens the way for priestesses, she said:
If women were sacramentally ordained deacons and the diaconate shares in the sacerdotal priesthood (as the commission argues), then women have already shared in the sacerdotal priesthood. I am not arguing for women priests, only pointing out that the argument seems to do so.
Let’s be clear about what Dr. Zagano is advocating. She isn’t just advocating for the ancient tradition of a female deacon as understood to be an administrative assistant, or one who would assist at the baptism of women so as to avoid temptations against chastity. She is advocating for a holy ordination of women, conferring upon them the authority to conduct baptisms, funerals, marriage ceremonies, read the Gospels in Mass, and even give sermons. And while Dr. Zagano has repeatedly stated that she is not advocating for the ordination of women to the priestesshood, the end game appears to be much higher.
Here’s the thing, Pope John Paul II effectively closed the door to the possibility of female ordination to the priestesshood. In his 1994 Apostolic Letter ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS, Pope John Paul II stated with absolute clarity:
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.
Since the ordination of a deacon is the first stage of a three-fold ordination (deacon, priest, and bishop) this should have ended the conversation, and for a while, it did. But because Pope John Paul II’s declaration only implied the deaconate without specifically mentioning it, the women’s ordination movement feels free to continue to push their agenda. Now, the ordination of women to the deaconate is far less than what the women’s ordination movement would ever want, so why are they cheering so much about the possibility of women being ordained as deacons now?
In their line of thinking, the ordination of women as deaconesses may be an end-run to a higher post. In short, they seem to think that if women can become ordained deacons, then they could possibly be elevated as cardinals. Why? Because contrary to popular thinking, one does not have to be a priest in order to be a cardinal, and in fact, there is such a thing as cardinal deacons. As absurd as it may sound, this appears to be the thought process. In 2013, Dr. Zagano made note of an article that cited her work in promoting the ordination of deaconesses to the possibility of women being made Cardinals. Dr. Zagano said:
The huge Spanish daily El Pais even ran a story opining the pope was ready to name women as cardinals, noting that two laymen became cardinals in the 19th century and reminding its readers that the tradition of women ordained as deacons could be restarted at any moment. (Full disclosure: El Pais cited my work on women in the diaconate.)
Following Dr. Zagano’s article, US Catholic expanded on the idea. Here is how it laid out the case:
Although there have been lay cardinals in the church’s past, today canon law states that cardinals have to be ordained. But, the newspaper’s Brazil correspondent, Juan Arias, argues, “cardinals don’t have to be priests, they can be deacons.” Canon 350 of the church’s code of canon law specifically lists the possibility of “cardinal deacons.”
And so Arias lays out a papal two-step. The opening of the diaconate to women, he asserts, “is one of the reforms that Francis has in mind,” although again he gives no indication of how he is reading the pope’s mind here. But he quotes the work of Phyllis Zagano, who laid out the case for women deacons in a 2012 interview with U.S. Catholic.
And once that’s done, comes Step 2: “Any woman who is appointed deaconess can indeed become a cardinal without having to change canonical law,” writes Arias.
Again, this is all predicated upon the possibility of the ordination of women to the deaconate. But is it actually possible?
For one thing, Church Councils have always spoken in condemnation of ordained deaconesses, and never with approval. The Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, very specifically indicated that deaconesses had “no imposition of the hands” (meaning, they were not ordained), and were to be counted among the laity. Furthermore, it is interesting that while Zagano and others claim precedent due to the false practice of ordaining women as deacons, the Council of Nicea not only refused to recognize the validity of such ordinations, but went so far as to state that none of the sacraments of the Paulianists (who did practice the ordination of women as deaconesses) were valid, including baptisms.
The first Council of Nimes (approximately 396 AD) established seven canons on Church discipline, one of which expressly forbid the ordination of deaconesses. The First Council of Orange, which took place 50 years later, made very clear, “In no way whatsoever should deaconesses ever be ordained. If there already are deaconesses, they should bow their heads beneath the blessing which is given to all the people.”
Dr. Zagano and her war-band of Church revolutionaries will be very hard pressed to find any authoritative evidence that the Church has ever actually approved the ordination of women to the deaconate. While she is correct in asserting that such a thing has been attempted in the past, even by renegade prelates, the binding authority of the Church has always only ever condemned it.
Not only has this never been a tradition in the Church, but ironically, Dr. Zagano cites St. Paul as a source, ostensibly supporting her position. She points to the fact that St. Paul, in his first letter to the Romans, referred to a female deacon, thereby establishing that even St. Paul acknowledged a female deaconate. Romans 16:1 says:
I commend our sister Phoebe to you; she has devoted her services to the church at Cenchrae.
The Greek word used in relation to Phoebe’s “service” to the Church is “diakonos.” According to Dr. Zagano, this means that women were acting as ordained deacons, even in the bible. However, the Greek word “diakonos” simply means “servant,” and so when St. Paul speaks of Phoebe, he is referring to her as a servant, not as an ordained deacon. In fact, while Dr. Zagano uses St. Paul’s reference to Phoebe as an indication of a deaconess in the bible, she ignores what the very same St. Paul said in his first letter to Timothy:
A woman must receive instruction silently and under complete control. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12)
Either St. Paul was schizophrenic, a liar, or he meant something other than an ordained deaconess with regard to Phoebe. If Phoebe was an ordained deaconess, with the power and authority to conduct baptisms, funerals, marriage ceremonies, read the Gospels in Mass, and even give sermons, then St. Paul would be permitting her to conduct those very same acts which he condemned in his letter to Timothy. St. Paul continued in his letter to Timothy:
Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. (1 Timothy 3:12)
And quite possibly the most definitive statement on the ordination of deacons to be found in the New Testament is in the beginning of Acts 6:
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
These men were not ordained as priests, but were ordained and given the task of carrying out the division of goods. And the Apostles made very clear that men were selected for this. If Phoebe was an ordained deaconess, as Dr. Zagano and others would have us believe, then this process of selecting and ordaining deacons would not have specified only men, as it does here in Acts. And if Phoebe wasn’t an ordained deaconess, then Dr. Zagano’s entire premise for the female deaconate begins to crumble, and with it, so also the possibility of female cardinals.
The truth is, the Church has already settled the question on the ordination of women to the diaconate, and the answer is a resounding “NO!” But the push is there, nonetheless, and the reason has already been stated by the pushers … if there is a female deaconate, then there is a hope for female cardinals.
The fact of the matter is that this is a desperate shell game in a last ditch effort to complete the modern revolution in the Church. St. John tells us in the Book of Revelation, “woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.” We will soon see an end to all of this nonsense, so be patient. Our Lady promised us that in the end, Her Immaculate Heart would triumph. But as with all things in desperation, they are the most dangerous. Stay close to the sacraments. Pray and fast with frequency. And keep the faith!