We don’t need women deacons

Women deacons

Women deacons are in effect working well in the Church, except we do not call them deacons, and they are not ordained.

This is the view of Dr Joe Grayland, theologian, author and parish priest of three parishes in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

He questions whether we need another form of the clergy.

Grayland made the comments, Thursday, during Flashes of Insight – Women Deacons in the Catholic Church, a conversation with Dr Phyllis Zagano, Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the Ecole Biblique, Justin Taylor and hosted by Emeritus Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham Thomas O’Loughlin.

Grayland asks if the Church actually needs permanent male or female deacons.

If it does, he suggests we need to change the understanding projected by the transitional diaconate modelled in seminaries.

Grayland says he works with eight women across the three parishes; they serve the community, they work full time, but none are ordained.

We might need more priests, but Grayland says the last thing we need is an expanded clerical class, the permanent diaconate.

It is not a perspective Zagano shares.

Zagano is an internationally recognised scholar, prolific writer and advocate for women deacons.

She says that if anyone wants to be a deacon to get power, they have other issues.

The ministry of the deacon is one of service, she says.

Zagano says it is important to have a specialised view of ministry and that the diaconate should not be limited to in-house Church functions.

Zagano says the office of the deacon is distinct from the function of deacons.

Deacons hold the same office, but their ministry of service would be expressed differently, she said.

She says that if people want to go to confession, they see a priest, and if they go for food, counselling or spiritual direction, deacons can offer the service.

If our prime concern is not to expand the clerical class, why ordain anyone, she asks.

She however noted that if the Church were to reintroduce deacons, there is a question around whether they would be installed or ordained.

Zagano says there is no doubt that women were deacons in the Early Church.


It is a point that Taylor, who works on some of the earliest evidence the Church has, agrees with.

Taylor says that it is clear from both scripture and the documents from the first thousand years that women were deacons.

When the Early Church spoke of deacons, there was no distinction made between male or female.

Taylor says that referencing deacons, men or women, the Early Church saw deacons as officeholders and not just functionaries.

Questioned by O’Loughlin about the future, Grayland says that women’s ministry should not be seen as a threat to male in ministry.

He commented when looking at the evidence if the Church is going to have women deacons, the church needs to popularise it as part of the Church evolving.

He says that reflecting on what Zagano and Taylor have discussed; the Church needs to understand that the development of women’s diaconate is not a straight-line trajectory but an evolution.

Grayland says he hopes our Church’s understanding of women’s ministry and women’s diaconate will change but wonders why we do not have women deacons now.

Zagano agrees and says we must not go forth in political discussion but with a spirit of discernment.

She says that a wise bishop once wrote to her and says this about discernment.

“Discernment is not an organizational technique, and it’s not a passing fashion, but it’s an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”

“Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal.”

“It’s based on the belief that God is at work in the history of the world in the events of life and the people we meet and who speak to us.”

“This is why we are called to listen to what the Spirit suggests to us with often unpredictable ways and directions.”

“As one might assume, he’s a Jesuit bishop,” she says.

Zagano concludes by saying it is important that theologians listen to the People of God and for the People of God to make their needs known.

In a spirit of discernment, Zagano is convinced that if the People of God make their needs known, they will not be denied.

As to the future, Zagano says that we need a genuine discerning discussion, a prayerful discussion, to move to a future where the Church will restore the tradition of women in ministry and the diaconate.

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Palmerston.

Tags: , , , , , ,