Diaconate – women yet to be recognised as equal


“Until the Holy Father has a woman proclaiming the gospel in St Peter’s at a Mass he celebrates, the Church really doesn’t have the right to say women are to be recognised as equal and to be held as equally human to men” said Phyllis Zagano PhD, a Senior Research Associate in Residence at Hofstra University.

She made the comments to Dr Joe Grayland from Tubingen University, Germany. in an interview for CathNews.

Deacons bring Gospel into action

Zagano, a leading scholar on the diaconate, argues that women deacons could be a tonic for the Church, revitalising it by bringing the gospel into action.

Asked why the Church needs deacons at all, Zagano said “The diaconate is really about bringing the gospel in action to the people of God”.

Temporal and spiritual

Clarifying that the role of a deacon is both temporal and spiritual, Zagano said that historically deacons managed charity and performed weddings, baptisms and funerals.

She told Grayland that deacons’ actions were crucial in spreading the gospel and restoring the diaconate, especially for women, and that they could help the Church address modern challenges.

“If we recover the diaconate today, I think the deacon would be the one to help get the chequebook out of the pastor’s hands, spread the wealth around and take care of the poor” she said.

Diaconate – not an apprenticeship for priesthood

Zagano however has some reservations about the role of transitional deacons, those ordained as a step before priesthood, as they were serving as apprentices.

Questioning the necessity for this, she said there is one diaconate and that many people have said there’s no reason to ordain anyone a deacon before that person is ordained a priest.

Clarifying, Zagano said being a deacon is about service and is the opposite of having power.

“I was asked the other day about power and women asking to be deacons so they could have power.

“My answer is simply that if you want to be ordained to have power, you should probably do something else.

Grayland asked Zagano whether having power is the issue. Zagano said that it is, but an individual will not get much or any power.

“Certainly an individual who comes to be a deacon just because he or she can’t be a priest or a bishop will be shown the door; they are two separate questions.”

A global perspective

Zagano acknowledges cultural differences within the global Church.

She acknowledges that some regions may be more receptive to the idea of women deacons while others face different challenges.

“If your territory does not need or wish for women in the diaconate, it will not have it” she says.

“But if Austria and Germany find that the diaconate can include women and the Church can accept it, and there is a need for it, then that’s what it is.”

She argues that the Church’s mission should include all its people and that justice for women in the Church means recognising their equal humanity and ability to proclaim the gospel.

Zagano’s advocacy for women deacons continues to spark significant debate within the Catholic Church.

Her call for justice and equality resonates with many, but the path forward remains contentious.

As discussions continue, the Church must balance tradition and modernity in its mission to spread the gospel and serve its global community.

Personal journey and advocacy

Zagano’s interest in the diaconate stems from her own experience.

Archbishop Jean Jadot, Papal Nuncio to the US, encouraged her to pursue her studies and advocacy despite challenges.

During their conversation Jadot told her “Don’t quit”.

Today she continues her advocacy, emphasising the historical precedent and modern necessity of women deacons.

Read more on deacons in the Church

What is a Deacon?

Ten-year-old Beth asks her parents about the new deacon in the parish.

They explain the diaconate and she is surprised.

She quickly finds out that her classmates do not know what a deacon is or what a deacon does.

She and her and her friend Carol ask their CCD teacher, who explains what a deacon is today and helps them to begin to think about the future.

What is a Deacon by Irene Kelly


Just Church

Just Church engages the reader in the synodal pathway to a “Just Church” that can and should reflect its social teaching.

An important measure of justice is an ecclesiology open to participation by others beyond celibate clerics, especially in consideration of competing Catholic ecclesial bodies and methods of membership.

Just Church study guide – Phyllis Zagano’s free Study Guide.


Additional reading

News category: Great reads, World.

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