Deacons, Women, and the Call to Serve

I was privileged to take part in a roundtable discussion co-sponsored by the Fordham Center for Religion and Culture and America Media, entitled “Deacons, Women, and the Call to Serve.” The conversation was videotaped and will be available for viewing in three segments, starting November 28.

Here are the people who took part in the conversation:

Nancy Dallavalle, theologian and vice president for mission and identity at Fairfield University

Deacon Greg Kandra, blogger at Aleteia’s “The Deacon’s Bench,” multimedia editor at Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Rita Ferrone, contributing editor at Commonweal and blogger at “Pray Tell Blog”

George Demacopoulos, theologian and founding co-director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University

James Martin, S.J. (moderator), author and editor-at-large for America Media

I haven’t seen the final product, but it was a great conversation so I’ll be interested to see how the film turned out. I am pleased to invite Commonweal readers to tune in (or log on or whatever the appropriate expression is) to view the series.

Pope Francis’s decision to call a commission to study the history of women in the diaconate is the obvious reason why it is timely to discuss this subject. Here are the topics and the dates when they will appear on the America website:

Nov. 28:   Segment 1: The Diaconate—History and Present Practice

Dec. 5:     Segment 2: Women Deacons and the Papal Commission

Dec. 12:   Segment 3: The Diaconate and the Future of Ministry

The notice for the web series describes it this way:

The current Vatican commission exploring the possibility of women deacons has raised a number of questions about their role in the church. As ordained ministers who are neither priests nor lay people, the actual role of deacons in the parishes where they minister remains unclear to many Catholics. What are deacons, and how has their role changed over history?

Could women deacons revolutionize pastoral ministry and transform the church? How can the diaconate better meet the changing needs of the faithful today?

Good questions! I agree with the statement that “the actual role of deacons… remains unclear to many Catholics.” There’s a quiz you can take to test your knowledge, here.

(Full disclosure: I took the test and got one answer wrong. But I won’t confess which one, as my deacon friends might never forgive me!)

As luck would have it, the day after we met it was announced in the press that the Patriarchate of Alexandria reached a decision to approve women’s participation in the diaconate! The full implications of this decision and the time line for it remain to be seen, so one doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. But it does show that there is interest in including women in diaconal ministry in the Orthodox world as well as the Catholic world (more on this later). We were fortunate to have an Orthodox participant in the roundtable discussion to share this perspective.

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal.

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