While I welcome anything authentic that promotes the capacity of women to be truly influential in the church, I am not really keen on the diaconate idea of female deacons. Essentially this is because I think it is unnecessary. That is to say, if the theology of the laity was allowed to mature, the diaconal ministry could be effectively offered by lay people – men and women.
There are, of course, many among us who already minister to the church and wider society through gospel service and leadership (diaconal works – works of mercy). I believe we would all be enriched if some of these people could also preach and be the church’s primary witness of the sacrament of marriage. However, as long as these graced services are regarded as ontologically linked to the ordained priesthood and not as privileges of baptism, those who are willing, committed and competent are excluded. This is a sad deficit from which the whole church suffers.
In brief, I cannot envisage significant gain for women and those they serve by creating another dimension to the clerical class. And while a lot of heat will be emitted from discussion of the issue (that’s if it really does get onto the big ecclesial agenda), I think it would be more transformative for the church if lay people were enabled to use their gifts of intellect and soul for the community’s life of faith in all its sacred dimensions.
Finally, I would be more interested in developing the notion of women cardinals. I know the idea has been buried by history, but technically, being of the clerical class is not a prerequisite for being a cardinal. Although the thought of some women I know being Princesses of the Church is a bit scarey!
Caroline Ryan RSM is a senior member of the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters first came to Australia in January 1846.