Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Essays Boost Case for Women in Diaconate

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Essays Boost Case for Women in Diaconate

Article excerpt


Edited by Phyllis Zagano Published by Liturgical Press, 270 pages, $24.95


Thanks to the recently constituted Study Commission on the Women's Diaconate, the topic of women deacons is receiving renewed attention and interest. Women Deacons?: Essays with Answers clearly shows, however, that the question is not new. In recent decades, some of the leading historians and theologians in the world have explored the history of women deacons in-depth. Of the 10 scholars represented in this collection, three are original members of the International Theological Commission: Yves Congar, Philippe Delhaye and Cipriano Vagaggini.

Today, the most notable contributor to Women Deacons? is its editor, Phyllis Zagano. A columnist for NCR and researcher at Hofstra University, Zagano is the leading scholar and most prolific writer in the world on women deacons. And she is also the only woman from the Western Hemisphere named to the 12-member papal commission.

Remarkably (and I'd say providentially), these essays were published just two weeks before the female leaders of the International Union of Superiors General requested the commission and Pope Francis agreed to establish it.

The 12 essays were originally written and published between 1969 and 2011, but several now appear in English for the first time. They tackle the major questions that the commission will surely examine: When and where did women deacons exercise their ministry, in what ministries did they serve, and what was the nature of their ordination?

The authors analyze the numerous historical references to women deacons in epigraphs, letters, chronicles, pastoral manuals, legislative texts, the writings of bishops and popes, and even ancient ordination rites. A few of the essays (notably those by Congar, Delhaye, Corrado Marucci and Peter Hiinermann) also look to the future and explore the possibility of women again serving as deacons.

A consensus exists among these authors that women were sacramentally ordained as deacons and could be today, but that does not mean the reader is exposed to only one viewpoint. The research and analysis in these essays is meticulous, nuanced and fair. The authors not only highlight the strong evidence in support of their position, but also address the complexity and contradictions within the historical record.

One of the finest essays in this regard is by Marucci, an Italian Jesuit. A professor of biblical exegesis at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, Marucci synthesizes the major historical studies on women deacons and convincingly argues that it is "highly probable" that women deacons received a sacramental ordination. It is a precious resource made available in English for the first time.


Marucci explains that in some places women deacons are counted among the clergy. …

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