The president of Germany’s bishops’ conference called last month for the creation of a new specific office for female deacons. Here, a leading biblical scholar supports the idea and dismisses objections that it would inevitably lead to women priests
Reacting to recent proposals in Germany about a diaconate for women, the new Bishop of Regensburg, Rudolf Voderholzer, has stated on his website that the office of deacon is inseparably bound to that of priest and bishop, and therefore to the sacrament of ordination. He added: “The tradition that only men can be ordained is based on the Bible” (The Tablet, 4 May).
Bishop Voderholzer seems to have overlooked not only a document co-authored by his predecessor in Regensburg, Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller (now Archbishop Müller and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), but also an addition to the canon law of the Western Church made by Pope Benedict XVI.
As a member of the International Theological Commission (ITC), Bishop Müller belonged to a subcommission of seven theologians who produced a 100-page study of the diaconate, the fruit of five years of research into the history and theology of the diaconate. Published in late 2002, “Le Diaconat: Evolution et Perspectives” reached two major conclusions. The first was: “The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the Ancient Church – as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised – were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.” This implies the recognition of some equivalence, even if it was not “purely and simply” a perfect equivalence. The other major conclusion was: in “the unity of the Sacrament of Holy Orders”, there exists a “clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other”. If one stresses the “clear distinction” , a door could be opened for ordaining women as deacons. Read more…
To the best of my knowledge, women in the early Church were not “deacons” at all – certainly not as we understand the term today. They were helpers, in various roles, but not holders of any office equivalent to that of deacon.
My own first reaction on reading the above article was “why on earth, when it’s virtually impossible to fill the pews, would bishops waste their time worrying about giving (even more) titles to women?” What is the point of this perpetual seeking after novelty? I’m with Pope Saint Pius X who said: “Far, far from our priests be the love of novelty”. Where do they get the time to dream up these pesky ideas?
Or, put another way: a word in the ear of the President of the German Bishops’ Conference – gerragrip!
That’s what I’d like to say to him (or, at least, that’s the polite version) – what about you?