Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Including women in the Catholic Church

  • 27 October 2020
Phyllis Zagano’s latest book Women: Icons of Christ is a must read for all who desire equality for women in our world and an inclusive practice of Catholic faith. The critical issue Zagano presents in this book is that ordaining women to the deaconate is a not a new or forbidden act in Catholic history but rather a return to a practice that endured for hundreds of years.

Zagano is Senior Research Associate in Residence and Adjunct Professor of Religion at Hofstra University, New York. Her scholarship on women and the deaconate is well-known and she is a respected contributor to international forums.

From the new testament onwards Zagano shows that women were active members of the evolving Christian community, consistent with the culture and custom of the time, they were ordained in the same way as their male counterparts by the laying on of hands and calling the Holy Spirit. They ministered to people through baptism, teaching catechism, providing altar service, spiritual direction, confession, and anointing the sick until the twelfth century.

With her usual rigorous scholarship Zagano cites literary, historical and epigraphical evidence that indicate the presence of women in the deaconate. She identifies how the clerical culture of the Catholic church developed from Christ’s time on, revealing how the appalling vilification of women increased to the extent that the clerical culture had snuffed out women’s voices and leadership in sacramental ministry by the twelfth century. Women deacons in western Christianity were barred from even entering the sanctuary and handling sacred vessels.

This clerical culture, which Pope Francis calls ‘a cancer in our midst’, continues to destroy our church’s ability to bring Christ’s message of love and justice to our world. It impacts destructively on all women but particularly on women and children in countries whose governments have poor human rights records that do not recognise women’s equality.

Zagano’s opening question is ‘Who can be an icon of Christ?’ She states that ‘Beneath every objection to restoring women to the ordained diaconate is the suggestion that women cannot image Christ. Of course, women do not, cannot "image" the human male Jesus exactly. But the extraordinary fact of the Incarnation is that Jesus, God, became human. Women are human. And all humans are made in the image and likeness of God.’

'Women: Icons of Christ is a compact, though sometimes dense, resource that offers a wealth of excellent information and knowledge to all working in Church