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Should women be deacons? The stories behind Motion 54

  • 15 June 2022
Should women be considered for ministry as deacon? Should Pope Francis authorise such ministry? This topic often raises emotions, and strong views either for or against. This is one of the questions posed by Motion 54 to the Church’s July Plenary Council session, where members will amend and vote on 105 motions, prompted by the question, ‘What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?’ Motion 54 is one to watch.

Since beginning to publicly further this conversation in Australia in October 2021, I have heard many responses to the question of women in ministry as deacon. Yes, some will say: of course women should be deacons, as they were in the New Testament and the early Church. No, others say: it’s a slippery slope to the priesthood and we don’t need more clericalised women.

In contrast, our conversations through the blogsite Liturgy on the Margins and Australian Catholics Exploring the Diaconate, are about real people in real ministry situations. We gather stories of men and women, lay and ordained, who already practise ‘diaconal ministry’; this is qualitative data. And we seek the true value of the permanent diaconate.

So far, we have learned that the diaconal call is very specific, flourishing alongside many other lay and ordained ministries. However, in critical ways the permanent diaconate enhances the faith life of Catholics in Australia, as well as the wider community.

Proper authorisation of people in diaconal ministry situations is extremely important. For those receiving the ministry, it gives reassurance of qualification, training, supervision and lifelong commitment to God’s work. For those performing the ministry, it gives spiritual foundations, ethical responsibilities, standards of operating, lines of accountability and recognition of vocation. Such people are genuine and not ‘filling in’ until the real minister shows up. Historically in our Catholic Church, authorisation for ordinary sacramental and liturgical ministry is called ordination. No other lay ministries (such as pastoral associate or catechist) have the same traditional, affective or operational qualities.

'As a pastoral worker and chaplain, I practice many diaconal ministries, overseen by my bishop. I lead liturgies, preach and distribute communion, especially in marginal settings like remote towns, schools, nursing homes and prisons. However, it is always in a volunteer or extraordinary capacity. Unlike the permanent vocation of a deacon, these activities are seen as provisional and contingent.'

In situations of liturgical need, bishops and parishes already seek creative solutions. Often they call