So what about the concept of female permanent deacons? Is this a viable idea? Many will say that it is not, based on the historical perspective outlined above.
However, the practice of the church has changed in many ways over the centuries. Times change, cultures change, circumstances change and the needs of the church change over time. It was the apostles who decided to ordain deacons to fulfill the needs of the church of the first century. Would it be possible for the bishops to decide to ordain women as permanent deacons to fulfill its needs today? If they do, they will certainly break from tradition, but the church has broken from tradition before.
Though the deacon is a part of Holy Orders, he is not a part of the ministerial priesthood, and he does not stand “in persona Christi,” as do priests and bishops. The deacon is instead ordained for service to the church under the direction of the bishop. He assists at Mass and preaches on occasion, he celebrates the sacrament of baptism, witnesses the sacrament of marriage, officiates at Christian funerals, leads other liturgies, teaches the faithful and performs works of charity.
The deacon is given certain sacramental graces, and the Holy Spirit works through him in a special way to affect the work of his ministry for the good of the people of God. Could the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate serve to enhance this ministry though the unique gifts that women can offer?
When I studied the philosophy of gender, I learned that men typically value and build things, while women value and build relationships. The church is all about relationships. The mission of the church is to help people everywhere develop and grow in an intimate loving relationship with God that spills out and over onto everyone they know and meet. Who better to nurture this relationship than women in the ministry of the permanent deacon?
This is a very intriguing and compelling question that the commission, the bishops and Pope Francis will hopefully consider in the months and years ahead. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide the bishops and Pope Francis for the ultimate good of souls. – Gregory Ollick, NCR