Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau said, where possible, women should be given higher positions in the Church
Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, said the synod should reflect on the possibility of allowing for female deacons as it seeks ways to open up more opportunities for women in Church life.
Where possible, qualified women should be given higher positions and decision-making authority within Church structures and new opportunities in ministry, he told Catholic News Service on Tuesday.
Discussing a number of proposals he offered the synod fathers to think about, he said, “I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the Church’s tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry.”
Currently, the Catholic Church permits only men to be ordained as deacons. Deacons can preach and preside at baptisms, funerals and weddings, but may not celebrate Mass or hear confessions.
Speaking to participants at the Synod of Bishops on the family on October 6, Archbishop Durocher said he dedicated his three-minute intervention to the role of women in the Church — one of the many themes highlighted in the synod’s working document.
Archbishop Durocher, who recently ended his term as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that much of his brief talk was focused on the lingering problem of violence against women, including domestic violence.
He said the World Health Organisation estimates that 30 percent of women worldwide experience violence by their partner.
He reminded the synod fathers that in the apostolic exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, in 1981, St John Paul II essentially told the Church that “we have to make a concerted and clear effort to make sure that there is no more degradation of women in our world, particularly in marriage. And I said, ‘Well, here we are 30 years later and we’re still facing these kinds of numbers.’”
He said he recommended one thing they could do to address this problem was, “as a synod, clearly state that you cannot justify the domination of men over women — certainly not violence — through biblical interpretation,” particularly incorrect interpretations of St Paul’s call for women to be submissive to their husbands.
In his presentation the archbishop also noted that Benedict XVI had talked about the question of new ministries for women in the Church. “It’s a just question to ask. Shouldn’t we be opening up new venues for ministry of women in the Church?” he said.
In addition to the possibility of allowing for women deacons, he said he also proposed that women be hired for “decision-making jobs” that could be opened to women in the Roman Curia, diocesan chanceries and large-scale Church initiatives and events.
Another thing, he said, “would be to look at the possibility of allowing married couples — men and women, who have been properly trained and accompanied — to speak during Sunday homilies so that they can testify, give witness to the relationship between God’s word and their own marriage life and their own life as families.”
In the course of the current Meeting of Roman Catholic Bishops in Rome, to discuss issues affecting the Church and Family Life, this plea on the part of a Canadian Archbishop to open up the possibility of ordaining women as deacons will find an echo in many parts of the Church that are suffering from a lack of male vocations to the ordained ministry.
The ordained diaconate in the Roman Catholic Church at this time is offered only to male persons, many of them nowadays being recruited from married men in good standing in the Church. To open up this ministry to women would certainly be an advance in the Church’s attitude to the Sacrament of Holy Orders – which is currently only open to men – despite the fact that, in the Early Church, from examples in the N.T. Scriptures, there were women deacons listed among those serving in that ministry.
There will obviously be some fear felt by those in the R.C. Church who are wedded to the idea of women’s subservience to men – especially in matters of authority and leadership roles, normally granted only the male of the species – at what might seem a stark and revolutionary change from current tradition. However, the pastoral needs of the Church, as expressed by people like Archbishop Durocher at this Conference, might just tip the balance towards a more practical acceptance of women as fellow workers in the vineyard. Whether this, in turn, might lead to women priests in the Roman Catholic Church seems unlikely at this stage of development. However, with Pope Francis in charge, one can never tell.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand