Sunday, May 15, 2016

Powerful article by Deacon Scott Dodge: Deacons, in persona Christi servii

Arguing for the ordination of women by way of reduction
I will readily admit to losing the thread on what Pope Francis did or did not say during his meeting in Rome with an organization of superior generals for women's religious orders concerning women and the diaconate, or women in the diaconate. Once again, all this demonstrates is the unreliability of the media, including the highly reactive Catholic media. As I mentioned in my previous post on the latest papally-induced media uproar, the question of admitting women to orders is not a simple one, but is rather dense and complex. I will also reiterate my insistence that most of what one reads in reaction to the Holy Father's real or imagined comments seeks to reduce the issue to one aspect and then, leaping all of the other substantial issues, proceeds to ask, often with an air of indigence, if not defiance, "Why not, in the name of equality?" It's always a danger to import secular categories into ecclesial discourse.

One of the attempts to reduce the scope and complexity of the question in order to arrive at a pre-determined answer asserts that Pope Benedict XVI laid the groundwork for women deacons with his Apostolic Letter, issued motu proprio on 26 October 2009, Omnium in mentem. This motu proprio made several changes to the Church's Code of Canon Law on several matters. One of those matters concerned two canons on the sacrament of orders, one of which sought to clarify the relationship to and distinctiveness of the diaconate vis-à-vis the orders of the episcopate and the prebyterate. Specifically, Canon 1009 was amended to state: "Those who are constituted in the order of the episcopate or the presbyterate receive the mission and capacity to act in the person of Christ the Head, whereas deacons are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity." The reductive argument, as I understand it, is that since a deacon cannot act persona Christi captis, there is no barrier to ordaining women as deacons, thereby admitting them to the sacrament of orders. If the matter were that simple, it would be a compelling argument.

While I do not labor under the delusion that this blog post will solve even this issue definitively, it is helpful to point out something then-Father Professor Gerhard Müller, who served as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's International Theological Commission (ITC), said in a 2002 interview given in the wake of the release of the ITC's comprehensive study on the diaconate, From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles, concerning the unity of the sacrament of orders. In answer to the question "Is it possible to separate the diaconate of women from the priesthood of women?," the then future and now current cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said:
No — because of the unity of the sacrament of orders, which has been underlined in the deliberations of the Theological Commission; it cannot be measured with a different yardstick. Then it would be a real discrimination of woman if she is considered as apt for the diaconate, but not for the presbyterate or episcopacy.

The unity of the sacrament would be torn at its root if, the diaconate as ministry of service, was opposed to the presbyterate as ministry of government, and from this would be deduced that woman, as opposed to man, has a greater affinity to serve and because of this would be apt for the diaconate but not for the presbyterate.

However, the apostolic ministry all together is a service in the three degrees in which it is exercised.

The Church does not ordain women, not because they are lacking some spiritual gift or natural talent, but because — as in the sacrament of marriage — the sexual difference and of the relation between man and woman contains in itself a symbolism that presents and represents in itself a prior condition to express the salvific dimension of the relation of Christ and the Church.

If the deacon, with the bishop and presbyter, starting from the radical unity of the three degrees of the orders, acts from Christ, head and Spouse of the Church, in favor of the Church, it is obvious that only a man can represent this relation of Christ with the Church.

And in reverse, it is equally obvious that God could only take his human nature from a woman and, because of this, womankind has in the order of grace — because of the internal reference of nature and grace — an unmistakable, fundamental, and in no way merely accidental importance

The issues Müller hit on in this answer drew my attention to the recent decision, made in 2014, by the Church of England (CofE) to ordain women bishops. This argument loomed large in the CofE's deliberations concerning ordaining women to the priesthood in the early 1990s. At the time the assertion that by ordaining women priests there would be no conceivable justification for not ordaining them bishops was dismissed by many as a fallacious slippery-slope argument. In fact, that very argument was one of the major arguments used in the deliberations 20 years later that led to the decision to begin ordaining women bishops. It bears noting that the CofE began ordaining women deacons in 1987, followed by ordaining women priests in 1994. I don't employ this as a scare tactic, but as a working out of the logic Müller used in his interview. It's much like the difficulty of arguing for the moral liciety of contraception while insisting on the inherent immorality of homosexual acts, a disconnect Rowan Williams noted back in 1989 in his work "The Body's Grace."

While a deacon may not act in persona Christi captis, one might assert, as some have, including Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, in his forward to Deacon (Dr.) James Keating's recent book, The Heart of the Diaconate: Communion with the Servant Mysteries of Christ, a deacon acts in persona Christi servii, in the person of Christ the servant. In light of the sacramental nature of the diaconate, an issue that merits a discussion all its own, it would be difficult to argue that a deacon does not conduct his ministry in the person of Christ, even if not as the head.

In addition to arguing against what strikes me as a rather one-dimensional answer to a multi-dimensional question, I suppose I want to warn against not being reductive when it comes to the sacraments, to the mysteries of our faith. As Cardinal Martini wrote in his exchange about matters of Catholic faith with Umberto Eco on issue of ordaining women: "The Church does not fulfill expectations, it celebrates mysteries." Hence, it's important not to be reductive about the diaconate, an order instituted by the apostles and arguably older than the presbyterate.

I think it's important not to define the diaconate in an exclusively negative manner, that is, by what a deacon cannot do. One example of permanent deacons not having a fully realized ecclesial identity is how the Code of Canon Law deals with permanent deacons. In my view, it does so in three ways: negatively (i.e., what a deacon can't do), by exception (canons pertaining to clerics apply to permanent deacons, except...), and ambiguously, as with the Canon 277 §1, which deals with observing perfect and perpetual continence for those in orders. Dr. Edward Peters has definitively shown that married permanent deacons were not included in the scope of this canon by accident. Nonetheless, married men who are ordained deacons are not required to observe sexual continence as a condition of ordination. Renouncing one's conjugal rights cannot be implied, it must be done explicitly by both husband and wife. To my knowledge, no diocese in the world that has permanent deacons makes observing perfect and perpetual sexual continence a requirement for married men to be ordained. I doubt that even in those rare, but seemingly increasing, instances in which a married man is ordained a Roman Catholic priest, such a renunciation is required.

I am going to end this post, as I ended my previous one on this topic, on what might easily be perceived as a sour note. Before concluding I want to point out that I am personally a very satisfied deacon who has been supported by both bishops under whom I have served, as well by the three pastors and multiple parochial vicars I have served alongside, and by the laity in the parishes I have had the privilege of serving and serving with. I belong to a diocese in which the diaconate is well and long-established (our first permanent deacons were ordained on 26 December 1976) and for the most part whose service is very much appreciated all around. Being a deacon has provided me with more opportunities than I would have ever dared imagine. Even after 12 years, I am still excited about being a deacon. My personal experience aside, one of the real tragedies of the restored and renewed diaconate is the general tendency to dismiss and marginalize it and only retrieve it for purposes such as the possibility of ordaining women, which has the effect of reducing womanhood, the diaconate and, above all, it seems an attempt to reduce theology to ideology.

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