In Phoebe's Footsteps
Jacob at Vatican Watcher reports on a challenge to Benedict XVI recently, to which he responded with a "bombshell" of his own: "Don Marco Valentini, a 39-year-old parochial vicar of.. the Diocese of Rome... asked his bishop, who happens to be Pope Benedict XVI, why not include women in the governance of the church?... Benedict dropped an ecclesiastical bombshell... that sacramental ordination to priesthood was not the only avenue to ministerial service, but "nevertheless, it is right to ask oneself if more space, more positions of responsibility, can be given to women, even in the ministerial services. He did not elaborate..."
The writer of the Newsday piece, Phyllis Zagano, elaborates for us. Her book Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church, does just that, and she gives a clue as to how, as she did last year in a Commonweal article based on her book.
Now, if you want to know what she doesn't tell you, you need to read something I wrote back in 1996 for the Arlington Catholic Herald entitled "A Rose By Any Other Name: The Ordination of Women to the Diaconate," which has since been preserved at the EWTN Online Library. (For openers, the term "ordination" — in Greek, "chierotonia"— was more broadly defined for much of Church history, and did not always imply the reception of Holy Orders.)
I'm hoping later this year to update the piece, and have it pubished elsewhere, taking into account, not only the misleading areas in Zagano's book (which were foreseen in my original piece), but new developments in the Orthodox Churches, some of which have begun to restore deaconesses to their historic role in the Church, especially the Greeks and the Antiochians.
That's right, I said "deaconess." They are not the same as deacons, as my article takes pains to point out. Meanwhile, a more sensible approach to the topic (if to be read cum grano salus from a Catholic perspective) is to be found in Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry, by Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald.