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U.S. Groups Ask Synod Discussion of Women Ministers, Female Deacons

For Immediate Release October 12, 2005

Sr. Christine Schenk, (FutureChurch)
216-228-0869 (office)
011-39-339-564-1658 (Oct. 2-23 Rome Cell)

Linda Pieczynski (Call To Action)
630-399-6924 (cell)

Barbara Grants and Emily Hoag (U.S. FutureChurch)

U.S. Groups Ask Synod Discussion of Women Ministers, Female Deacons

Priest Shortage Discussion Praised, Absence of Women’s Voices Lamented
Ministerial Crisis Can’t be Solved without Expanding Women’s Roles
Many “Women of the Eucharist” Available to Serve

“It is heartening that our Bishops are finally discussing solutions to the worldwide priest shortage.” said Sr. Christine Schenk. “But it is a great loss that Catholic women ministers have no voice and are not represented here. Catholicism’s ministerial crisis cannot be solved without a discussion of expanding women’s roles. There are many ‘mulierae probatae’ (proven women) ready to join their ‘viri probati’ (proven men) in serving the Church”

Schenk is in Rome representing two U.S. reform groups FutureChurch and Call To Action. While synod bishops have discussed ordaining older married men (“viri probati”) as a solution to the priest shortage, no mention has been made of the thousands of women serving in the church.

The groups collected 35,000 signatures on a petition asking the synod to discuss mandatory celibacy and female deacons as possible solutions to the priest shortage. They also surveyed over 15,000 priests in 55 U.S. dioceses and found 67% believe mandatory celibacy should be discussed. A number of priests surveyed spontaneously commented that roles for women ministers should be expanded to include ordinatiion to the diaconate and priesthood. (Results and priest comments available at

“I have been told that of the 314 people here at the synod as delegates, experts and observers only 14 are women, and they have no voice,” said Schenk. “This is very painful for all the women ministers serving our Church, who, in many cases are holding the community together in the absence of a priest. It is also a great loss to the Church itself because we are deprived of the perspectives of half of our Church... those of Catholic women. Their views about social justice issues are especially valuable because so many serve the poorest of the world’s poor...women and children.”

Worldwide there are 776,000 women religious serving the church's 1.1 billion Catholics compared to 405,000 priests, and an estimated 1.45 million lay catechists, missionaries, and members of secular institutes are women. In the U.S., eighty two percent of an estimated 65,000 lay ministers (including chaplains and pastoral ministers) are women.

“In the overall scheme of things female ministers probably outnumber the men and it is foolish to discount this huge number of prepared ministers just because they are female, ” said Linda Pieczynski of Call To Action.
“ Even taking a simple step such as opening the diaconate to women could give us a huge new pool of ministers to preach, baptize and witness marriages.”

“I am happy that our Bishops reverence Mary the Mother of Jesus as a “Woman of the Eucharist,” said Schenk. “ It was Mary who literally gave us the first Eucharist and she, above all others, has the right to say ‘this is my Body, this is my Blood.’ Our bishops need to hear from contemporary’women of the Eucharist’ who minister in Christ’s body, the Church, and who experience a call to bring Christ’s sacraments to the people of God. Many women who minister as chaplains often find themselves in the painful situation of having to deny the dying the comfort of the last rites of the Church because there are no priests available. Church rules forbid them to administer them, even though they are academically and pastorally qualified.”

“For the past eleven years FutureChurch and Call to Action have continuously educated lay Catholics about the facts of the priest shortage even when the Church was still in denial,” said Pieczynski. “Now, after years of crying in the wilderness, the bishops have finally listened to us, but they haven’t gone far enough. While ordaining “viri probati” is one hopeful step toward making the Eucharist more readily available, this could create difficulties in the U.S. and elsewhere where parish and small base communities are led by women. In the U.S. more lay ministers (82% of whom are women) have advanced degrees and better pastoral preparation than many, if not most deacons. It is important that we include women’s ministerial roles in this conversation if we are to witness to that inclusive discipleship first envisioned by Jesus.”

Some Facts about Women Deacons:
*In Romans 16 Paul names Phoebe “deacon”(diakonos) of the church atCenchrae,” not“deaconess” as it it often incorrectly translated. Diakonos is the same word Paul uses to describe himself in Corinthians (1 Cor 3:5, 2 Cor 6:4). The mistaken “deaconess” translation is most likely an anachronistic reading assigning a formal ministerial title of the fourth century (and its corresponding duties) to the more fluid situation of the first century in which deacons were both male and female.

*There is widespread epigraphical evidence from first century tombstones which have “diakonos” inscribed as a title for women church leaders. There is ample evidence of other female deacons who ministered from the first to the sixth centuries in Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, Rome and France.

*Early ordination rites for women deacons were identical to those used to ordain male deacons to major orders.

*Vatican offices are trying to say that early female “deaconesses” were not the same as deacons. What goes unsaid, and apparently deliberately so, is that there were both male and female deacons in the first century Church. (Phyllis Zagano, Holy Saturday [Crossroad, 2000] ; John Wijngaards in The Tablet, August 14, 2004)

* Presently the Armenian Church has at least three women deacons. Both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II signed documents recognizing the apostolic succession and validity of Armenian Catholic sacraments. (Zagano, Phyllis: Presentation at FutureChurch July, 2003)

Sofia, the Deacon In 1903 Bible scholars found a fourth century tombstone on the Mount of Olives with a Greek inscription which read: “Here lies the minister and bride of Christ, Sofia the deacon, a second Phoebe. She fell asleep in peace on the 21st of the month of March....” The Christian community in Jerusalem understood Sofia's ministry to be part of a three hundred-year-old tradition dating back to the Phoebe of Romans 16 which was validated by none other than the apostle Paul who said: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the Church at Cenchreae.” Notable is the fact that for both Phoebe and Sofia, the Greek word diakonos is used, a masculine ending. Diakonos is the same word Paul used to describe his own ministry. Clearly, the Jerusalem community saw Sofia's ministry in apostolic succession to that of Phoebe. (From Women Officeholders in the Early Church, Schenk)

Call to Action is a national organization of 25,000 laity, religious and clergy with its national office in Chicago and 41 local chapters. It advocates for reforms in the Catholic Church such as equality for women and homosexuals in the Church, optional celibacy for priests, more focus on the church's social teaching, and consultation with the Catholic people on church decision making.

FutureChurch is a coalition of parish centered Catholics who seek the full participation of all Catholics in the life of the Church. FutureChurch strives to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. It seeks to participate in formulating and expressing the Sensus Fidelium (the Spirit inspired beliefs of the faithful) through open, prayerful and enlightened dialogue with other Catholics locally and globally.

For Official Catholic Directory statistics for every U.S. diocese, and results of our
survey of priests in 55 U.S. dioceses visit

About FutureChurch Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, FutureChurch seeks changes that will provide all Roman Catholics the opportunity to participate fully in Church life and leadership. It is a national coalition of 3,500 parish centered Catholics striving to educate fellow Catholics about the seriousness of the priest shortage, the centrality of the Eucharist (the Mass), and the systemic inequality of women in the Catholic Church. FutureChurch is a nonprofit organization that makes presentations throughout the country, distributes education, advocacy and prayer resources and recruits activists who work on behalf of its mission.