Sunday, October 30, 2011

Women Deacons: Heat and Light

Friend, brother deacon and blogger extraordinaire, Deacon Greg Kandra of the Deacon's Bench, recently posted an entry (read the original post and the many comments here) which linked to my last post about the launch of Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future, which was written by Drs. Gary Macy, Phyllis Zagano, and myself.  After the fantastically positive experience of writing the book itself and the equally positive reception at the launch at Loyola University, Chicago, it was quite disheartening to see the almost unbelievable venom and vitriol levied at Deacon Greg, the three of us authors, and anyone who would even consider picking up our book.  We were even criticized for our pasts; for example, I was mocked as a former senior staff member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); you know, that rabid liberal cabal who lead our country's bishops around by the nose to get them to do dangerous, liberal things, like defending religious liberty, Catholic social teaching, and so on.

Be that as it may, I encourage you to read all the comments.  Greg has felt compelled to close off comments and I respect his decision.  On the other hand, while I hope that such behavior will not migrate to this blog, I still wish to respond to a couple of points raised on his blog.  You will see that I had addressed several issues already.  If Greg hadn't closed his comments when he did, I would have posted the following.  Again, I think that others might be interested in the questions raised, and answers to those questions. So, "Diakonos09". of you happen to find yourself over here on my blog, here's what I wanted to post:

Dear Diakonos09 (#104),
Several points. Your tone suggests that you don't accept Deacon Greg's point that he was quoting me (from my blog) rather than the pope, and that therefore you don't believe that there is papal support for this being an "open theological question." After teaching all day yesterday and preaching four Masses this weekend, the tempting answer out of fatigue is to suggest you read the book, where I review more than a dozen documents and historical events which address your question specifically. But, reason prevailed, and here's a short summary.
Let me highlight both documents and actions.
In terms of documents, both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have been influential. In 1976, Paul directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to publish "Inter Insigniores", which has an official English title of "Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood." Subsequent teaching, both in papal encyclicals and reflected in secondary teaching documents such as the Catechism, clarifies repeatedly that deacons are NOT part of the ministerial priesthood. In fact, "Inter Insigniores" itself says, "the Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women." Taking that quotation at its word, notice that it does NOT reference deacons.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II promulgates "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" which again refers only to ordination to the sacerdotal (priestly) orders of presbyter and bishop -- NOT deacons. Several other documents from this period and up until as late as 2009 further clarify the church's understanding that deacons are NOT included in the "ministerial priesthood" and are NOT included in the teaching of these documents.
Those are just two major documents. But let's consider official ACTIONS, and I will list the major one. Notice the dates of the two documents I listed above. Now, consider that then-Cardinal Ratzinger -- with the approval of the Pope -- assigned the question of ordaining women as deacons (not deaconesses -- they are a separate group) to the International Theological Commission for review as part of their five year term from 1992-1997. Notice that no published report on the question was ever put out by the Commission or the Congregation, although the Pope had during that time promulgated "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis." Since the Commission had not been able to come up with an answer on women deacons, Cardinal Ratzinger assigned it to them AGAIN for their 1997-2002 term. This time, they issued a report, in which they concluded that the question of ordaining women, was something that the Church's "ministry of discernment" might choose to address at some future point; in other words, it remains an open question. Neither Cardinal Ratzinger or Cardinal Levada (who succeeded him at the CDF) has ever acted on that suggestion, although Ratzinger did authorize the public release of that report, and it's available for your study. The fact is, if this question of women deacons were NOT an open question, why would successive popes and prefects of the CDF keep treating it like one, even after they have taken pains to address the question of women priests???!!!!
Finally, a word about being ordained as an icon of Christ. I would never agree with the conclusion that a deacon is not ordained as an icon of Christ the Servant. I wouldn't want to, and as you point out, it's a clear teaching of the Church. But ordination as an icon of Christ need not always be reflected simply in the gender of the ordinand. Can women not be icons of Christ? Mother Theresa comes to mind -- certainly when the poorest of poor encountered her, they encountered the love of Christ, right? And, frankly, to go back to my first points: if this were an issue for the popes and CDF, why didn't they simply say, "Look, we've already addressed this issue in "Inter Insigniores" and in "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" and it applies to deacons as well as priests." But they didn't do that, even when asked directly about it. Instead, they have consistently put the matter out for further study. That's what we're doing.

 Really: I know people will have questions about why we wrote the book, what's in it, and how we come to whatever conclusions we reach in the book.  The best way to find answers to those questions, obviously, is to read the book, where we can explain ourselves much better than we can on blogs and Facebook entries.  Still, it's a start!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The "Ship" is Launched. . . .

On Thursday, at Loyola University in Chicago, Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future was officially launched.  Three of us wrote the book: Dr. Gary Macy focused on the most recent historical research into the question, I analyze contemporary Church teaching and theology of the question, and Dr. Phyllis Zagano offers some insights into the possible future of women in the diaconate.

First, some personal reflections about the event at Loyola.  I arrived in Chicago after a great visit with our oldest son and our grandson.  We had gone to visit my mother and had a great visit with her!  Then it was back to Chicago for me to meet with my colleagues.  Gary Macy and I had gone to high school seminary together many years ago and, until a couple of months ago, had not seen each other in person since 1967!  We met and went to the Five Guys across the street from where we were staying and waiting for Phyllis to arrive.  We had a nice visit and coordinated our plans for the next day.

 Before the event itself, several news agencies were interested in talking with us about the nature of the diaconate itself in the Church, and to summarize the points we raise in the book.  Of all the books I've written and/or contributed to, this one is (obviously) getting the most attention, and we want to be as clear as possible about what we're saying and what we're NOT saying in the book.  More about this a bit later.  About 200-300 people gathered for the launch, and it was quite a diverse group!  There were a few undergraduates, but most of the folks were grad students and folks from the community, including more than a few priests, one of whom brought a whole group of parishioners.  We enjoyed the presence of Sr. (Dr.) Sara Butler, who is on the pope's International Theological Commission, and Sr. (Dr.) Mary Collins, OSB, now retired, who was one of my professors at the Catholic University of America when I was working on my Ph.D.

We began with prayer, and shortly thereafter, Dr. Susan Ross, Chair of the Theology Department at Loyola, welcomed everyone and began the panel presentations.  Proceeding in turn, each of us gave a 15 minute presentation on our particular focus in the book.  We then took a short break which gave the attendees the chance to write out some questions for us.  After the break, Dr. Ross invited us to respond to the questions, which was a lot of fun and gave us a chance to expound even more on points we hadn't had time for in our initial presentations.  It was a great conversation!  After that we signed a LOT of books, and responded to more questions.  It was an absolutely wonderful, engaging and stimulating evening, with a lot of humor and wit along with the more scholarly stuff.

Second, a word about the process we used in writing the book.  After deciding to write this book, Dr. Macy drafted his essay/chapter and e-mailed it to me.  I commented on it, and then wrote my own and forwarded both Dr. Zagano.  She commented on both of ours, and wrote HERS, and then forwarded the whole thing back to Gary, and the cycle was repeated several times until we were satisfied with it.  This kind of "self-refereeing" was very helpful to each of us, and we think, for the end result.  We then collaborated on the Introduction, and invited Dr. Ross to write a Forward, which she did.

Third, I ask my readers to keep a number of things in mind before you comment on this posting.  I know just how incensed some people can get when this topic is broached, and the recent thread on Deacon Greg's blog is a good example of that!  So, here are some things to know before blood pressures are raised:

1) No one, not the pope, nor any part of the Roman Curia, has EVER ruled out the possibility of ordaining women AS DEACONS.  It is, according to the pope himself, an "OPEN THEOLOGICAL QUESTION."  All we are doing is exploring that question with the latest research we can find on the subject.  Many people think that "we can't talk about ordaining women"; that's not true, and that's not what church authority says!  You will see what I mean when you read my chapter of the book: I analyze much of the official teaching documentation to see precisely what is being said.  One thing comes through crystal clear: the Holy See very clearly and very significantly DISTINGUISHES the diaconate from the sacerdotal ("priestly") orders of presbyter and bishop (I use the word "presbyter" here because in technical language, "priest" can apply to both presbyters and bishops).  So, no matter what has been said about the ordination of women to the presbyterate, the Church authority itself says that this does NOT apply to the diaconate.

2) The history of women in the diaconate has benefitted from considerable new historiography and analysis over the last 20-25 years.  Therefore, Gary's work is not simply a different interpretation of the same material, but an up-to-date analysis of the more complete data we have now.  He builds on some of the venerable work done a generation or more ago.  For example, there are several groups of women associated with diaconate in the early history of the Church: there are "women deacons" in one group, "deaconesses" in another, and some women given those titles because they were married to male deacons.  Each group is distinct and we have the rituals used to ordain them to help determine how their local communities perceived these women in ministry.  I know you'll find this section quite interesting.

3) My section deals with two major themes: first, as I said before, I study the official documentation on the topic to demonstrate the distinctiveness of this question from other questions, and to stress that we are only interested in this book with the question of the possible ordination of women as deacons, not to any other question at all.  I also review the teaching of Vatican II on the subject of the diaconate itself to make sure we see what the "vision" of the diaconate at the time of its renewal.  Just as women and men in religious life often talk about rediscovering the vision of their founders, I think that for deacons, the bishops at Vatican II were our "founders", and it's good to have a sense of what they were thinking and doing about the diaconate and the renewal of the Church.

4) We often hear that this is just an attempt to get women into the priesthood "through a back door"; that, if we ordain women to the diaconate, "the next thing you know, they'll want to be priests!"  Well, that's just a lot of nonsense.  As I said: the diaconate is not the priesthood, nor is it a part of the ministerial priesthood in which presbyters and bishops participate.  Furthermore, we have more than four decades of experience with the (permanent) diaconate now, in which the vast majority of deacons are serving as married men.  There's been no run on any diocesan chanceries by these married deacons to demand ordination as presbyters!  The vast majority of deacons, when asked if they would be interested in serving as presbyters if the church's discipline on celibacy were changed, respond that they would not.  After nearly 22 years as a deacon myself, but also as someone who had earlier spent eight years in the seminary, I can attest that the vocation of deacon is significantly different from the vocation of the priest!  So, the evidence is pretty clear that the diaconate is not now, nor would it ever be, a "back door" to becoming a priest.

These are just some reflections on what has been a most interesting process for me and my colleagues.  All I ask is this: BEFORE you jump to any rash conclusions, BEFORE you assume you know our motivations, our lineage, our "agendas" and all the rest of it, just read the book.  None of the three of us are rabid "liberals" or "conservatives"; we are not "radical feminists" or "feminazis".  In fact, two of us (Dr. Zagano and myself) are both retired Navy Commanders -- not exactly a "liberal" professional background.  Besides, if you start to find yourself pre-judging based on what you think you already know about this question, I would hope you would try to set those pre-judgments aside and first gather the facts.

Bottom line: the Church considers this an open question to be studied and discussed so that the church's "ministry of discernment" (the phrase used by the International Theological Commission, which works for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) can be exercised on this matter.  All we have done here is attempt to contribute to that discussion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You have to be a little crazy to be a deacon

My good friend and brother deacon who occupies "The Deacon's Bench" over at Patheos, Deacon Greg Kandra, has a very interesting post today about psychological testing as part of the process of applying for admission into formation programs which may lead to possible ordination as a deacon or presbyter.  Here's what Greg wrote about it, and from there you can read the full reflection by the original blogger on this issue.

I thought it might be helpful to review some basics about the application, discernment and formation processes that are involved here, and how psychological testing fits into that larger picture.  While I certainly don't deny that the original author highlights some interesting questions vis-a-vis psychological testing, several things need to be kept in mind: 1) Unless the applicant is a trained psychologist himself, how he THINKS certain questions might be answered may not, in fact, be the same as how a professional trained in test interpretation might read the data.  I can tell you from my own experience with this, that while my examiner didn't ask certain questions specifically, I was stunned later about her ability to piece the data she DID receive into an accurate portrait; 2) The applicant has, apparently, not yet completed the whole application process, so he has no idea if the questions he is raising will simply be part of subsequent testing or additional interviews; 3) The applicant himself is not himself experienced with the ministry of (at least in this case) the diaconate, which means that he has to make certain assumptions about what he BELIEVES ought to be included.  Now, I'm not saying he doesn't raise valid concerns!  However, it would also be wrong to extrapolate from one man's partial experience in one diocese (out of 196!) to make judgments about the processes followed throughout the country.  So, let's take a closer look.

First, psychological testing is only one part of the overall application process.  If you look at the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, you'll find that Chapter Four deals with "Vocation, Discernment, and Selection."  The chapter is divided into five sections: 1) Promotion and Recruitment, 2) The Mystery of Vocation, 3) The Discernment of the Call, 4) Admission and Selection Procedures, and, 5) Admission into the Aspirant Path in Formation.  I list all of these to put the specific issue of psychological testing in perspective.  Notice that the process of assessing the suitability of applicants begins long before we get to the administration of psychological tests, and that we begin with the far more fundamental issues of vocation and discernment of God's presence and action witnessed in the applicant's life by all of those around him: his family, friends, church community and so on.  We try to make sure that, unlike a "job application" for a secular position, the process of discerning a possible vocation to ordained ministry is interested in the whole range of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral elements of a person's life and character; the psychological is only one aspect in making such assessments.

Second, let's turn to Section IV in more detail.  There, we find information about the role of the pastor, the parish and the diocesan staff in reviewing a person's suitability, and the means of doing this involves a series of interviews by and with a variety of people, and these interviews usually involve the whole family of the applicant to some degree.  In paragraph 177, we read that "appropriate psychological consultation may be included as part of the application process, but always with the written consent of the applicant.  Those selected as psychological consultants must use psychological methods in harmony with Christian anthropology and Catholic teaching, particularly with respect to the theology of the diaconal vocation, the various states of life of the deacon and the basic human qualities expected of a mature deacon."

Third, notice what is NOT included in that paragraph: a required list of the psychological tests to be conducted!  In earlier drafts of the National Directory, such a list was offered; however, further research indicated that the resources available around the country varied greatly, as well as the professional opinions of psychologists about the best instruments to use.  This means that what one applicant might experience in one diocese will undoubtedly vary from what is used in the neighboring diocese.  As a result, those of us who are involved in this process are constantly assessing the psychological test batteries in use.

Just a final note: People should realize that, in a process as complex as this is, only rarely is a person rejected from the formation process based on a single issue alone.  Obviously, if it is discovered that a person has a serious psychological, medical or other issue; that's one thing.  But what we most often discover is a pattern of issues that need to be addressed.  Ultimately, decisions about whether or not to accept a person into the formation process, and leading all the way to decisions about whether or not to ordain a person at all, rest with the bishop and his assessment of the common good of the diocesan Church.  No one is ordained simply because they're a good and holy person (we hope!); a person is called to orders only when the bishop is convinced that the People of God can be served, and served well, by a particular person.  Psychological testing can be one important tool in that overall process, but it is never the only one, nor is it necessarily the best one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What a Day! Pope John XXIII and Vatican II!

Forty-nine years ago today, on 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII presided over the opening of the Second Vatican Council.  It is for this reason that we now celebrate Pope John's feast day today as well.  It's interesting, because usually a saint is remembered on the date of his birth or the date of her death.  John's is celebrated on the date of his most significant achievement in ministry: Vatican II.  It's a great day to commemorate both.

Angelo Roncalli, while he relished his peasant roots, was a man who loved history and the lessons history could teach us.  He was also a Roman "outsider" (unlike his best friend and successor, Giovanni Battista Montini, who was quite the Vatican "insider"), who came into his own during lengthy tours as a papal legate to Bulgaria (1925-1935), Turkey and Greece (1935-1944) and France (1944-1953).  He always maintained that it was his military service as a stretcher-bearer and chaplain during World War I that formed him into a pastor, and during World War II he did everything he could to facilitate the escape of as many as 100,000 Jews from Nazi-held areas.  In 1953 he was appointed Patriarch of Venice and was made a Cardinal.  He wrote that he loved the title of "Patriarch" -- the title he thought he would be buried with -- because it meant he was a "Father" to his people.  Little did he know that he would soon become "papa" to the whole world, not just Venice.  What his biography shows us is a man who was deeply immersed in the "real world" in a variety of difficult human situations, and a man who learned profoundly how the Church might help.

What the great Pope John brought to the world, and what the Council he called emphasized, was a "novus mentis habitus" -- a "new way of thinking" -- about the world and the Church.  Pope John Paul II used to speak about this quite often in the early days of his own papacy: that the world and the church today demands a new way of thinking about how we relate to the people with whom we live and serve.  Today, this message seems more needed than ever.

We read of church leaders who have decided that the richness of eating and drinking the Lord's Body and Blood, commanded by our Lord, is best accomplished through a resurgent sacramental minimalism by consuming under the species of bread alone; we wonder why our young people (and, let's be honest, some NOT so young people as well!) are leaving active participation in a Church they honestly believe has lost its moral compass and any connectedness whatsoever to the real problems which today's people face.  Instead, they see institutional church leadership fussing about translations from a dead language into a living culture while whole peoples are victims of genocide, forced migrations, war and natural disasters. They know that individual Catholics and groups of Catholics are involved in trying to make things better, but the acknowledged leadership often seems completely out-of-touch and remote from those efforts.

It was this very detachment from the "real world" that Pope John and the Council attempted to address.  In 1962, the world's bishops had vivid memories of two world wars, worldwide economic collapse, the rise of three totalitarian regimes, the emergence of the nuclear age and the cold war.  During the Council itself, the world was brought to the brink of another worldwide war during the Bay of Pigs debacle and the President of the US himself was assassinated.  The bishops of the world, led by John himself, wanted to try to find a NEW WAY OF THINKING so that the world might be transformed into a different kind of place, so that such tragedies could not happen again.

I entered high school seminary in 1963, during the Council itself, and what a dynamic and exciting time it was!  We were encouraged to dream about serving in a rejuvenated Church, a Church that would walk among people and help them.  To use John's own word, there was to be an aggiornamento in the Church, an updating, not just of how we worshiped, but how we lived and served in the world.

Many things have happened in the forty-nine years since the Council began, but I believe that we are still called to a new way of thinking.  The old patterns of thought which some people seem intent on trying to "restore" to the Church and the world, did not keep the world from war, violence and destruction.  Pope John's call to look forward with new, fresh approaches is more needed today than ever.  What else matters if we cannot connect the real messiness of life with the promises of Christ?

Viva il Papa Giovanni!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Arrivederci, Roma; Welcome, USA!

In a few hours I will make my way to Fiumicino to catch the first of three flights back home.  First is a flight from Rome to Amsterdam, then the long 12-hour flight to LA, and then another quick flight up to Monterey.  It has been a good and productive trip, but it will be wonderful to be home again!

The meetings here concerning our international study institute on the diaconate have gone very well.  The University of St. John Lateran (the "Lateranum") has emerged as a key player in our planning, and we laid out a three-year summer program of courses.  This means that a person has choices: for those able and interested in doing so, a person could come to Rome for three summers and complete a Master's Degree awarded by the Lateranum.  Alternatively, a person could simply come for a single course purely out of personal interest, or, still again, could take a course or two which would provide transfer credit to another graduate degree being taken elsewhere.  For example, if a person were working on a Master's degree or Ph.D. at a university in the United States, 1 or 2 of the Institute's courses could be applied to the course work for that degree, since our courses are fully accredited as well.  Finally, a student who is enrolled in a university at which one of our faculty members is on staff, the course in Rome can be taken for credit at the faculty member's "home" institution as well.  For example, I could teach a course for the Institute in Rome, but a student from Santa Clara University could receive credit from Santa Clara for the course.

The academic prerequisites for the Institute program will be a baccalaureate degree, preferably in Theology or a related discipline.  The Roman and Vatican officials are quite insistent that the Institute be a place for graduate level work, and this really is the point of the Institute as well.  Courses are open to all qualified persons (and not only deacons) who are interested in study and research on the diaconate, and this cuts a wide swath: from history and archaeology, to biblical exegesis and the patristics, to ecclesiology, systematics, moral, spiritual and liturgical theology, to canon law.

Not all courses will be taught every summer.  Instead, there is a three-year plan of study: the first summer will be devoted to scripture and the patristics; the second summer to theology, and the third summer to pastoral-ministerial topics.

We even agreed on a name of the Institute.  It will be known as the "Studium Internazionale sul Diaconato San Lorenzo": the "Saint Lawrence International Institute on the Diaconate"

Once I get home, I'll be working on developing some English language materials on all of this, and we're putting together a web site that will link everyone together as well.  So stay tuned!