Welcome to Discerning Deacons, a project fueled by love and fidelity to the Catholic Church!

Our mission is to engage Catholics in the active discernment of our Church about women and the diaconate.

Embrace

We embrace the prophetic call and ministry of deacons.

Witness

We witness the historical and contemporary diaconal ministry of Catholic women.

Hope

We hope in the Spirit to lead this discernment, renew the Church and heal our world.

Our work together is supporting educational opportunities and conversations in parishes and communities so that everyone can participate in the discernment.

We celebrate the Feast of St. Phoebe on September 3rd, and work to remember St. Phoebe the deacon whom St. Paul commended to the Church in Rome, asking that they “receive her in the Lord” (Romans 16:1-2).

Background

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) renewed the ministry of the diaconate in the Catholic Church — restoring it as a permanent state of life, opening it to married men, and teaching that deacons are ordained to serve in liturgy, word and charity to the people of God.

At the Council itself, and in the decades that followed, a question has consistently emerged among popes and bishops and many others: Might the restoration and renewal of this ministry also involve giving official recognition to the diaconal ministry exercised by women?

In the early 1970s, Pope Paul VI commissioned a study. In 2002, the International Theological Commission said, “It pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.” In 2016, Pope Francis established a commission to study the topic. And in 2020, following the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, where a majority of bishops were in favor of ordaining women as deacons, and where the Synod formally requested to share their “experiences and reflections” with a papal commission, Pope Francis established a new commission that will begin meeting in Fall 2021.

The question of women and the diaconate is a living conversation and an active discernment in our Church. In a listening, participatory and synodal Church, it is a question not only for Synods of Bishops and papal commissions, but it is a discernment for the entire people of God.

Advisors

Most Rev. Randolph Calvo

Bishop of Reno, Nevada

Deacon William T. Ditewig, Ph.D.

Former Executive Director, Secretariat for the Diaconate, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Fr. Warren Sazama, S.J.

Pastor, St. Thomas More Catholic Parish, St. Paul, Minnesota

Bridget Deegan-Krause, M.Div.

Board Certified Chaplain, Mission and Formation Consultant, Catholic Health Care

Cecilia González-Andrieu, Ph.D.,

Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University

Featured Endorsers

Most Rev. Emil A. Wcela

Retired Auxiliary Bishop of Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Very Rev. Scott Santarosa, S.J

Provincial Superior, USA West Province, Society of Jesus

Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation

Deacon Greg Kandra

Creator, “The Deacon’s Bench”; senior writer and outreach program manager, Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Nicole Perone

National Coordinator, ESTEEM

Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.

Founder, Homeboy Industries

Fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Promoter of Preaching, Southern Dominican Province (USA)

Anna Nussbaum Keating

Catholic Chaplain, Colorado College; author, The Catholic Catalogue

Fr. Jacek Orzechowski, O.F.M.

Pastor, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Durham, N.C.

Fr. Bob Bonnot

Executive Director, Association of U.S. Catholic Priests

Anne Hansen

Executive Director, Ignatians West

Fr. Theodore Gabrielli, S.J.

Pastor, Dolores Mission Catholic Church, Los Angeles

Donna B. Doucette

Executive Director, Voice of the Faithful

Are you a leader in our Church?

Are you interested in endorsing the project and sharing why this discernment is important to you today? Help encourage others to participate by expressing your support as a public endorser.

Leadership Team

Casey Stanton, co-director of Discerning Deacons

Durham, North Carolina

I hope our project can be a way to live into a vision for the Church’s renewal as we listen and seek to learn how the Holy Spirit guides, leads and presses us forward. The diaconate touches my own vocational desire to proclaim the Gospel and help move our faith out into the world. 

You can contact Casey at casey@discerningdeacons.org.

Casey Stanton has spent over a decade working in the field of social concerns ministries within parish life and as part of broader, faith-based coalitions. She most recently served as Adult Faith Formation minister at Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, North Carolina. She holds a BA from the University of Notre Dame and a Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School where she graduated with a certificate in prison studies. A Boston native, Casey is proud to make a home in Durham with her husband Felipe and their two children, Micaela and Teddy. She is a product of Sacred Heart education and invokes St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, along with Dorothy Day, to accompany her in helping to lead and shepherd this new project! She loves reading poetry out loud and seeing her favorite band, Hardworker, perform live (back when we went to concerts). 

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Ellie Hidalgo, co-director of Discerning Deacons

Miami, Florida

I’m excited we’re building a bridge of sisterhood and brotherhood to the Amazon. It is here, in the peripheries of the Amazon, where the Holy Spirit is calling forth Catholic women to preach and preside at baptisms, weddings and funerals, with the blessing of their bishops. They work toward the vision of a listening, participatory, synodal Church that is grounded in caring for each other and our common home.

You can contact Ellie at ellie@discerningdeacons.org.

Ellie Hidalgo served for 12 years as the pastoral associate and previously as a pastoral assistant for Dolores Mission Catholic Church and School, a Jesuit parish in the Latin American immigrant community of Boyle Heights, just east of downtown Los Angeles, California. This small church with a giant heart is known for its restorative justice ministries and faith-based community organizing, and for being the home parish of Homeboy Industries. Ellie holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Pastoral Theology from Loyola Marymount University. She was commissioned as a pastoral associate for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2013. Inspired by the prophetic role of grandmothers, mothers, women and girls in bringing forth God’s dream for God’s people on earth, Ellie has preached for Catholic Women Preach in 2018 and 2020. She recently moved to Miami, Florida, to live closer to her family. She enjoys walking, writing, telling or listening to a good story, and cooking.

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Lisa Amman, deputy director of engagement

St. Paul, Minnesota

I am here to invite and connect people to the living discernment about receiving women as deacons in our global Church. I have seen women struggle in the mistaken belief that it may not even be discussed, and I have witnessed the joy and hope in their eyes when they learn the pope has invited the discussion! I dream women will have the ability to discern this call. I hope one day my daughters will hear women preach at Mass and see that women speak with knowledge and authority about Jesus. I hope children will never again experience our faith as “just about boys,” as my daughter declared when she was six. It is an honor to serve the wider Church in this mission of Discerning Deacons.

You can contact Lisa at lisa@discerningdeacons.org.

Lisa Amman, the deputy director of engagement for Discerning Deacons, has learned, prayed and worked in Catholic institutions her whole life. Inspired by the civic and ecclesial leadership of Benedictine sisters, she attended the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. She served for five years as the director of social justice at her parish in St. Paul, and she worked for 10 years as a community organizer with ISAIAH, an alliance of more than 100 faith congregations. She coached, mentored and trained thousands of lay and ordained people of faith to advance the Gospel vision of justice and equal dignity in public policy. She is an active member of Saint Thomas More Parish, where she is currently working her way through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in everyday life. A native of Louisiana, she and her husband have two daughters. Lisa’s work to ordain women deacons is for her daughters.

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Carolina Manson, Communications & Administrative Associate

Durham, North Carolina

I am looking forward to doing what I love while helping promote and accompany the mission of Discerning Deacons.

You can contact Carolina at carolina@discerningdeacons.org.

Carolina Manson served as the communications director for Immaculate Conception parish in Durham, NC for seven years. She has a passion for digital marketing and communications, as well as planning, logistics, and administration in general. Originally from Champaign, Il, she grew up in Tucuman, Argentina where she studied English/Spanish interpretation and culinary arts. She moved to Durham in 2003 with her husband, Jorge and their children Esteban and Carolina. She loves to read, cook and spend time with her family and their dog, Buzz.

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Carmen Villafañe, Synod Coordinator

Miami, Florida

I am humbled to be part of the visionary team that is Discerning Deacons, particularly as we dive into the deeper waters of the synod! Working together, faithfully serving among and with God’s people to help create wider spaces for encounter, listening and discernment in our church is a gift in my life. It is very exciting to consider a Church that can open itself to the Spirit during this continuing global process where our universality is highlighted, growing and learning together as a faith community, responding more fully to the needs of the voiceless among us, becoming agents for healing change as we heed the Gospel call. This gives me hope for the future of our faith, especially as I watch my own children and grandchildren growing and searching for deeper meaning in their own lives. Our Lady of Guadalupe, walk with us! A.M.D.G.

You can contact Carmen at carmen@discerningdeacons.org

Carmen Villafañe has engaged in several pastoral and educator roles during the past 28 years in the Archdiocese of Miami. She served as campus minister at two local secular universities while raising a growing family, followed by 11 years teaching theology at Belen Jesuit Preparatory high school. She most recently facilitated more than a dozen online courses for the University of Notre Dame via the ‘Camino a la Fe’ program, a Spanish faith formation track for Hispanic adults serving their local communities throughout the country in various ministries, including the diaconate. 

Her undergraduate degrees are Latin American Studies & Spanish (BA) from Emory University.  Discerning a call to lay ministry, Carmen pursued a Masters in Pastoral Studies via the Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension program in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Most recently Carmen completed a three-year post-graduate certificate program in Spiritual Accompaniment/Direction from St. Thomas University. She hopes to be able to offer this new skill to the Discerning Deacons community in the future.

Active among various parishes, she participated with different local and international evangelization ministries such as marriage preparation courses, RENEW 2000 and mission work in Tabasco, Mexico with the Piarist Fathers. She credits her training in ministry leadership to years of work with SEPI (Southeast Pastoral Institute).  Carmen’s closest role model is her mother, a woman who has personified courage, faithfulness, wisdom and vision in clear relationship with the Gospel call to ‘care for the least of these’.  

Married for 35 years, Carmen & her husband Julio have 4 adult children and love spoiling their 3 beautiful grandchildren.

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Maureen O’Connell, Director of Synod and Higher Education Engagement

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I am excited to bring my passions for teaching, writing and community-building to the synodal movement that Discerning Deacons is helping to cultivate. I am inspired by educators who remind us of the transformative power of learning for individuals and whole communities, and by community leaders, often women, who model inclusive ways to vision and work toward change. I revel in the creativity and possibility that comes with integrating the liberatory dimensions of our Catholic traditions with the diverse charisms of Catholic education.  

You can contact Maureen at maureen@discerningdeacons.org

Maureen O’Connell has more than 20 years of experience in Catholic higher education, the majority of them anchored in teaching and learning spaces oriented by social justice pedagogies. In addition to her work with Discerning Deacons, she is Professor of Christian Ethics at La Salle University in her native city of Philadelphia where offers courses in peace and justice, racial justice, feminist engagement with religion, community organizing, and place-based learning. She is also engaged with faith-based organizing through POWER, Faith in Action’s affiliate there. She has authored three books, the most recent of which, Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness (Beacon Press, 2021), examines her family’s history with racism in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She holds a BA in History from Saint Joseph’s University and a PhD in Christian Ethics from Boston College. She and her husband Dan live in close proximity to her parents, siblings, and niece and nephews; romps with her dog, Smiley, in the woods near her house in the world’s largest urban park are among her favorite things. 

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Arumi Ortiz, Social Media Ministry Coordinator

Boston, Massachusetts

I’m moved and ecstatic to be part of collective voices that encounter and serve women and their present role in the church. I believe we all deserve a place at the table.
Like Mother Mary at the wedding feast of Cana, I hope to see people’s needs and to proactively serve with care and concern. Just as she was a mediator between Jesus and the people, I hope to be that “bridge builder” on and off-line. I see Mary and St. Phoebe as a role model  for this social media ministry because of their presence, hospitality  and fully trusted Jesus to work His miracle for the better of the community.
I know my vocation is ever changing but my calling to ministry and service is deeply rooted in me because I am called to know my faith, to love as Jesus does and to serve the Church! 

You can contact Arumi at arumi@discerningdeacons.org

Arumi Ortiz holds a BA in Theology from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio Texas and is currently working on her Masters in Theology and Pastoral Ministry with a focus on Hispanic ministry at Boston College. She has worked within Hispanic ministry for nine years in grassroots, parish, dioceses teams, regional and national committees and organizations. Arumi loves to experiment with food recipes incorporating her Mexican heritage as well as dancing to 80’ music and cumbias!

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Anna Robertson, Associate Director of Distributed Organizing

Seattle, Washington

I’m thrilled to be a part of the creative and dynamic team at Discerning Deacons working to celebrate, draw out, and elevate the relational, prophetic, and pastoral leadership of women throughout the Church—at a moment, no less, when the Church has re-committed to cultivating a culture of encounter and deep listening. As the Church and society at large face the cascading and overlapping crises before us, we are called to be “protagonists of transformation,” to borrow Pope Francis’s words, embodying a community grounded in Gospel love and justice. Throughout history, women have been at the forefront of transformation, and I believe that is no less true today than it has ever been. I’m humbled by the opportunity to journey together with women throughout the world who are answering God’s call to transformational leadership in the Church—and with men who are ready to receive, recognize, and welcome the Phoebes in our midst.

You can contact Anna at anna@discerningdeacons.org

Anna Robertson worked as Director of Youth and Young Adult Mobilization at Catholic Climate Covenant and Campus Minister for Retreats at Seattle University, along with various experiences supporting families of women experiencing incarceration, serving as a hospital chaplain, conducting research on collective memory in El Salvador, and accompanying students on international immersions at the intersection of faith and justice in Latin America. The common thread running through her work has been a passion for helping people articulate their stories and step into their power as protagonists of transformation toward a more just world. 

Anna is a cradle Catholic with an eye toward the threads of mysticism that cut across faith traditions. Anna was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and, since graduating from high school, she has called many places home, including Cincinnati, Central America, West Virginia, Boston, and Seattle. She has a Master’s of Theological Studies from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology from Xavier University in Ohio. In her free time, Anna enjoys practicing yoga, playing music, riding her electric bike around Seattle, jumping into bodies of water, cooking, reading, and having heart-to-hearts with friends.

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Our Story

At the end of 2020, we were invited to dream, to propose a project to engage the Church’s faithful in this time of discernment around whether or not to open the diaconate to women. 

It was the end of a long year. We had each carried losses: loved ones buried, vocations in transition, the weight of the pandemic. 

But we had also been praying together, listening to the Word of God, the witness of the Church in the Amazon, the stories of women and men, and the words of the Holy Father.

When we came together to pray on the Feast of St. Phoebe, we were reminded of the surprising power of encountering stories of faith in a sacred time of prayer, and we believed that more encounters could help break the tendency toward polarization and could help bear fruit. It is an act of faithful discipleship to witness to how God is calling us.

The stars aligned to invite us to believe in what we could not yet see. 

So we have begun the journey: engaging, drawing together, growing in leadership and love, building a living community grounded in encounter.

We are grateful for the team of advisors who offer their wisdom and guidance, for the endorsers who express words of encouragement as we get started, and for you, as you prayerfully discern how you might participate in this unfolding work of renewal and hope. 

April 25, 2021

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Our project operates as a non-profit under the fiscal sponsorship of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

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