Charting steps along the path forward

Pat Ball & Ellie Hidalgo

Ellie Hidalgo and Pat Ball at the 2022 AUSCP Assembly

Discerning Deacons was delighted to host two colloquium discussions about women and the diaconate and an exhibitor’s booth at the annual assembly of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests (AUSCP) in Baltimore, June 20-23. The assembly drew more than 150 priests, in addition to lay and religious supporters. AUSCP priests are known for their ongoing commitment to implement the vision of Vatican II and to center their work together around Gospel non-violence, anti-racism efforts, support for immigrants, women in the Church and more. This year’s theme was “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future”. 

A special thank you to DD Synod Animator Pat Ball for joining me. Pat has been a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Baltimore for 45 years and has been active with Discerning Deacons since before its inception. Together we engaged priests in conversations about synodality and about women’s leadership in the Church. Throughout this Synod Process we have heard so many of you share the hope that a synodal Church would open the doors to preaching by women in their local parishes – to offer another perspective on the Gospel stories that can draw upon the lived experiences of women, mothers, grandmothers. Can we imagine a Church in which women with gifts for preaching are invited to share their gifts with their faith community? We shared your hopes with the priests of AUSCP and found them receptive to imagining opportunities at their parish to invite a trusted lay or religious woman to offer a testimony or a reflection during the liturgy. We look forward to developing these ideas in the months ahead. 

Many thanks to Fr. Michael Hickin for his leadership as chair of AUSCP’s Women in the Church Working Group and for promoting opportunities for AUSCP priests to collaborate with Discerning Deacons. By way of background, in 2013 the AUSCP passed a resolution to promote the ongoing discussion of the ordination of women as permanent deacons and agreed to ask the U.S. bishops to give public support to the restoration of the first millennium practice of ordaining women as permanent deacons. “I received multiple affirmations from our membership encouraging further collaboration with Discerning Deacons,” said Fr. Michael. “The presence of DD at our 2022 Assembly helped AUSCP enlarge its dream of Christ’s Church, where women and men work shoulder to shoulder in providing servant leadership to the world at large.”

Stellar keynote speakers included Cardinal Peter Turkson, new chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences; Mary Novak, executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. of Lexington; and Franciscan Father Dan Horan, Director of the Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. AUSCP episcopal moderator Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe presided at Mass, June 21, and Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, presided at Mass, June 22. Sr. Michelle Stachowiak, CSSF, served as a contemplative guide for participants as they reflected and responded to the keynotes. Sr. Michelle is on the staff of LCWR where she currently serves as Associate Director for Mission Collaboration.

During her keynote, Mary Novak detailed how fragile American democracy has become, and she emphasized the peacebuilding work that is needed from the U.S. Church during a time of heightened polarization that threatens to descend into even greater violence. Mary shared her perspective that churches have an important role to play as cross-cutting institutions where people from different generations, different ethnicities and racial groups, and different political perspectives still gather together. “Churches can lead the way and say no to violence of any type,” she said. Listening to Mary got me thinking about our hopes in Discerning Deacons for a renewed diaconate. Imagine the vital role men and women deacons could serve in our synodal parishes by bringing people continually into dialogue and discernment about the fraught issues of our day. To look for common ground, the common good and a way forward together. 

 On another note, Donna Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, was appointed to the Leadership Team of AUSCP. It’s hopeful to see the AUSCP seek out a lay perspective and a woman’s input in their strategic planning and decision-making. It’s a concrete structural step to live out the spirit of Vatican II as well as the dream that synodality will encourage the creation of more opportunities for clergy and lay collaborative governance. 

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“This was such a great learning experience for all of us, and even more so, a chance to build momentum and connection.”
St. Basil's Catholic Parish
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
“We are proud to stand on the shoulders of the many women who have ministered to the people of God throughout time!”
Holy Name of Jesus Parish
New Orleans, LA
“Learning about the history of women in the diaconate gave context to efforts to enable women’s participation in the diaconate today, and it was powerful to celebrate St. Phoebe and uplift the ministry of women in our own community.”
St. John Fisher Parish
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

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