"Esta Tradición, que deriva de los Apóstoles, progresa en la Iglesia con la asistencia del Espíritu Santo: puesto que va creciendo en la comprensión de las cosas y de las palabras transmitidas, ya por la contemplación y el estudio de los creyentes, que las meditan en su corazón y, ya por la percepción íntima que experimentan de las cosas espirituales."

Dr. Phyllis Zagano writes for Commonweal (July 23, 2023) tracing the themes that have been emerging through the synodal process of listening consultations and communal discernment. A well-researched overview of what various reports from around the world had to say on the question of women’s roles and possible inclusion in the ordained diaconate. 

Australian theologian Margaret Mowczko wrote this chapter for the book Deacons and Diakonia in Early Christianity: The First Two Centuries published by Mohr Siebeck (January 2019). She uses biblical and historical scholarship to unpack the meaning of St. Paul’s affirmation of Phoebe as “our sister,” “a benefactor of many,” and his use of the Greek word Διάκονος (deacon) to describe Phoebe’s ministry at Cenchrea. 

Ad Hoc Committee of the Canon Law Society of America, Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate. Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1995.  (Electronic and/or PDF versions of The Canonical Implication of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate ©1995, the Canon Law Society of America. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

Who was St. Phoebe? And was she really a deacon?

A woman is depicted at prayer in an early Christian mosaic seen in the Vatican's Pio Cristiano Museum. (Wikimedia Commons/Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)

Befriending Phoebe, a Co-Worker in the Kingdom – Sr. Colleen Gibson writes for the Global Sisters Report, inviting readers to befriend this otherwise lesser known saint, a collaborator with St. Paul, whose memory has always inspired the Church when it comes to the question of women’s fitfulness for embodying Jesus’s diakonía.


Fr. Felix Just, SJ, who teaches in the Diaconate Formation programs of several U.S. dioceses, and maintains a large internationally-acclaimed website of “Catholic Resources”, addresses the question head on – “Is St. Phoebe a Saint?” in an article for LaCroix International and an expanded version with footnotes on his sitio web.


¿Quién era Santa Febe?
5 Things Every Catholic...

I am in favor of opening any ministry we have in the church to women which is not clearly precluded doctrinally. My own assessment is that…the permanent diaconate is not clearly prohibited by doctrinal considerations. My hope would be that they would find a pathway to make that a reality.”

Ordaining women to the diaconate would bring a certain consistency to the Church’s practice. We’re not doing something that’s completely extraordinary or new…this change would be grounded in the sources of our faith, found in the early church, situated in the context of the role women have in society today…. It means this is possible.”

Read & Study

By Emil Wcela (America Media, October 1, 2012)

By Phyllis Zagano (Peeters Publishers Leuven, 2020)

By Luke Hansen (America Media, November 7, 2019)

By Círia Mees (Discerning Deacons, April 21, 2021)

By Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter, January 24, 2019)

By Mary Katherine Tillman (Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2018)

By Erick Berrelleza and Phyllis Zagano (Review of Religious Research, November 3, 2018)

By Casey Stanton (America Media, June 06, 2023)

By Ellie Hidalgo (National Catholic Reporter, July 21, 2023)

By Phyllis Zagano (Liturgical Press, April, 2026)

USCCB Newsletter - Volume LVIII - June 2022

Preguntas Frecuentes

All papal and curial statements against the ordination of women specifically address the “ministerial priesthood” and “priestly ordination,” not the diaconate. In 2002, the International Theological Commission stated about women deacons: “It pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.” Even as Pope Francis has confirmed that the reservation of the priesthood to males “is not a question open to discussion,” he has established two papal commissions to study the question of women and the diaconate.

Pope John Paul II taught that the Church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” and his successors have confirmed this teaching. The ordination of women as deacons does nothing to change this doctrine. The diaconate is a “proper and permanent” order that is distinct from the priesthood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this distinction: “Bishops and priests receive the mission and faculty (‘the sacred power’) to act in persona Christi Capitis [in the person of Christ the Head]; deacons receive the strength to serve the People of God in the diaconia of liturgy, word, and charity, in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate” (No. 875). In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI revised church law to make clear the distinction among deacons, priests and bishops.

The enhancement of lay ministry is an enduring legacy of the Second Vatican Council and a tremendous gift in the Church. This commitment should remain strong. At the same time, the Church retains ordained ministries, which are always in need of renewal and “de-clericalization.” The restoration of women to the diaconate, a prophetic ministry of service in the Church, would strengthen this process. The presence of women in ordained ministry means that they would be clerics, not necessarily clerical. The struggle against clericalism is a struggle for both men and women, not women alone.

It is true that the vast majority of permanent deacons live and minister in the Global North, so this ministry is more familiar to Catholics in the United States and Europe than in other parts of the world. Yet at the recent Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian Region, the leaders of the Church in the Amazon – both bishops and lay leaders – were very clear that women in the Amazon are already doing the work of deacons, and it is the desire and hope of that church to ordain these women as deacons.

What are your questions? Let us know.


“A Church that teaches must be firstly a Church that listens.”

Discerning Deacons has heard Pope Francis’ call for a synodal church. During the summer of 2021, more than 1,500 Catholics from Canada, India and the United States gathered via video conference and in-person to actively discern the question of women and the diaconate in our Catholic Church. 

In 2022 as part of the consultation phase of the global synod, DD helped animate over 325 consultations that engaged 9,000+ people, and submitted a synthesis report. 

On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Discerning Deacons released a synthesis which gathered the themes and experiences from an intercontinental Pilgrimage to Mexico City where participants gathered from across the Americas to pray for a synodal Church, serve the discernment around rethinking women’s participation, and cast a prophetic vision for a synodal diaconate.

Called to Contribute Findings from an In-depth Interview Study of US Catholic Women and the Diaconate

In April of 2021

Dr. Tricia Bruce, PhD conducted a qualitative research study by interviewing 40 U.S. women about their Catholic faith, their experience and understanding of vocation, and their life in ministry. 

The full report explores patterns across Catholic women’s experiences captured within four interrelated themes: Call, Constraint, Adaptation and Contribution.

The executive summary and full report can be found at the website or by clicking the image on the left.  

For news coverage of the report, please follow this enlace

Survey Data

Who believes the Church should ordain women as deacons, according to recent surveys of Catholics in the United States conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University?


of leaders of religious orders (CARA 2018)


of Catholic women* (CARA 2018)


of directors of deacon formation (CARA 2019)


of bishops** (CARA 2019)

*An additional 21% of Catholic women wanted to learn more before answering
**79% of bishops believed: If authorized by the pope, it would be implemented in the U.S.

Free Resource

To support the informed and active participation of Catholics in our Church’s discernment, Discerning Deacons has created an introductory guide to the question of women and the diaconate that can be read in about 20 minutes.

Questions addressed:

  • What is at the heart of the vocation and ministry of deacons?
  • Who was St. Phoebe, the diakonos of Cenchreae?
  • What was the historical ministry of women who served as deacons?
  • How did the Second Vatican Council restore and renew the diaconate?
  • How is the Catholic Church discerning the question of women deacons today?

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