“This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience.”

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?

We will let you know as soon as print copies and e-books are published!

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.”

Common Questions

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.

News & Events

Read & Study

By Emil Wcela (America Media)

By Phyllis Zagano (Peeters Publishers Leuven)

By Luke Hansen (America Media)

By Círia Mees (Discerning Deacons)

By the National Association of Diaconate Directors

By Phyllis Zagano (National Catholic Reporter)

By Mary Katherine Tillman (Notre Dame Magazine)

By Erick Berrelleza and Phyllis Zagano (Review of Religious Research)

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.

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