Last year’s Synod on the Family included mention of a bishop or two proposing that the Church consider ordaining women deacons. As a deacon, I honestly found this quite troubling because I think the alternate proposal is a more pressing matter of justice and necessity: ordaining men as deaconesses.
In the modern Church, apart from a few places in Eastern and Orthodox communities, it is deaconesses—not deacons--who are few and far between, barely known and noticed by my fellow Catholics. It’s time to restore this venerable order to its former glory and renown by ordaining men as deaconesses. Here are seven compelling reasons for doing so.
1. Male deaconesses would help alleviate the existing shortage of female deaconesses
Who could possibly deny the real impact male deaconesses would have on the current shortage of diaconessal ministry in the Church today? With so many pressing pastoral needs that male deaconesses could meet, why is the Church even taking time to ponder whether this would be a good idea? Let’s just do it! The People of God need the support of ordained male deaconesses. Women deaconesses surely would welcome faithful men among their ranks to help serve the Church.
2. Men can do as good a job as women deaconesses
Just as in ancient times, today the function of deaconesses is sorely needed and could be accomplished just as well by men as by women. Caring for the physical needs of poor and sick women, helping instruct women in the faith, and maintaining order on the “women’s” side of the liturgical assembly are obvious equal-opportunity tasks for both men and women. But we could take a gigantic leap forward in deaconess-equality by permitting male deaconesses to assist at women’s baptisms by immersion according to the ancient rite. Imagine the symbolic impact of having a male deaconess preserve the modesty and propriety of unclothed female catechumens as they receive immersion baptism and its various anointings! This would be a crucial and progressive step forward in the Church.
3. Men can image the Bride of Christ as well as women can
Both men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. Thus men can “image” the Church, the Bride of Christ, just as well as women can. Standing in the person of the Bride of Christ should not be limited to ordained female deaconesses and religious sisters. These roles should be open equally to men if we are to avoid any semblance of inferiority.
4. A man was the first witness of the Resurrection of Jesus
Contrary to popular belief about the deaconess-like, servant-hearted “women at the tomb” being the first to encounter the risen Christ, scripture scholars now contend that it’s clear that men saw Jesus first. The Gospel evidence is incontrovertible. In Matthew’s Gospel, twomale guards are placed at the sealed stone entry to the tomb, and they are the first “shaken with fear” when the angel rolls back the stone. In Mark and Luke, the women meet a young man (in Mark) or two men (in Luke) who announce to the women that Jesus is risen. In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene goes to get Peter and John, who enter the empty tomb first. All this makes clear that men can have an “apostolic” ministry to, for, and with women, and therefore should be ordained as deaconesses.
5. Jesus never said men couldn’t be deaconesses
The example of Jesus Himself is completely inclusive—for example, He never said anywhere in Scripture that men were forbidden to be among the women, like Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus providing for Jesus and the disciples “out of their resources” (cf. Luke 8:1-3).
6. The Church used to permit male deaconesses, but this was unjustly suppressed
One of the key bits of evidence for male deaconesses is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, which mentions the deaconess named Phoebe. While some actually claim that, since the Greek word for “deaconess” hadn’t even been coined yet, Phoebe is referred to merely as a “deacon” and should be counted among deacons, I propose that a different injustice was committed by the scribes who made the earliest copies of Paul’s letter—these bigoted early Christian chroniclers wanted to suppress the male diaconessate of the early Church, and thus changed the holy deaconess’s name from his real name, Phoebus, to a spurious “Phoebe.” That’s right—they merely made it appear as though the male deaconess Phoebus was really a woman. Downright underhanded oppression.
7. It’s sexist to exclude men from this ecclesiastical order
The bottom line is simply this—it’s sexism. What a terrible injustice to keep men who are experiencing a real calling—a real vocation—to being a deaconess from fulfilling that call from God to serve the Church in this way.
Come on, Church! We can do better than that!
First, ordain a male deaconess.
Then we can talk about “women deacons.”