Female Deacons

I have been asked by a Catholic lady: is a woman able to be ordained as a Deacon in the Catholic Church? I have done some minor research and I cannot find an answer. I know that the Anglicans have female Deacons. Can someone provide me with a definitive answer and, if women cannot be ordained as Deacons, inform me precisely why so I can respond in an informed and courteous manner.

Thanks as always for your expertise.

No, females are not allowed to be ordained deacons in the Catholic Church. Partly for the reasons that a priest can only be male. I’d do some research on it myself, but it’s midnight and I have to run to bed. :shrug:

EDIT: I decided not be a whippersnapping egghead and looked for some research:

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1577 “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.”66 The Lord Jesus chose men (ver) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.68 (551, 861, 862)

1570 Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way.55 The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all.56 Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.57 (1121)

1571 Since the Second Vatican Council the Latin Church has restored the diaconate “as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy,”58 while the Churches of the East had always maintained it. This permanent diaconate, which can be conferred on married men, constitutes an important enrichment for the Church’s mission. Indeed it is appropriate and useful that men who carry out a truly diaconal ministry in the Church, whether in its liturgical and pastoral life or whether in its social and charitable works, should “be strengthened by the imposition of hands which has come down from the apostles. They would be more closely bound to the altar and their ministry would be made more fruitful through the sacramental grace of the diaconate.”59 (1579)

God bless and good night. :thumbsup:

We used to have female deacons in the early Church. How else would they have baptized so many adult women in the old way? So I am not sure how well the argument against female priests really applies.

Female baptismal assistants were honorary deacons. The term did not have sacramental significance.

The church has many honorary rituals; for instance, there is a ceremony called the “Baptizing of the Bells”, where church bells are blessed. No body teaches that the bells were sacramentally cleansed of all sin!

Up until 1972, there was a “Major Order” of clergy, called the “Subdeacon”. The subdeacon had many of the same rights and responsibilities as a Deacon, but did not receive sacramental ordination. At most, woman baptismal assistants may have received a similar non-sacramental order.

Baptism does not require Holy Order for validity, and the Church has never considered the Baptism by a layperson (man or woman) to be anything less than a valid Baptism.

So there is no requirement that the Deaconess (which is a distinct role from a Deacon) were in Holy Orders just because they performed Baptisms.

The Orthodox Churches today retain Deaconess, in the same way the Early Church does, but, like the Early Church, do not consider them to be clergy, they do not perform the same liturgical roles as Deacons, nor are they ordained to Holy Orders.

I guess it depends upon what you mean by deacon. If that role is to be limited to assistance in the mass, then obviously it’s exclusively male. But I guess I was assuming people would use a broader definition of the vocation. For instance, female deacons could run various community and social programs in a parish. There are lots of roles a deacon could fulfill which are best suited for women. If you always define a deacon as a person who fulfill exclusively male roles, then I suppose you wouldn’t see the point in questioning why we could have female deacons. But consider the possible roles best suited for women that we currently don’t fill (but the early Church did use female deacons to fill).

They wouldn’t be a deacon if they didn’t assist the priest at Holy Mass, etc. There is no point to have woman “deacons” lead book club at a parish. All we need to call them is woman.

No we didn’t. That would be impossible. Woman cannot be ordained.

They were called “deaconesses” in the strictest sense of the word. They were not ordained deacons. They were given special privileges to baptize adult women at a time when full immersion baptism took place without clothing. Obviously, this would have been very scandalous to a man - especially a priest because of his calling - so they asked some reserved women to baptize in their place. They were also used at a time when men were not allowed to speak to any woman he was not married to. Once these practices fell out, so did the deaconesses. They were NEVER allowed to assist at Masses

“A deaconess does not bless, nor perform anything belonging to the office of presbyters or deacons, but only is to keep the doors and to minister to the presbyters in the baptizing of women on account of decency.”

For more information, here is a link from EWTN:


A deacon is a member of the clergy, a cleric; one who has received the sacrament of Holy Orders. Only baptized men can be ordained.

There are three levels of clerics, bishop, priest, and deacon; none are women.

The early Church “deputized” women for a specific function by the laying on of hands very much as the Church “deputizes” many people today to commission them for a specific purpose, i.e. lay evangelists (both male and female) These “deaconesses” were not recognized as clerics, but ministers with specific purposes. There are many times where the laying on of hands to symbolize a commissioning is done none of which are ordinations; remember the intent of the Bishop and the Church matters.

Once again: if you limit “deacon” to being a member of clergy who participate in the mass, then obviously there is no place for a female deacon. But clearly there once existed female deacons who were not those things, and the role was not limited to being ordained and helping in the mass.

I can well imagine a point where the Church expands the diaconate to include women who are not ordained as clergy, but fill other roles in parishes. We don’t have to do something like that, but my point is that such a thing is neither unthinkable or impossible. It has already been the case.

There is no point in doing so. Even if for some reason a crazy-out of mind-liberal Cardinal decides to do so, a new office (episcopate, cardiate, etc) would have to be created.

Once again: get the terminology correct, the diaconate is the sacred oprder of deacons, ordained clergy. If it is to be expanded, it would not include females, sorry.

To once again use the role of the “deaconess” this would not be an expansion of the diaconate. This would be a commissioning of lay ministers to do some type of duty.

Deacon Gary.

Deaconesses were utilized by St. Ephrem (i.e. MorEphrem ;)) in 4th century Syria. To my understanding, they were not ordained deacons but deacon is a sort of title (even today, in Arabic you call a seminarian Shamas which means deacon, whether or not they’ve been ordained - furthermore you can refer to individuals of minor orders, such as a subdeacon, as a deacon). They were used mostly in regards to preparing women for baptism, duties such as keeping the church clean and cantors in his choir. That being said, they did NOT enter the sanctuary or handle the Mysteries (unlike ordained deacons).

Is there a scholarly book (ie not a partisan yes/no) on Deaconesses? I support the idea of a Deaconess. I see no problem with women fulfilling some formal ministry role.

You do understand this is against the doctrinal teaching of the Church and is a mortal sin? Whether we personally support something or not, Church teaching trumps all. John Paul II said definitively that it is NOT within the Church’s power to ordain women. Jesus did not ordain women and we do not question that. JP2 was exercising his infallible ministry and it is in concrete. Anything else is heretical.

I’m not trying to out you on the board but I made the error once of not believing a Church doctrine and it was because of sheer ignorance of Church teaching. Once I realized I was gravely mistaken, I read about the teaching I didn’t know of and educated myself. I just wanted to make sure you understood. This is important because, when you say the Nicene Creed at Mass, you are publicly professing all the Church teaches. The same goes for receiving the Eucharist.




If I understand your point, I can agree. Women do serve in every corner of the globe now in “deaconess” roles. Who is the best known “deaconess” in the world of the last century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta? But remember what “deacon” means, a man who has been ordained to serve as “Christ the Servant”.

Women can and do serve in many important and formal roles inside of the Latin Rite Church, just not as ordained ministers. JPII has “closed the door” to this as stated by Pope Francis. JPII stated that the Church does not hold the authority to change what Jesus established, an all male ordained ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

Now if by formal ministry you are thinking that women have in the past, or can and one day work in ordained ministry, then you are completely mistaken.

I have to ask this question, what do you mean by “not a partisan yes/no” book? Do you feel a simple yes or no answer would make me a partisan? How is that charitable? The Church has stated no, is the Church partisan? Please correct me if I misunderstand your words.

Yes, that’s more-or-less the way it goes with Oriental deaconesses. There is absolutely no “ordination” in any way, shape, or form. It is, rather, an “election” (perhaps “selection” in common US English would be more apropos) and is actually quite similar to the reception of the vows of a novice sister. That’s not to say a deaconess is exactly a “nun” but in many way the role she assumes is quite similar.

I am simply trying to understand a historical phenomenon as to how the office of Deacon started and whether or not a like role had been played by women. I am not trying to start an argument or be excommunicated. There is no point having a Q&A forum if one cannot ask a question without having these sorts of rude insinuations made about someone’s loyalty to the Church. Actually forget I asked.

You’ve been given answers, there is a difference. The Diaconate was begun in the early days of the Church, Acts 6. The sacred order of deacons is a body of clergy members ordained by bishops and serve in ministerial duties in charitable works as well as sacramental; liturgical and secular. Deaconesses have never been ordained and therefore never received the sacrament of holy orders. They may have been, and there is evidence to support, commissioned by bishops by laying on of hands to work in specific ministries such as baptisms of women in the early Church; this was for modesty reasons.

Here is the difference; many people even today are commissioned by bishops through the laying on of hands who are not ordained. We have a very active couple in my area who are commissioned to be “lay evangelists” and this was done in a liturgical setting by the laying on of hands. This is in no way an ordination.

PS. The title of this thread is “Female Deacons”, this is not possible in the strict sense of the term so the response you got is what you inadvertently asked for.

The problem is using a tern reserved for ordained members of the clergy to refer to female ministers. If you do not want me to react to a heretical thought by the titles implication, then re-word your title then listen and think about the responses. All of the responses have been from what I saw charitable and well spoken. To put is more bluntly, do you hear women being called priestesses or bishopesses? No.

Now, what do you mean in a previous post by these two statements; “open to a formal role for women”, and “non-partisan”?

This subject is not political, please do not complicate it or try to make it political. The truth is the truth, women have never and will never be ordained clergy, and this is not possible. It would be like a priest consecrating potato chips and beer to at the Mass; after the consecration it would still be chips and beer on a table; matter is not proper.

Dcn. Gary

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