The wrong conversation?

Pia de Solenni, chancellor of the Diocese of Orange: "When we focus so narrowly on the question of women deacons we fail to see the ways Catholic women can -- and already do -- lead"

Pia de Solenni (image from Orange County Catholic)

Two years ago I was on a panel at the University of Notre Dame where a fellow presenter lamented the almost total absence of women in leadership in the church. Perhaps she did not read my bio or listen to my presentation. During the panel discussion, I finally had to interject that I was the chancellor of one of the largest dioceses in the country and fourth on the organization chart for the Diocese of Orange.

I was reminded of this exchange when Pope Francis, returning from his trip to North Macedonia and Bulgaria on May 7, gave his long-awaited, if somewhat indirect, response to the question of whether the Catholic Church would allow the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate. As a woman in leadership in the church, I think we are having the wrong conversation when we focus so narrowly on the question of women deacons that we fail to see the ways Catholic women can—and already do—lead.

The group the pope commissioned in 2016 to study the historical role of women deacons was unable to reach a consensus on a number of issues. Put simply, there are records from the early church of women being identified as deacons. But there is no conclusive evidence that the role of female deacons has ever been tied to the ordained sacramental role that male deacons exercise. In a conversation with women religious superiors on May 10, Pope Francis said any change to the diaconate must be grounded in revelation. “If the Lord didn’t want a sacramental ministry for women,” he said, “it can’t go forward.”

But Pope Francis also said that “there is a way of conceiving [the female diaconate] with a different vision to that of the male diaconate.” In other words, one could imagine women deacons serving in some roles traditionally fulfilled by male deacons but in a way that is detached from sacramental ordination. It is unclear, however, whether such a solution would bring about the greater equality between men and women in the church that many proponents of women deacons wish to see.

I worry, however, that by focusing so intensely on the question of women deacons, we miss the larger challenge facing our church. The church has a global mission to sanctify the entire world through her members. Most of that work will be done not by ordained ministers or the hierarchy, whether that includes more women or not, but by lay women and men. So long as we are focused on the diaconate, we are ignoring the reality articulated in the Second Vatican Council document “Lumen Gentium”: Our job as lay people is to go where the clergy cannot.

Every Catholic has the power to influence our culture, but too often the influence flows in the opposite direction. Catholic parents, for example, lament that neither they nor the church have the same pull on their children that the culture does. Instagram and “Game of Thrones” probably shape the values of young people more directly than all of the great homilists put together. The current sex abuse crisis suggest that the church herself is afflicted by the sins of the surrounding culture and is, in fact, a microcosm of that culture.

If Catholics want to have influence, even power, it seems to me that we would advance the conversation much more by talking about the role of the laity in the culture and in the world.

As it stands, the ordained vocations of permanent deacon, priest and bishop are held by a relatively small number of men. To take such a narrow vocation and then try to fit a general discussion about women into it seems myopic at best. Most men are called to live their relationship with Christ differently. Could not the same apply to all women without offending their equal dignity? Meanwhile, we leave the shaping of our culture, and in turn our families and even our church, to other men and women who have identified the real positions of influence: social media, politics, science, the arts, education and business.

Full story at America Magazine.


  1. Women who want ordination really just want institutional power. Little do such fake feminists (they are really masculinists because they envy masculine power and traits) realize the real power of women is in being mothers to their children. That’s true feminism: wifehood and motherhood.

    • I have to remind myself every day when I want more recognition, “Do small things with great love.”, the teaching of all the Sts. Teresas, including St. Therese, and they came from many backgrounds.

      • Anonymous says

        Love to you Anne T.
        When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” Luke 17:10
        This link has the original Litany of Humility and the longer version from Cardinal Sarah’s book The Power of Silence. Life changing book if you allow it to be.

        • Thank you for the link Anonymous. The prayer is a much needed one, and God bless and protect Cardinal Sarah, and you too.

          • And in this month of June,

            a Happy and blessed feast day of St. Charles Lwanga and Companions to all the faithful.

            May the Sacred Heart of Jesus make our heart like unto his.

            To all the fathers out there, whether spiritual or physical, may the God Lord guide you in your fatherhood and keep you in his protection. Have a wonderful Father’s Day!

  2. For the most part, those wanting a larger role ‘for women in the Church” mean women ordained to the priesthood. Since they refuse to see this as an impossibility, they continue to whine and complain about their hurt feelings. Get over it already!

  3. Sounds like it’s coming: Women deacons=priestesses in waiting?

  4. Your point is well made, but don’t be fooled. The issue of women deacons is as much, if not more, about politics, power, and breaking the perceived “glass ceiling” than about theology and Christian service. Awareness raising may not be enough.

  5. Women serve in very senior positions in the church, Chancellor, Faith Formation, Finance, school principals, etc.. It’s not about being deacons or priests. They are there to do a job for which they are more than qualified. It also leaves the job of pastoring to those who are ordained to do that.

  6. Trumpovsky says

    Do not fret about such things. While there may be deaconesses some day…there will never be women priests in the Catholic Church. St Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis have spoken very clearly about this issue and both have said “nyet” to women priests. It is highly doubtful a future Pope would overturn the teaching of these two Popes.

    • Anonymous says

      The priesthood is reserved to men. It is considered an infallible teaching of the Church.

    • Brian D Kelly says

      Deaconesses? In the early Church there were. They assisted female catechumens in baptism by immersion. They did not baptize, nor preach, nor distribute Holy Communion, nor read the gospel as deacons do. The sacramental diaconate, however, is part of Holy Orders, the first step if one is to go on to the priesthood wherein the ordained receive the character of Orders in order to offer Mass and hear confessions, The fulness is in the episcopacy wherein the priest has the power to ordain (consecrate) other priests. So, there can never be female deacons in the sacramental order. It’s settled, de fide. There must be proper matter for a sacrament and for the diaconate one must be a baptized male.

  7. How awful that the New Mass so often scandalized my kids with the spectacle of women and/or girls in the sanctuary, garbed in cassock and surplice, busying themselves with most of the liturgical action while the “presider” sits and watches like an invalid. This, when there is NO PATH to the sacerdotal priesthood for them … and never will be. Women have a vital, non-liturgical role in winning souls for Christ: by following our Blessed Mother’s example.

  8. The Wrong Choice of Venue?: Notre Dame. America Magazine. Deviated Wing.

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