August 17, 2016

For immediate release

U.S. Catholic Priests: Ordaining woman permanent deacons will enhance pastoral ministry to God's people

In its national assembly held in Seattle, in June 2013, the Association of United States Catholic Priests passed a resolution to promote the ongoing discussion of the ordination of women as permanent deacons and agreed to ask the U.S. bishops to give public support to the restoration of the first millennium practice of ordaining women as permanent deacons.

The request to the bishops was made in the form of a letter from the AUSCP to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The letter to Archbishop Kurtz and his fellow bishops stated the priests’ concern for pastoral ministry:

“Many of priests find ourselves very stretched in ministry with more and more demands being made on us daily, if not from the community, then from the institution itself. One way to help assist us in our duties would be to allow the ordination of women to the diaconate, a practice that was familiar to the early church, in order to help us better serve the people entrusted to us. Many dioceses already have male permanent deacons, however, we believe that reopening the ministry to women, would provide the communities we serve, and us, with a much needed approach to ministry that would further the mission of the church and its ministers.”

In recent weeks, new details have emerged from the Vatican.

• In May, Pope Francis announced plans to create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons. The fact that the matter is open for discussion is seen as a signal of historic openness regarding church practice of an all-male clergy.

• In August, the Vatican announced that "after intense prayer and mature reflection," Pope Francis has established a “Commission of Study on the Diaconate of Women” and named 12 members to it — six women, six men — including one American, Professor Phyllis Zagano, who teaches at Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y. 

The developing news was welcomed by the AUSCP “with praise” for the openness of discussion “and prayers that the Holy Spirit will guide the members of the commission.”

The AUSCP concerns include the enhancement of pastoral ministry, restoration of early Church practice, just treatment of women, and acknowledgement that having men and women deacons as parish administrators would be more effective than closing parishes and establishing super parishes.

The AUSCP statement also makes reference to the position adopted by FutureChurch regarding the “mission opportunities and pastoral needs” of the Church, concluding that “local Churches should be empowered to call forth women for the ordained diaconia of liturgy, word and charity.”

Following as the text of the AUSCP Statement and the text of a 2014 AUSCP Letter to the USCCB

Text of Statement

We who are entrusted with leadership on behalf of the one thousand members of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, welcome with praise and prayer the recent decision by Pope Francis to establish a commission regarding the possible ordination of women deacons. We praise the openness of this discussion and offer our prayers that the Holy Spirit will guide the members of the commission. We are pleased to learn that Professor Phyllis Zagano from Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, is one of the six women who have been named to serve with six men as members of the commission.

We believe the ordination of women deacons will enhance pastoral ministry and serve the common good of the People of God.  Our association has supported the ordination of women to the diaconate with a resolution adopted in our 2013 assembly, and with a letter to the U.S. bishops in 2014. We noted that many priests “find ourselves very stretched in ministry with more and more demands being made on us daily . . . . One way to help assist us in our duties would be to allow the ordination of women to the diaconate, a practice that was familiar to the early church, in order to help us better serve the people entrusted to us.”

Today we continue to speak on behalf of our members serving in dioceses and religious communities with day-to-day ministerial joys and challenges. Our experience leads us to believe that having men and women deacons as parish administrators would be more effective than closing parishes and establishing super parishes.

We value the position of FutureChurch and other organizations of Catholics concerned about pastoral ministry. FutureChurch states that many women who lead parishes and serve as catechists and chaplains and in other ministries should be ordained. “In light of mission opportunities and pastoral needs, local Churches should be empowered to call forth women for the ordained diaconia of liturgy, word and charity.”

The Leadership Team: On behalf of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests

Father Louis Arceneau, Congregation of the Mission

Father Bob Bonnot, Diocese of Youngstown

Father Kevin Clinton, Archdiocese of St. Paul - Minneapolis;

Father David Cooper, Archdiocese of Milwaukee;

Father Dan Divis, Diocese of Cleveland

Father Frank Eckart, Diocese of Toledo;

Father Jim Kiesel, Archdiocese of Baltimore

Father Daniel Ramirez­ Portugal, Diocese of Laredo

Father Joe Ruggieri, Diocese of Youngstown

Father Jim Schexnayder, Diocese of Oakland.

Father Bernie Survil, Diocese of Greensburg;

Father Clarence Williams, National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus

Sister Jackie Doepker, a member of the Franciscan Sisters, Tiffin, Ohio, serves the AUSCP as Executive Secretary. Email office@uscatholicpriests.org / The Association of US Catholic Priests, 200 St. Francis Avenue, Tiffin OH 44883-3458 

 

Text of 2014 letter

March 10, 2014

Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz President, USCCB
P.O. Box 1073
Louisville, KY 40203

In its national assembly held in Seattle, WA, in June of 2013, the Association of United States Catholic Priests (AUSCP) passed a resolution to promote the ongoing discussion of the ordination of women as permanent deacons in our Catholic Church. We agreed to ask the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to give public support to the restoration of the first millennium practice of ordaining women as permanent deacons.

The AUSCP began in 2011 when 27 priests from 11 states representing 15 dioceses met at St. Mary’s Seminary, Mundelein, IL, to establish an association to provide a support to brother priests and create a collegial voice so that priests can speak in a united way. The AUSCP’s more than 1,000 members are eager to celebrate and implement the visionary concepts of the Second Vatican Council.

As such a liaison organization, we write to you in the hope that you will petition the Holy See to allow women to function in our Church as permanent deacons. We see it as a matter of justice: justice for priests and justice for women.

First, justice for priests. AUSCP was founded to support the clergy of the US, to address their concerns and needs, and to support them in their ministry. The declining number of priests and the increasing burden of providing adequate ministry to our people make ordaining women to the diaconate an obvious option for addressing that issue.

Second, justice for women who are our associates and partners in providing ministry. Women have traditionally done 80‐85% of the ministry of our Church. Since the restoration of

the permanent diaconate following the Second Vatican Council male candidates were chosen among those who were already performing diaconal service. We see it as a matter of justice that women who likewise are leaders in such ministries not be deprived of the graces of the Sacrament.

Many of priests find ourselves very stretched in ministry with more and more demands being made on us daily, if not from the community, then from the institution itself. One way to help assist us in our duties would be to allow the ordination of women to the diaconate, a practice that was familiar to the early church, in order to help us better serve the people entrusted to us. Many dioceses already have male permanent deacons, however, we believe that reopening the ministry to women, would provide the communities we serve, and us, with a much needed approach to ministry that would further the mission of the church and its ministers.

This issue of justice is important for the baptized women of our Church. The recently (2013) published study of William V. D’Antonio, Michele Dillon, and Mary Gautier entitled “American Catholics in Transition” indicates a decline in Mass attendance by women from 52% to 31% over the past 25 years. The authors indicate that such is a result of perceived injustice to women on the part of the leadership of our Church.

There is also the fact that not everyone is comfortable in being ministered to by men. Incidentally, it was this issue of greater comfort for women being baptized as adults in the early Church that brought about the ordination of women deacons originally.

We consider it to be unwise to close parishes and replace them with super ones which diminish the possibility of effectively functioning communities. Every time a parish is suppressed, the history of that community is lost, thereby weakening the history of the Church itself. We suggest that it might be more effective in our evangelization ministry to have deacons – men and women ‐ as administrators of parishes which seemingly must be closed.

We believe that our request to you and your fellow Bishops is consistent with Pope Benedict XVI’s observation the women deserve a greater role in “governance and ministry” in the Church, and with Pope Francis’ judgment that “It is necessary to broaden opportunities for a stronger presence of women in our Church.”

The AUSCP is eager to see this question of ordaining women deacons soon become part of the discussion by the U.S. Bishops Conference. It is our prayer that the Holy Spirit may guard and guide you in the awesome responsibility of leading our Church closer to God’s Kingdom.

Sincerely in Christ,

Reverend David E. Cooper Chair