Canadian Archbishop Calls for Female Deacons

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  October 7, 2015   

Abp. Paul-André Durocher wants women to have more leadership roles in the Church

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ROME, October 7, 2015 ( - Canadian archbishop Paul-André Durocher is calling for women to be ordained to the diaconate.

Head of Gatineau, Quebec, Abp. Durocher said at the Synod on the Family's Tuesday press conference, "I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the Church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

But paragraph 1536 of the Catechism teaches, "Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate."

Pope St. John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, wrote:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

The following year, Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, acting then as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, confirmed that the Holy Father presented this teaching as infallible doctrine.

The Church uses the term "ordination" in reference to the sacrament of Holy Orders, to which the diaconate belongs. The possibility of a non-sacramental ministry open to lay women sharing the equivocal title "diaconate" would not be conferred by ordination but by mere appointment.

Catholics are therefore left wondering whether Abp. Durocher meant by "diaconate" merely a lay ministry; if so, why use the term "ordination"? Others wonder if by diaconate he meant a partaking of Holy Orders; if so, then why bring up for consideration what the Church teaches is an impossibility?

In 2013, Cdl. Gerhard Müller, current prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responded to a proposal by German cardinal Walter Kasper for a lay ministry of deaconesses. Müller dismissed the notion with the words, "One would have to prove that a specific, non-sacramental ministry for women analogous to that of women deacons in the Early Church was necessary today." He pointed out that women were already doing charitable and catechetical work besides being pastoral assistants. He then confirmed that, according to Church teaching, only men could validly be ordained as deacons.

Archbishop Durocher caused further controversy at yesterday's presser when he was dismissive of Monday’s address by the Relator General, Cdl. Peter Erdő of Hungary.

Erdő's clear and Catholic address was salted with multiple magisterial statements defending Catholic orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Durocher claimed, "Cardinal Erdő's comments [from Monday] are his own and represent just one perspective."

Archbishop Durocher seems to be at odds with several issues raised by Cardinal Erdő.

Durocher made a point yesterday of expressing an openness to giving Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried, something Cdl. Erdő carefully qualified in his Monday address.

Durocher, speaking hypothetically of a divorced and remarried person, paraphrased an unnamed cardinal — some believe it to be Cdl. Kasper — said, "He would say that that person still cannot approach Communion not because of the possible state of mortal sin that they would be in but because of the incompatibility between the rupture of marriage, which is a sacrament of covenant, and the reception of Communion, which is also a sacrament of covenant."

In his Monday opening address, Cdl. Erdő rejected the practice of giving Communion to the divorced and remarried without their conversion, which requires a change of lifestyle. Erdő specifically stated, "[T]he reason remarried divorcees cannot receive the Eucharist is not because of the failure of their first marriage but because of the cohabitation in their second relationship." He added, "God's mercy offers forgiveness to sinners but requires conversion."

Archbishop Durocher presented the Church's position that an adulterous couple is objectively in a state of mortal sin, meaning their actions are not in accord with the teachings of Christ. He qualified this statement, however, with the moral principle that a person with an improperly formed conscience might not be in a state of sin subjectively, that is, not be guilty of their sinful actions because they don't know any better.

This argument has been used by more liberal theologians to downplay the gravity of mortal sin, as well as claims that tend to muddle the idea of "conscience."

Durocher then asked, "What is meant by informed conscience, what is meant by an erroneous conscience — one that is making a mistake. ... This is the whole issue around conscience and what is the place of personal conscience, of informed conscience, of a healthy conscience, in making these kinds of decisions."

In his Monday address, Cardinal Erdő rejected the pastoral practice of gradualism that left couples living in adulterous relationships with erroneously formed consciences. He pointed out, "Between truth and falsehood, between good and bad, there is no law of gradualism."

Archbishop Durocher did clarify that even if a person erroneously believes he's morally able to receive Communion, he might choose to refrain so as to avoid scandalizing others by his objectively adulterous lifestyle.


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