Women, Church and the voice of God
Westport’s Holy Trinity Church was in joyful bloom on Sunday last for the ordination to the diaconate of Olivia Margaret Grace Downey. She will serve in the (Anglican) Aughaval Group of Parishes. Deacon Downey will be welcomed wherever she goes. Her message is the same as her rector’s, Rev Val Rogers – Jesus is alive and well on planet earth.
Meanwhile across the ‘divide’ in the Catholic Church things are a little different. The ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ lesson is currently being learned in the Catholic Diocese of Killaloe over plans to introduce the order of diaconate for men and men only.
A deacon is a minister who can carry out baptisms, marriages and funerals, and read the Gospel at Mass in Catholic churches. Any baptized person can carry out these functions. Many have done most of them for years in island parishes, without ever being a deacon.
Following a diocesan ‘consultation’ a Killaloe Diocesan Plan was launched last year. Then Bishop Kieran O’Reilly formally announced the introduction of a male diaconate in a pastoral letter. Many women were so incensed that they responded by erecting posters on church notice boards citing their opposition to the plan. The pastoral letter was selective with Scriptural quotes, using ‘male’ diaconate quotes but chose to ignore Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2.
The Bishop also chose to ignore Church Tradition (yes, with a capital ‘T’). Scripture and Tradition (the lived life of the people of God in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit) are the two pillars on which Catholic theology rests its case. The Catholic Church accommodated women deacons for centuries. Over time with the demise of the Celtic influence and the rise of the Roman ‘monarchical’ style of church, Rome’s word became Gospel. Some would say that it replaced the Gospel.
In fairness to Pope Francis he is trying to bring ‘Rome’ back to its Gospels roots and away from the pomp and ceremony. The Clare women adopted the same in response to their Bishop. They faced up to the problem after their input to the listening exercise was completely ignored.
Kathleen McDonald, one of the women, said, “When you consider the enormity of service being done by women, it is incomprehensible to introduce a level of ministry that excludes women. It is very insulting,” she said.
The Irish Catholic reports:
Kathleen McDonald said she was “absolutely livid, very hurt and very angry.” Rita O’Brien from Scariff said the introduction of the permanent diaconate “was a personal insult.”
A spokesman for the diocese, Fr Brendan Quinlivan, said that the bishop was “trying to explore all different kinds of ministries available to us” and it was not the bishop’s “intention to be discriminatory or hurtful.”
“We wish to continue to develop and grow lay ministry in the diocese and are investing heavily in training and formation of people to take on ministerial and leadership roles, including appointing three female lay pastoral workers,” Fr Quinlivan said.
“We are fully committed to exploring where that will lead us and are equally committed to exploring other kinds of ministries that the Church allows us to do. One of those is the permanent diaconate and we hope to see where that brings us but it is not a case of ‘either, or’ but ‘both’.”
How often have Bishops to be told that the people of God are not happy with the status of women in the Catholic Church? Why are they afraid of responding positively to women? The clustering of parishes as a ‘manpower’ (what a word!) solution is only Band-Aid theology. It deepens the frustration, delays the inevitable and certainly puts the promptings of the Holy Spirit on the back burner. Perhaps it is because some Bishops think they and they alone are the harbingers of the Holy Spirit.
Meanwhile our beloved Anglican brothers and sisters continue to lead the way. For Deacon Downey our prayer is: “May he who began the good work in you bring it to perfection in Christ.”
Women, Church and the voice of God