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Canon law expert backs having women deacons

Msgr. John A. Alesandro has come out in

Msgr. John A. Alesandro has come out in favor of ordaining women as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. (Dec. 13, 2000) Credit: Newsday/Dick Yarwood

A nationally recognized canon law expert who has also served as the No. 2 official in the Diocese of Rockville Centre has come out in favor of ordaining women as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church.

Msgr. John Alesandro said he believes canon law can be changed to allow women to be ordained as deacons, and he thinks it could possibly happen in the not-distant future.

"I would like to see women ordained as deacons," said Alesandro, a priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in West Hempstead. "I think the pope should consider this very seriously and make a change for the good of the church."

Alesandro's comments, in an interview and a letter to the editor of Newsday, follow a magazine article last week by another former high-level diocesan official, retired auxiliary bishop Emil Wcela.

In the Jesuit weekly "America," Wcela wrote that the time may have come for women deacons.

Deacons are ordained ministers who perform some of the same duties as priests, including preaching at Mass, witnessing marriages and conducting baptisms. They cannot preside over Mass, hear confessions or administer last rites.

Church scholars say women deacons existed in the early centuries of the Christian church, but when the permanent diaconate was restored following the 1960s Vatican II reforms, it was limited to men.

Some critics think the church will never approve women deacons and fear it would open the door to women priests. They say canon law prohibits women deacons.

Alesandro said that is true, but that canon law can be changed -- and some recent changes in canon law suggest more clearly than ever it is possible for women to serve as deacons.

Other church teachings, such as the all-male priesthood, do not appear to be changeable, he said.

Hofstra religious professor Phyllis Zagano, co-author of "Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future," said Alesandro's backing of women deacons is significant.

"That's an extremely important voice within our diocese from a canon lawyer and a man of deep prayers and understanding of the needs of our church," she said.

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