A Hofstra University religion professor known for advocating in favor of women deacons in the Roman Catholic Church has won an award from Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic group that is highly critical of the church hierarchy and its handling of the sex abuse scandal.
Phyllis Zagano was given the St. Catherine of Siena Distinguished Layperson of the Year Award at the group’s 10th annual conference held Sept. 14 in Boston. Zagano is one of only five Catholics to win the award from the group in its 10-year history.
“I was honored and a little bit overwhelmed,” Zagano said yesterday. “It was quite consoling that someone out there is listening.”
The group said it selected Zagano in part because of her work to “educate the hierarchy regarding the historical reality of the ordination of women to the diaconate and its possibilities for the future.”
Zagano, co-author of the book “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future,” argues that permanent deacons — both male and female — were common in the early Christian church. Deacons are ordained ministers who perform some of the same duties as priests, including preaching at Mass, witnessing marriages and conducting baptisms.
Permanent deacons were largely phased out about 800 years ago as the priesthood became stronger, but were restored in the 1960s as part of the Vatican II reforms. However, only men can be deacons.
In her acceptance speech, Zagano urged the Voice of the Faithful to push for the restoration of women deacons in the church, among other issues. “Don’t quit, because what you are doing is right and it is just,” she said.