The article "Backing women deacons" [News, Sept. 27] contains a statement from a canon lawyer that " 'there is no possibility that women will ever be ordained to the diaconate' because canon law forbids it." It is true that current canon law forbids it, but that is irrelevant as to a future decision by the Holy Father. To conclude that there is no possibility is quite a leap.
The question of whether women can be validly ordained as deacons is a doctrinal one, not canonical. The real question is whether the prohibition of such an ordination is, when applied to diaconate, repeating an unchangeable doctrinal teaching or, alternatively, expressing a legal prohibition that can be altered -- something that has happened in many areas of law in the past.
In fact, recent amendments to the canons by Pope Benedict XVI suggest that this is a legal prohibition and that a change in this matter is quite possible. Bishop Emil Wcela, a retired auxiliary bishop from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, addresses this question in the article when he notes that, three years ago, a significant paragraph was added to distinguish the diaconate from the episcopate or priesthood. The key role of bishops and priests as iconic representations of "Christ the Head," which is one of the principal arguments for a male priesthood, was explicitly removed from the description of deacons.
Even as early as 2002, the International Theological Commission anticipated the change in canon law by emphasizing "the clear distinction between the ministries of the Bishops and Priests on the one hand and the Diaconal ministry on the other."
Sometimes, claiming that something is permanently prohibited is less than helpful, because not enough has been said.
Msgr. John Alesandro, West Hempstead
Editor's note: The writer is a priest in residence at the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle and an internationally recognized expert on canon law.
Of course Bishop Emil Wcela is correct to endorse women as deacons in the Catholic Church. That is one step toward the reasonable goal of allowing women full participation in the life of the church, as priests, bishops, cardinals and pope.
The rationale against the recognition of women as equals to men is that none of Christ's original disciples were women so that tradition must be upheld. The lack of logic to that argument is transparent. None of Christ's original apostles were Latin Americans or Eskimos or New Yorkers either. The same fractured logic should exclude them too.
It is refreshing to see that someone inside the church takes a small step to reasonable dialogue about this issue.
I write this as a daughter of the director of the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Rockville Centre for many years.
Bishop Emil Wcela, yet again, raises the interesting prospect of women serving as permanent deacons. Over the years I have listened to the rumble of discontent from women about ordination and have been disheartened that the discussion usually is centered around power or governance. I always think, get back to me when the discussion is about service.
Now, yet another phrase has entered the arena: "official recognition." Now we have to be recognized? Is this what women's lives in the church have come to? I don't think recognition was what Christ had in mind. I think it may have been service, evangelization, selflessness.
Susan Byrne Picciano, Melville