Professor Phyllis Zagano and whether Jesus conferred the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper


[Update: Phyllis Zagano has made some comments below the article in reply. Also, Father John Zuhlsdorf has posted about this on his blog, and his commenters, particularly Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. offer some useful input over there. Zagano has not replied to an email inquiry about whether Fr. Augustine’s interpretation is correct, of her meaning in denying Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the apostles at the last supper.]

So, I found out some time in mid May that there was going to be a free internet course on the topic of “Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future” led by Phyllis Zagano, a writer for the dissident publication National Catholic Reporter and a Religious Studies faculty member at Hofstra University, which has a Catholic Studies program.

I am very interested in this topic, though my firm and considered opinion is that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer sacramental diaconal ordination on women. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis taught this definitively in regards to priestly ordination (in other words infallibly, which Zagano and others wrongly deny–and yes she did insist to me OS is not infallible teaching) particularly on the basis that Christ chose men only to be his apostles. The Apostles were those on whom he first conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, encompassing all the orders of deacon, priest and bishop, at the Last Supper. If Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is right that only men can be priests because that is Our Lord’s will and His Church is not authorized to do otherwise, then the same logic leads many of us to conclude that it also appears Our Lord desired to confer diaconal ordination on men only (the Apostles, first of all). The uncontested existence of a female role of deaconess in the early Church, similar to deacons but ministering to women, and commissioned by a similar but not necessarily identical ceremony, is not precisely evidence of the sacramentality of that role. Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the CDF, who clearly does not believe there have ever been or ever will be sacramentally ordained women deacons, said last year, “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 doesn’t think they are needed; I don’t either.

So I signed up for the course right away. In the first week of June Fr Zuhlsdorf came upon an announcement of the course and also promoted it on his blog. He and Zagano, while alphabetically close, have a long-running… antagonism.

The other faculty listed for the course include Deacon Bill Ditewig and Gary Macy; Ditewig (former USCCB permanent deacons staffer, banned from speaking on Catholic premises in the Diocese of Philadelphia due to his promotion of women deacons) stated in a comment on Father Z’s blog that he and Macy are not involved in the course but permitted Zagano to use their videos and writings. Besides their lectures, other audiovisual contributions include short statements in favor of “women’s diaconal ordination” including by Sister Sara Butler which sounds like it may be a cherry-picked excerpt from a longer talk (Zagano labels her Doctor Sarah Butler and uses a photo of her in lay clothes and congregation medallion) [Update: Phyllis Zagano states that her colleague Sara Butler gave permission to use the audio clip and supplied the photograph… but more about Sister Sara, who does not think exactly like Phyllis Zagano, at the end of the post] who thinks women deacons can be complementary to men deacons (she is the author of a book upholding the teaching that the Church cannot ordain women priests, and once gave a talk in the chancery auditorium of the Diocese of Madison on that topic which I attended. I remember she asked for a show of hands by the large audience the result of which seemed to surprise her: the clear majority felt that the main, strongest reason why only men can be priests is because a priest is an image of Christ who is the image of the Father and is the Bridegroom of the Church, whereas her opinion and that of a lesser number of the audience was that it was mainly because Jesus had simply opted for men only as apostles), and the rambling Dr Dennis Doyle of the University of Dayton who basically just endorses that it is “necessary”.

The teaching assistants listed for the online course seem to be mostly Hofstra University folks, though Professor Zagano stated to me that the course, which is announced on her faculty pages on the Hofstra website, is not part of the Hofstra Catholic Studies program. The actual management of the course on women deacons appears to be mainly by Phyllis Zagano and Anne Southwood, the Voice of the Faithful national Treasurer, also listed on the VOTF site as the contact person for “Universal Church Reform Initiatves”, whom Zagano cc’ed in email to me. [Update: Phyllis Zagano says Southwood, whose role in VOTF she does not contest, was the teaching assistant for one of the three discussion boards for the course, the one I was assigned to.] It is possible the Women Deacons course may have had its genesis in the milieu of the VOTF activist group, based on the minutes of this VOTF board of trustees meeting. [Update: although a program by Zagano with the same title has been promoted by VOTF and one of their national leaders is a teaching assistant for the online course, and Zagano used her Hofstra faculty web pages to promote this course, Phyllis Zagano states in a comment on this post that “the online seminar… has nothing to do with VOTF or the Hofstra Catholic Studies Program.”]

I have been far more busy for the last few weeks than I had anticipated (particularly due to participation in an evangelization effort of my parish), so although I logged into the course a few times and watched parts of some videos that I confess were kind of hard to get interested in, it was only almost 4 weeks into the course that I figured I would venture onto the discussion board. I posted some straightforwardly and not uncharitable expressions of what I believe as a Catholic.

This got a [fairly neutral] discussion board reply from Anne Southwood, and then an email note from Zagano objecting and complaining I hadn’t looked at the course materials and warning me it is not a blog (the only reason I could figure why she said this was that I had given my location as Madison, WI and that combined with my disbelief in women deacons made her think I might have some connection with Fr Z–indeed I do know and esteem him). And on the discussion board she leapt into debating everything I said, even, bafflingly, my belief that Jesus conferred the Sacrament of Orders on the Apostles when he said “do this in memory of me.” Professor Zagano really adamantly didn’t agree with that, and when I brought up the fact the Council of Trent said “If anyone says that by those words, ‘Do this for a commemoration of me,’ Christ did not institute the Apostles priests; or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema” she insisted repeatedly that this refers to the institution of the Eucharist but not the Sacrament of Holy Orders, about which Phyllis Zagano says to me in her latest email, “No one is doubting Jesus’ institution of Eucharist; this is not the same as ordination.” And according to her the Sacrament of Holy Orders originated in the 13th c?! Yet when there is record of laying hands on women in the early Church they were sacramentally ordained deacons?! She also insists all people can receive all sacraments unless prevented by canon law or natural law (I tried to reply sacraments use signs and I am personally convinced a man is the necessary sign for Holy Orders, an image of Christ who is the image of the Father). I could not entirely get a handle on what it is she believes, she was like someone who could not be reasoned with, the conversation made me grateful not to be a “theologian” but just a normal Catholic with fairly simple logical beliefs.

Professor Zagano responded to my protestation that I did not buy the books for the course because I am poor by offering to send them to me. That’s kind of her honestly–I said she may do so and gave my address and I would look at them. And because she was protesting that John Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Ratzinger encouraged her in researching this topic, I also assured her that while I strongly believe the Church will sooner or later get more specific that there is no such thing as women deacons, until then there is leeway for theological discussion and one cannot call her a heretic about that even though I think it is not prudent to promote the idea considering the serious harms of the broader women’s ordination movement. I also offered to send her my book A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today which I described and said she herself was mentioned in it in passing, and that when I sent this book to Cardinal Muller he had his secretary write back to me that the Prefect had reviewed the materials I sent and thanked me for my love for the religious life in the Church. Once she read that she banned me from the discussion board–on the grounds that I didn’t view the copious course materials (as if that bothered her so much about other participants–and I did view some of the materials).

Before I got locked out of the discussion, the final week discussion topic just beginning was something like, what are the reasons why women deacons are necessary?

My last email to her is this (it is easy to skip past if you do not want to read the whole thing):

Dear Professor Zagano, I am content that I have tried to participate appropriately and I am sorry that you have not wanted discussion group participation of someone expressing a typical Catholic belief about these matters–what I have said is typical of the beliefs of all the ordinary local Catholics I know, and our priests, and is typical of what we teach the children (I mentioned I am a catechist). I have found your and other participants’ ideas surprising and there was not much opportunity to get to know anyone or talk about that. As I mentioned, time is a huge factor in viewing the substantial amount of seminar materials, I did indeed view some though not necessarily to the end of them!

Below find a reply to the discussion board which I tried to post only to find you have opted to ban me from. I will send you my book and look forward to looking through what you may care to send me.

Dear Professor Zagano, I don’t want to get you wrong, do you believe something different than what I believe as a Catholic that the Sacramental Priesthood of Jesus Christ was conferred on the Apostles at the Last Supper and handed on by them sacramentally in unbroken apostolic succession? It is obvious Catholics do not believe the Sacrament of Holy Orders was invented by scholastic theologians in the 13th century, who wrote about it and developed doctrine further. The Eastern Orthodox and the Catholics both alike have seven sacraments. And the definition I quote from the Council of Trent is quite clearly about Jesus ordaining the apostles as priests at the Last Supper when he said “do this in memory of me”, countering the protestant rejection of that belief and rejection of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Do you not believe the sacramental grace of Holy Orders was objectively received by the Apostles then and has continued to be passed on in unbroken succession since then? Assertions that at some time hands were laid on women are very different from evidence that women validly received the Sacrament of Orders–like evidence there was a wedding is  not always evidence that the Sacrament of Matrimony was validly received, which was my intent in mentioning marriage tribunals.

I am trying to pay attention to what you are saying to me, and your assertion that all people are able to receive all sacraments if not prevented by canon law or natural law helps me to see why we have different ideas about this. Beyond and related to the fact Jesus chose men only to be his 12 Apostles, I believe, like so many other ordinary Catholic believers, that a woman is not the sign necessary for Holy Orders. Let me explain.

Sacraments use signs and make present the grace which they signify. With baptism, water is a necessary sign, with the Eucharist, bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ, with Matrimony there is a man and a woman. With Holy Orders the man himself being ordained is a sign, an image of Christ who is Himself the image of the Father (“he who sees me sees the Father”), and who is the Bridegroom of the Church and head of the body the Church. A woman cannot be an image of a father or a bridegroom, and that is not a defect! Indeed in the bride-Church-body she is lovingly united with Christ the head, not cut off at all from the flow of grace, and integrally participating in the worship offered to the Father by Christ. She is not lacking any grace needed by herself or the Church on account of not receiving the Sacrament of Orders! She humanly has a fine capacity for grace (Our Lady was perfectly “full of grace” unlike any other mere human ever, yet without having received the Sacrament of Orders!), but is not able to be the sign that the Sacrament of Orders requires–a man. And you will have to agree, it is not a defect that a woman is not a man! Nor does she have to do everything men do in order to have dignity or be holy! As a Christian she is a member of and as a woman an image of the Church which Vatican II calls the universal sacrament of salvation. It will serve God and our neighbor well if we are lovingly ecclesial women.

Rice cakes and pomegranate juice are not able to be the signs required for valid consecration of the Eucharist. Changes in canon law cannot change that. That is not to denigrate them or call them inedible or unsuitable for Christians. The point is, sacraments use particular signs. I really honestly disbelieve that a woman is the sign suitable to Holy Orders. I say this as a simple believing Catholic, a non theologian, this is my sense of the matter and I accept that you do not agree with me at this time.

Her email replying to this begins in a huff, “The event is not a free-for-all blog-fest…” responds to my comments on the institution of the priesthood “No one is doubting Jesus’ institution of Eucharist; this is not the same as ordination” and ends “I think you need a great deal of time to study the course materials and especially the 2014 ITC document on Sensus fidei. Good luck with your interests.” Free for all blog fest? Is that what my expressions of Catholic beliefs were? Although I have not been blogging much lately and quite honestly had no intentions related to blogging, since I have been ejected from the discussion board I now do take the idea from her to blog.

I had a strange “chaotic” impression of Phyllis Zagano‘s theological thinking. The Faith is orderly and beautifully rational… until you start to mess with it or feel like you have to make it up yourself. After 8am Saturday Mass we pray the Stations of the Cross each week, and I took the opportunity today to ask other Catholics present if they ever heard of a Catholic denying that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles when he said “do this in memory of me.” They said no, and one woman said, “that doesn’t even make sense!” and added, “we should pray for her.” [Update: after Sunday Mass I also asked our permanent deacon at the Cathedral Parish, Ray Lukasec, about this. He was surprised by the question and he too said that no, he had never heard of any Catholics denying that Jesus conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when he said “do this in memory of me”,–since, he said firmly, that is what the Church teaches. He also agreed the high likelihood is that the same reasoning of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church lacks authority for sacramental ordination of women will eventually be explicitly extended to the question of women deacons.]

The sensus fidei–who has it? Does it belong to me or you or him or her? We need faith enlightening sound reason, and to think with the Church, “For the Church is, by the will of Christ, teacher of the truth” according to Vatican II. The ITC document concludes, “The sensus fidei is closely related to the ‘infallibilitas in credendo’ that the Church as a whole has as a believing ‘subject’ making its pilgrim way in history.”

Why do practically all believers in women’s ordination seem to have different basic beliefs about the Sacrament of Holy Orders than the rest of us? The one who believes in some form that women deacons might be possible and seems most soundly orthodox is one whom I mentioned is in fact featured in an audio clip in Phyllis Zagano’s Women Deacons online course SEEMING to endorse sacramental women deacons, Sister Sara Butler (they know each other and have discussed these things in person; Dr Gary Macy’s summary reveals “Butler concluded that the evidence did not support the revival of an ordained deaconate for women, but that there was no obstacle to an unordained ministry of women.”), who believes female deacons were never identical with male deacons, says women can’t simply be ordained into the current Permanent Diaconate, and isn’t an activist for female ordination. Sister Sara Butler further says, “Women want to have the right to exercise jurisdiction and make decisions, and that has always been tied for centuries to ordination. People like Phyllis Zagano want to be able to preach and be judges in the canonical tribunal. They want power, to put it boldly. They don’t think men alone should exercise this kind of office. It seems clear to me the Lord himself gave it to men, used a man as a model for it and it’s a male responsibility, not some elite privilege.”

A true and loving bride of Christ is not in competition with Him or His deacons, priests and bishops. The Church is the bride of Christ, and how could I believe the sensus fidei of the Church would assert the “necessity” of female deacons?

Oh why do I bother, Professor Zagano will never pass me in this course. I am no theologian.


38 Responses to Professor Phyllis Zagano and whether Jesus conferred the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper

  1. Dear Elizabeth, You have misrepresented much of what I have said and done, to the point of libeling me and the Teaching Assistant for your Discussion Board #3, Anne Southwood. I cannot answer your upsetment point by point, but know that Sara Butler provided her audio and photo, and that she was misquoted in the Chicago Tribune article from which you took her purported words. Nearly 300 persons on five continents have participated in the online seminar, which has nothing to do with VOTF or the Hofstra Catholic Studies Program. There is nothing in my work or personal beliefs that is opposed to Church teaching. I am especially concerned that you find no need for women’s ministry, and regret you have misunderstood so much of what has transpired. I wish you the best. Phyllis Zagano

    • Dear Professor Zagano, I have not tried to misrepresent you or Anne Southwood. I will make a note in my post that you say your course has nothing to do with VOTF; I already had included in my post that you told me it is not part of Hofstra Catholic Studies Program. I have attended a talk by and then afterward sat and talked with Sister Sara Butler (as I recall we had a conversation mostly about St Edith Stein and religious vocation) and the way she thinks seems rather different from how you think. She was very comfortable with the complementarity of the sexes. I am not sure how to verify your claim that she was misquoted in the Chicago Tribune article. It’s true she used to be a women’s ordination promoter, and possibly she does believe there may have been a sacramental but complementary and distinct female form of diaconate (a more interesting and more plausible idea than others I have seen advanced, though I do doubt it), but Gary Macy who is listed as a faculty member of your course wrote in a summary of an event you and Sara Butler participated in in 2012 that “Butler concluded that the evidence did not support the revival of an ordained deaconate for women, but that there was no obstacle to an unordained ministry of women”. I continue to not know what to make of your denying Jesus our High Priest conferred the grace of the Sacrament of Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper.

      Women are involved in so many apostolates or ministries or works of mercy, some traditional for women, for instance I am a catechist, some new opportunities, Sr Sara Butler is even a seminary professor, another women was just named rector of a pontifical university in Rome. I think it is especially as a woman celibate for the kingdom of God (privately vowed) that I enjoy the complementarity with the ordained men who are conformed to Christ by the Sacrament of Orders. I guess I value this more than a power role. I didn’t grow up with a strong sense of femininity and growing in my Catholic faith and being active in the Church has unexpectedly made me value and enjoy a lot more being a woman and find that vastly more meaningful. Recently some experiences have made me reflect deeply about the beauty of the Church when the parts of the Body work together in an ordered way, how very good it is even if our role is not the most “important” one, but we are not even thinking of that when we see the beauty.

      I wish you all true good on earth and in heaven.

    • what kind of word is “upsetment”?

  2. Dear Elizabeth:

    Because you have neither read nor studied the materials, you cannot understand the historical and theological distinctions and errors in your statement:

    “Jesus conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when He said “do this in memory of me,”​”

    You persist in slandering and libeling me, attempting to damage my good name. You are quite seriously in violation of more than church law.

    • Dear Professor Zagano, as I have emphasized, I am not a learned and sophisticated theologian, just a simple believer. I have also, even though I have asked around, been unable so far to find anyone who has ever heard of a Catholic taking the position you are taking. They all understand it to be the case that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper when He said “do this in memory of me.” The Apostles received thereby the indelible priestly character from Jesus who is our one High Priest, at that moment (later they conferred that on other men by the ritual form familiar to us, laying on of hands). Or, to make a minor adaptation of the phrasing of the Council of Trent into a declarative statement, Christ instituted the Apostles priests by the words “Do this in memory of me,” and ordained that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood. Correct me if I have misunderstood, but what I have heard you saying is that in your view the statement of the Council of Trent “If anyone says that by those words, ‘Do this for a commemoration of me,’ Christ did not institute the Apostles priests; or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema” refers to the Eucharist but not priesthood. I am not trying to misrepresent you at all. If you do not think the priesthood of Jesus Christ, the same grace men receive by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, was conferred on the Apostles at that moment, then what is your belief, expressed plainly as if you wanted to express it to a young catechism student?

  3. Elizabeth wrote, “And you will have to agree, it is not a defect that a woman is not a man! ” One suspects she does not agree, and believes, perhaps without knowing it, that femininity is a defect, one to be overcome by usurping ‘male power gender roles’. (Feminist ‘faith’ also, I think, declares/asserts/believes, that aggressive, masculine energy is pathological, hence the war on boys.) And I suspect somewhere in the ‘thinking’ of those who also share the views you have written about above lies a belief in nominalism, also unconsciously. Their ‘thinking’ is packed with slogans, but, as you know, collapses when encountering reasoned arguments, and as they simply cannot be wrong in their assertions, those who disagree just don’t understand. (Or, my favorite, are ‘haters!’). More’s the pity, but they probably could not reply to a polite, “Well, if I have misunderstood you, please ‘splain it to me Lucy”. But no, if you’re not on board, then you’re to be tossed overboard. Even though Phylliss has had “…Nearly 300 persons on five continents …participate(d) in the online seminar”, one can easily dismiss this appeal to authority. “What!? No participants from Antarctica? Your survey is flawed, biased, etc.”
    Nice shootin’ Elizabeth. Your comments at Father Z’s are among those I always enjoy and look forward to.

  4. Oh, one more observation. Note also the threats, “You persist in slandering…”. Also the response of many when the argument, i.e. reasoning, goes against their faith. I believe the syllogism is, “When you cannot defend with arguments, counter attack with name-calling and threats.”
    How could you Elizabeth? She has 300 followers, on five continents! Heh.

    • 60 per continent. That’s not a lot.

      I believe there are more believers in Bigfoot.

  5. Zagano has no right to claim “libel” and “slander” after her failed witch-hunt against Fr. Z.

    Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

    • Actually, Zagano ought to be an expert in slander and libel and calumny and personal attacks.

      Zagano’s problem, like so many relativists today, is that she cannot see the difference between herself and her material that she is teaching. And thus the argument goes like this:

      Elizabeth: Ms. Zagano, the material you are proposing is contrary to Catholic dogma and the “sense of the faithful.” Here are the citations; here are the anecdotes.

      Zagano: You are attacking ME! That’s slander and libel and calumny! That’s mortal sin and violation of Church law! You are banned from my webinar!

      Truth is, Zagano believes in the cause of women’s ordination with great sincerity, and she has labored long and hard to put together a body of work to support her passion. She sincerely believes that she has enough data to make a case that is compelling, and so she is sharing her work with the world.

      It is true that nearly all catechized and Mass-going Catholics see women’s ordination as a movement of the lunatic fringe. But it is not right for Zagano to take this sense of the faithful personally. She should address our concerns, if her movement hopes to have any merit at all. We can see that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is an infallible affirmation of the ordinary and usual magisterium. If Zagano hopes to make any point at all, she must show us some evidence that St. John Paul the Great did not intend for his clear explanation to be definitive.

      If Zagano replies that she is only investigating the open notion of female ordained deacons — fine then. Put the work out there, and answer the critics. Maybe it will amount to something.

  6. Elizabeth:

    As you know, I enjoy and respect your work; but one thing I have learned about the issue of women’s ordination—which I support and just published a book about it, “Women in the Church, St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, & Criminal Reformation”—is that many of the Catholic women theologians who support it are very learned, deeply love the Church, and have done serious and very good research to reach their conclusions; and they are worth reading, contributing much to the fabric of the teaching of the Church.

    There are other papal teachings that have been changed; slavery, usury, earth centric solar system; and the clearest response to Christ only choosing men as apostles is that, yes, but he also only chose Jews.

    Our Church is ancient, deep, and broad, and in its very universality, can contain all manner of the faithful, save all stand on the ancient creed of the apostles:

    “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

    Continued prayers for your work Elizabeth.

    • “The clearest response to Christ only choosing men as apostles is that, yes, but he also only chose Jews.”

      If that is your idea of clarity, I believe I’ll stick with Aquinas.

    • “the clearest response to Christ only choosing men as apostles is that, yes, but he also only chose Jews.”

      A statement which merely reinforces precisely why Canon 1024 states that only a *baptized* male validly receives Orders.

      A man must be marked with the sign of the Covenant to be called to Orders. Which is why Jesus chose only *Jewish* males for the *Twelve* (obviously) and why the Church chooses only the *baptized* male….

  7. The main point is that when they hear the word sensus fidei or magisterium or infallible they hear “me.” That is because for them Church=”me.” It is interesting that those who dissent are so intolerant of any dissent from their own dogmas.

  8. What Christ Himself established, and papal teachings are two different things. Rejecting heliocentric cosmology in favor of geocentric does not come with an anathema.

  9. These silly mind games are the work of elitist theologians — that is, persons with too much learning and not enough wisdom or sense of the faithful.

    For example — It is irrelevant that Church leaders had disputes and conniptions over cosmology. The Holy Spirit only guides us infallibly with regard to faith and morals. Cosmology is a matter of scientists, and it is the duty and pleasure of scientists to sort it out. The Church developed the Scientific Method for them, and we are done.

    Likewise, it is not relevant that Christ picked only Jews to be His Apostles. Those same Apostles, the authors of the New Testament, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit ordained gentile men to be priests and bishops. Ordination of gentiles was fitting, because it was necessary to fulfill the command to make disciples of all nations. It is not necessary for a priest to be a Jew in order to be a Sign — in persona Christi — of the Son and His Father.

    Catholics are not persuaded by clever arguments and sophistry.

    If the women’s ordination movement hopes to convince us that the Holy Spirit desires women priests, then we expect to see something big:
    – miracles and saints (such as the reforms of St. Francis and St. Anthony).
    – a movement of the heart of the Pope by the Holy Spirit (such as the resignation of Benedict).
    – an upswelling among the sense of the faithful (such as the long-held faith that awaited proclamation of the Immaculate Conception).

    You need something to evidence that the Holy Spirit forgot to tell the Apostles at Pentecost, and that He means to correct that now.

  10. Elisabeth, Thank you for engaging with Prof Zagano! Keep the Faith, in charity and courage, and one day, perhaps, she also will thank you.

  11. I am sorry I misspelled your name!

  12. Elizabeth,

    I wouldn’t be too concerned about Zagano’s threats. She usually does this to anybody who produces a comment that challenges her “supposed” fidelity to Church Teachings. I’ve seen her do this plenty on the comment boards on the National Catholic Register. Her default is to accuse the person of slander and libel and sometimes to ridicule the comment on her Facebook page as if she were the only person that truly understands. She has all her sycophants cheering on her Facebook page. She never attempts to clarify or further the discussion in order to show why she’s being faithful to the Catholic position because it’s pretty obvious she’s not.

    • I meant to say the National Catholic Reporter.

  13. “but he also only chose Jews”

    Might I suggest reviewing the movie “The Ten Commandments”, starring Charlton Heston? In that movie, pay attention to the character of Dathan, who technically is a Hebrew himself, but who incurs ire amongst his own people because of his actions relative to the Egyptians.

    In much the same way, the apostle Matthew was, in many ways, only tacitly Jewish, reviled and loathed by many of his own people because of his status as tax collector for the Roman Empire. Yet Christ still picked him for an apostle and he proceeded to write a Gospel account. Meanwhile, many of the prominent Jewish leaders of Christ’s era were NOT picked as apostles. It would seem that being Jewish and/or influential with Jewish people was not a criteria.

    Or, more explicitly, I don’t recall all that Paul advocated for, but while being Jewish originally himself, he was a Roman citizen, thus would theoretically not have “made the cut” in terms of Christ’s call. Yet several of his letters make up a decent portion of the New Testament.

    All at the same time that Mary, Christ’s mother, and Mary Magdalene, were both definitely disciples of Christ, yet Christ chose neither as an apostle, even though they would’ve been the most obvious picks if He wished to promote women.

    Maybe we ought to admit that 20th or 21st century radical feminist views are not sound criteria for selecting Catholic priests.

  14. Dear Phyllis, Matthew 5:11. You’re welcome.

  15. Phyllis Zagano’s work on the possible restoration of women to the diaconate is in response to calls from the highest level of the Catholic Church. In 2002 the International Theological Commission, in a document signed by Cardinal Ratzinger, stated about women deacons, “It pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in His church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.” In other words, the church has not determined whether to ordain women as deacons and Catholics should discuss and evaluate this issue.

    Deacons are not priests. Ordaining women to the diaconate is currently open to discussion in the Catholic Church although ordaining women to the priesthood is not. I am distressed that Elizabeth and so many commenters fail to make this distinction.

    Dr. Zagano is a careful and precise scholar. If you wish to discuss her research, please read her books and discuss her conclusions knowledgeably.

    • Kathryn, if you read my post above you will see I say: “And because she was protesting that John Cardinal O’Connor and Cardinal Ratzinger encouraged her in researching this topic, I also assured her that while I strongly believe the Church will sooner or later get more specific that there is no such thing as women deacons, until then there is leeway for theological discussion and one cannot call her a heretic about that even though I think it is not prudent to promote the idea considering the serious harms of the broader women’s ordination movement.” In one of my emails to her I put it this way: “You may have a real and valuable contribution to make by giving the best possible information and reasoning in support of the possibility of sacramental women deacons; it is clear how much work you have done and I do not want to disrespect how this may serve the Church. I do predict that the Church is going to sooner or later state more clearly that there have never been and cannot be any sacramental women deacons.” I am of course allowed to publicly disagree with her as to whether the Church does have authority to ordain women deacons, and have taken the opportunity to do so, and given reasons.

      Deacons are not priests, but all priests also have the order of deacon just as all bishops are priests–these things are not truly separate phenomena, there is a single sacrament for making deacons, priests, and bishops: Holy Orders. It has different degrees or “orders.” As I say above, “The Apostles were those on whom he [Jesus] first conferred the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders, encompassing all the orders of deacon, priest and bishop, at the Last Supper. If Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is right that only men can be priests because that is Our Lord’s will and His Church is not authorized to do otherwise, then the same logic leads many of us to conclude that it also appears Our Lord desired to confer diaconal ordination on men only (the Apostles, first of all).” Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the CDF, is convinced of the same and explains (see this link):

      Q: Is it possible to separate the diaconate of women from the priesthood of women?

      Müller: No — because of the unity of the sacrament of orders, which has been underlined in the deliberations of the Theological Commission; it cannot be measured with a different yardstick. Then it would be a real discrimination of woman if she is considered as apt for the diaconate, but not for the presbyterate or episcopacy.

      The unity of the sacrament would be torn at its root if, the diaconate as ministry of service, was opposed to the presbyterate as ministry of government, and from this would be deduced that woman, as opposed to man, has a greater affinity to serve and because of this would be apt for the diaconate but not for the presbyterate.

      However, the apostolic ministry all together is a service in the three degrees in which it is exercised.

      The Church does not ordain women, not because they are lacking some spiritual gift or natural talent, but because — as in the sacrament of marriage — the sexual difference and of the relation between man and woman contains in itself a symbolism that presents and represents in itself a prior condition to express the salvific dimension of the relation of Christ and the Church.

      If the deacon, with the bishop and presbyter, starting from the radical unity of the three degrees of the orders, acts from Christ, head and Spouse of the Church, in favor of the Church, it is obvious that only a man can represent this relation of Christ with the Church.

      • Good morning, Elizabeth.

        You say you are sure the church will eventually deny the diaconate to women, and elsewhere you stated that women were never ordained “sacramentally.” I don’t know on what basis you make these statements without looking carefully at the theology and history of these issues. I participated in the MOOS and we read two books and a number of articles studying in detail questions like, “Did women deacons receive the laying on of hands?” and “Where did they stand during the ceremony?”

        You indicated that you tried to read and listen to the course materials and found them too dense and difficult. I agree; it was sometimes tedious work. But those of us who persevered have gained an insight into what the church has done in the past and what possiblities exist for the future. We are discussing that within the course and with other Catholics, including bishops, priests, and laity, and it is an exciting topic.

        By the way, your representation of Sr. Sara Butler’s appearance in the course is incorrect. Dr. Zagano posted the interview with Dr. Butler not to imply endorsement but because they disagree on certain points. Scholarly debate is part of the process of discernment on this topic.

        You seem sceptical of theologians, and I appreciate that you desire us to remain faithful to our roots. However, theologians and historians have a vital role in the church to help the entire body understand and evaluate our past and the choices for our future. You keep harping on Dr. Zagano’s disagreement with you on the conferral of Holy Orders at the Last Supper. Yet a careful scholar like Dr. Zagano is not going to use the words “Holy Orders” which did not develop for centuries, to describe what Jesus did that night. If you read the gospel accounts of the Last Supper it does not look like a present-day ordination. Theological reflection over the generations produced the concepts and understandings of the sacraments which we use today. It is not disrespectful to say that doctrines and practices in the church developed over time. In fact it is crucial to understand these evolutions if we are to understand how to be faithful today.

        • I only have a minute to comment right now, but see a response commenting about Professor Zagano’s denials that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles at the last supper at this link by Father Augustine Thompson, O.P., from which I will excerpt a quote (go to the link and read the rest):

          I think it needs to be kept in mind when having a conversation with those who hold positions like those of presented that there is a methodological move involved in their historical reconstructions. This is the basically a priori assumption that if a word does not exist the reality it names does not exist…. The move made by those who take positions like this about ordination of deacons, priests, or whatever [is that] The world “ordination” and “sacrament” did not exist in the first century, so when the Bible speaks of the Last Supper, it cannot mean that Christ “ordained” the apostles “sacramentally.” So the sacrament of orders did not exist until the words were used in the sense they have for, say, Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, which happened in the 1200s. The problem with this hermeneutic is that it denies realities if there is no word for them….

          If there were no words for “matter” and “energy” at the time that the Big Bang occurred, is it contrary to careful scholarship to refer to these in regards to the beginnings of the universe? Do we have to contradict everyone who might refer to the way “matter and energy burst forth from a single point”? Why would a Catholic contest that Jesus conferred Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper? In fact, as I explained, no one I know has ever heard of a Catholic denying that. That is in fact the clear teaching of Trent. What do you suppose is Zagano’s goal in using historical theology to contest and obfuscate such simple statements of what objectively occurred at the Last Supper?

          I see her not wanting to discuss objectively the conferral of the priesthood of Jesus Christ on the apostles, and her not wanting to discuss the fact that a form of ceremony (ie, laying on of hands, or a marriage ceremony) does not always equal objective conferral of a sacrament if the other conditions are lacking. In both these unwillingnesses on her part, I see an avoidance of looking at the objective reality of the sacramental grace, something that cannot be perceived by historical investigation alone. She wants to investigate it via history and how early Christian practices appear to her; objective consideration of the grace of the sacrament even when my statements were entirely in keeping with Catholic teaching, was apparently not acceptable to her.

          • Yes, Elizabeth, we must communicate via words and words have limitations in all situations, especially when we are dealing with the awesomeness of God.

            You spend a whole paragraph on what you “see” about Dr. Zagano, her motivations, her goals, her ideas. Having just spent four weeks probing Dr. Zagano’s scholarship, I believe you misinterpret her, as you misinterpreted a number of matters in the women deacons material. Words are limited, but they are what we have, and if you wish to discuss Dr. Zagano and her work, you should do so carefully and respectfully, attempting to understand the precision of her writing. Otherwise your opinions are based on conjecture.

          • Yes, we must communicate via words and that is why there is no wisdom in denying basic statements of Catholic belief like Jesus conferring Holy Orders on the Apostles. The conversation between her and me continued via email, without her ever acknowledging the basic reality of Jesus’ conferral of Holy Orders on the Apostles at the Last Supper.

            Professor Zagano and I obviously disagree about the matter of whether women can be sacramentally ordained as deacons. This is not some kind of a misunderstanding, we do simply, honestly disagree, and have each given reasons.

          • Good morning, Elizabeth.

            Responding to a request from Pope Paul VI to investigate the possiblity of women in the diaconate, Cipriano Vagaggini, OSB. Cam, a member of the International Theological Commission, produced a document in 1974 which is included in one of the books Dr. Zagano urged you to read for the course. Dr. Zagano’s work continues the ministry of discernment on this topic which Pope Paul VI and other church leaders have encouraged.

            You are certainly allowed to disagree with Dr. Zagano about whether women should be ordained as deacons, although until you read the research I am not sure what you are basing your opinion upon. We should, however, disagree with the civility and respect owed to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. I urge you to remove your posts about Dr. Zagano from your web-site. Your descriptions of her beliefs and research are inaccurate and inflammatory, and have caused many people to comment in ignorant and unseemly ways. There are so many edifying articles and photos to post, as you do very beautifully elsewhere on your site. The posts about Dr. Zagano are hostile in tone and disrespectful to a woman who has been working in theology since you were in diapers. Those who disagree with you are not your enemies, especially iwthin the Church.

            Oh, and drop the argument about Holy Orders and the Last Supper unless you are willing to enroll in a theology course about that!!

          • Good morning, Kathryn, The seminar was a selective presentation of the topic aimed quite transparently at training and motivating people to advocate for “women deacons.” She and you are upset I don’t agree. Even basic, clearly legitimate expressions of Catholic belief such as are necessary to make in catechesis and evangelization (ministries I am involved in) are tenaciously opposed and I am attacked for ignorance for insisting upon the legitimacy of such statements, and told to take a theology course. “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to little ones….”

            The ITC’s more recent work on Deaconesses has been along the lines of Sara Butler (a member thereof), Martimort, and Muller. Zagano understandably wants to bring up the earlier work by Vagaggini from around the same time of Inter Insignores (“Women Deacons in the Eastern Church”), which of course she may. She’s upset the state of this theological discussion within the Catholic Church isn’t going her way. She couldn’t even abide someone like me to express why I believe what I believe, but swiftly kicked me off her discussion board.

          • Hello Elizabeth;

            “The seminar was a selective presentation of the topic aimed quite transparently at training and motivating people to advocate for “women deacons.” She and you are upset I don’t agree.”

            I don’t know why you characterize the seminar as “selective” when we read all the documents you cited. We also heard Sara Butler’s argument for non-ordained deacons. Participants are drawing their own conclusions and acting appropriately. Please, Elizabeth, refrain from assuming that you know what somebody else thinks or feels beyond what is expressed. For myself, I can assure you that I am not upset with you. I admire your zeal; you remind me somewhat of myself at an earlier age.

            However, I am concerned that you are not careful and respectful of others in your zeal to promote the truth as you see it. I suspect that Dr. Zagano banned you from the Discussion Board after your unfortunate, and frankly thoughtless, reply to the wife of the deacon expressing pain that she could not exercize her own training and gifts in the way her husband could. Pain in the Body of Christ, like pain in the human body, is a symptom of injury, danger or disease. The pain that many women feel upon being excluded from many forms of ministry in the church demands serious attention. We may disagree on how to address this pain, but certainly judging someone harshly for her emotions is not a constructive approach.

          • Dear Kathryn, no, she cited a reason for banning me which was that I had not viewed all the materials! It was also immediately after I offered by email to send her a copy of my book (which I have done).

            What is more sad than to promote to a deacon’s wife the idea that she is somehow excluded in the Church, that her own contributions in the Church are somehow less because she can’t receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders? As I recall, I encouraged her about the value of women’s actual contributions in the Church. I wanted to comfort this lady, so you certainly misconstrue my intentions. Make no mistake, promotion of ordaining women as deacons is harming women and causing needless pain. The deacons’ wives I know are well adjusted, and not believers in women’s ordination. As Pope Francis has said, “women need to be valued, not clericalized.”

            The final week’s discussion topic was what are the reasons why it is necessary to have women deacons. I rest my case as to the advocacy training nature of the course.

  16. Elizabeth & Kathryn:

    I don’t mean to jump in to your exchange—which is very informative—but do want to comment in general.

    As a convert (my wife and I were baptized Catholic in 2004) I have spent many years studying my new faith and reading the works of those who opposed women’s ordination I gained a picture of women theologians as radical feminists bent on destroying the Church.

    Once I actually began reading the work of women theologians—most of which are included in the reference pages (available online at Amazon) of my book, Women in the Church: St. Catherine of Siena, Fr. Teilhard de Chardin & Criminal Reformation—I realized what a great source of knowledge women theologians are bringing to the Church.

    I have only read some columns by Professor Zagano—which I have found to be very cogent—so can’t comment on her larger body of work, but based on what I have read, I would agree with Kathryn’s depiction of her work: “Dr. Zagano is a careful and precise scholar.”

    It has been difficult to become a women theologian, as I noted in my book.

    Remember, remember, as Hinsdale (2006) reminds us:
    …before Sister Madeleva Wolff’s School of Sacred Theology was begun in 1943 (only a little more than sixty years ago!), nowhere in the United States could a woman earn a PhD in theology. (p. 7) Hinsdale, M. A. (2006). Women shaping theology: 2004 Madeleva lecture in spirituality. New York: Paulist Press.

    Take care.


    • David, another woman theologian mentioned here who disagrees with Zagano is far more cogent, and far more highly honored in the Church–Sister Sara Butler, a seminary professor, consultor to the USCCB doctrine committee, and member of the International Theological Commission. In my Sinsinawa book a highlight is the chapter on a woman theologian (one of the early wave of highly trained women theologians) named Sister Francis Assisi Loughery who became my hero because she spoke up consistently and charitably for Catholic beliefs. I recently was able to get ahold of her doctoral dissertation on the Eucharist to read, and it is just fantastic. Believe me, she wasn’t a women’s ordination promoter. Women can certainly contribute to theology. For a healthy perspective on women and theology see what history’s first woman rector of a pontifical university has to say. There are also some women who are not such excellent theologians. Feminism is obviously extremely distorting.

      You have had a different experience than me if you have only encountered reasonable writings of Phyllis Zagano. Yes, sometimes she has worthwhile things to say. But I have often encountered columns by Zagano that are corrosive feminist screeds, for instance her latest one. Pope Francis cracks a joke he had to KNOW would hit a nerve with feminists hostile to expressions of sexual complementarity, and she reacts with, well, hostility. She realizes PF is not going to agree with her about women deacons, and isn’t going to be apologetic about it either.

  17. Elizabeth:

    No, I had not heard of Sister Sara Butler, but have ordered her 2007 book on the priesthood, and I also ordered Phyllis Zagano’s book on mysticism, to get a better idea of the work of both, as it is critical to research the work of people we wish to fruitfully engage with intellectually.

    Thank you for the reference.

    Take care.


  18. I did have the pleasure of being taught, one fine summer, by Sister Sara Butler, MSBT. Way back at the start of her career in academia, she had been an advocate of women’s ordination. As a true scholar, however, she, in preparing a presentation on women’s ordination, read the positions of her opponents. She found them so convincing, she accepted them, and underwent an intellectual conversion.
    I remember her as a soft spoken, very gracious person.
    Sara was at that time involved in the drafting of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on women. She described it to me as a labour of love (sorry, Teddy Roosevelt’s overhaul of spelling did not happen this side of the border). Her predecessor on the committee drafting this pastoral had signed an ad in the New York Times in 1984 which seemed to imply support for abortion. As a result of this, this Sister (now deceased) was asked to step down. I believe she nominated Sara to take her place.
    I once asked Sara about ordination of deaconesses, and her answer was that it was a question of sacramental ordination. She indicated that she thought it was not. I think of how Carthusian nuns receive the ancient blessing of deaconesses, and have the right sometimes to wear the deacon’s stole-without being ordained. Also, how the Coptic Church of Egypt has deaconesses-but they are not clerics.
    While doing doctoral studies, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she had been appointed by Benedict XVI to the International Theological Commission.
    Once in class, by way of comparison, she asked us to think of an act in the Catholic Church which was reserved to women alone. The answer is the consecration of a virgin. She was trying to get us to see that the sexes complement one another without being identical. Jesus was incarnated as a man. Priests image Jesus. We also discussed Jesus being crucified as a man. Were Jesus incarnated as a woman, then Jesus would have been crucified as a woman. Women were crucified face down, not face up. So, the body language would have been of a woman with Her back towards those She came to save.
    It has been twenty years, and I still try and teach the way Sister Sara did, but it is difficult.

  19. […] here, Elizabeth Durack, participated in Phyllis’ MOOS. Elizabeth has her own blog, Laetificat Madison. She describes her experience of MOOS with Phyllis. […]

  20. […] I ran across an old entry on the topic wherein I posted a precis of and link to a post on the blog Laetificat written by a sometime commentatrix here, Elizabeth Durack (no, she’s not a member of the […]


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