• Phyllis Zagano Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York
  • Bernard Pottier Forum Saint-Michel, Brussels


Catholic Women, Deaconess, Diaconate, Women in Ministry


Pope Francis’s decision to establish a Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in August 2016 reemphasizes the question: what do we know about women deacons? We know they existed. There is ample literary, epigraphical, and historical evidence that women deacons ministered in the West at least to the 12th century, and longer in the East. That they existed presents three questions: What do we know about the liturgical ceremonies bishops used to create women deacons? What do we know about their tasks and duties? What do we know about the theology of the diaconate that would admit or restrict women from diaconal ordination? 

Author Biographies

Phyllis Zagano, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York

Phyllis Zagano, PhD, State University of New York at Stony Brook (1979) is Senior Research Associate-in-Residence and Adjunct Professor of Religion at Hofstra University. Her books include Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church. New York: Crossroad/Herder, 2000; Women: Icons of Christ. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2020. Her recent publications include “What Do U.S. Catholics Think About Women Deacons?” with Erick Berrelleza. Review of Religious Research 61, 3 (September 2019) 273-84 and “Women Deacons, Women, and Service at the Altar” Theological Studies 79, 3 (September 2018) 590-609. She was appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in August, 2016.

Bernard Pottier, Forum Saint-Michel, Brussels

Bernard Pottier, SJ, Doctor of Theology, Université de Strasbourg, France (1993) is professor of theology and philosophy and director of Forum Saint-Michel, Brussels and a Member of the International Theological Commission. His books include Dieu et le Christ selon Grégoire de Nysse, Préface de M. Canévet, Culture et Vérité, Namur, 1994 and with Alphonse Borras, La grâce du diaconat: Questions actuelles autour du diaconat Latin. Bruxelles: Editions Lessius, 1998. His other publications include “La sacramentalité du diaconat.” Nouvelle Revue Théologique 119 (January 1997) 20-36. and, with Dominique Struyf, Psychologie et spiritualité. Enjeux pastoraux, Coll. Donner Raison n. 35. Bruxelles: Lessius, 2012. He was appointed to the Pontifical Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in August, 2016.


Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Ordained Women in the Early Church, ed. and trans. Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Roger Gryson, The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, trans. J. Laporte and M.L. Hall, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

Le ministère des femmes dans l’Église ancienne, Gembloux, Duculot (coll. “Recherches et synthèses - Section d’Histoire,” 4), 1972.

Cipriano Vagaggini, L’ordinazione delle diaconesse nella tradizione greca e bizantina,” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 40 (1974) 146-89. A.-G. Martimort, “A propos des ministères féminins dans l’Eglise,” Bulletin de littérature ecclésiastique 74 (1973).

Gerhard L. Müller, Priestertum und Diakonat. Der Empfänger des Weihesakramentes in schöpfungstheologischer und christologischer Perspektive (Sammlung Horizonte NF 33), Freiburg 2000.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_ con_cfaith_pro_05072004_diaconate_en.html.

Jean Daniélou, citing Epiphanius, seems to include anointing the sick: The Ministry of Women in the Early Church, 2nd ed., London: Faith, 1974, 29; “Le ministère des femmes,” Maison-Dieu 61 (1960)

https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/may/documents papa-francesco_20160512_uisg.html

Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination, Oxford University Press, 2008.

M.J. Arana and M. Salas, Mujeres Sacerdotes? Por Qué No...?: Reflexiones históricas, teológicas, y ecuménicas, Madrid: Publicationes Claretianas, 1994.

P. Lepe, Constituciones synodales antiguas y modernas del Obispado de Calahorra y la Calzada, Madrid 1700.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_ vatican_council/documents/ vat-ii_instr_19670305_musicam-sacram_en.html

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumengentium_en.html



John St. H. Gibaut The Cursus Honorum: A Study of the Origins of Sequential Ordination, New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

https://it.zenit.org/articles/discorso-improvvisato-da-benedettoxvi-al-clero-romano/ (accessed March 12, 2018) See Phyllis Zagano, “The Question of Governance and Ministry for Women,” Theological Studies 68 (2007)

http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_letters/documents/hf_ ben-xvi_apl_20091026_codex-iuris-canonici.html.




How to Cite

Zagano, P., & Pottier, B. (2019). WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT WOMEN DEACONS?. Asian Horizons, 13(04), 647–658. Retrieved from https://dvkjournals.in/index.php/ah/article/view/2277

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