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Blocked From Serving Their Church, Catholic Women Push for Female Deacons

“Typically the deacon manages the charity on behalf of the bishop or pastor in any given parish. That would include managing the food bank, taking care of the poor, visiting the sick,” said Zagano.

Deacons may also proclaim the Gospel, preach, witness marriages, baptize and conduct funeral services. They cannot lead a Mass, consecrate the Eucharist or hear confessions.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates there are about 19,000 male deacons in the United States today, a 1% drop from last year. Formation programs for deacons reported a 2% drop in enrollments. Perhaps most troubling, the share of deacon candidates in their 30s and 40s has declined to 22% in 2020, down from 44% in 2002, a June report found.

In some parts of the country, Catholic laywomen are already serving as administrators in lieu of priests, ​often as parish life coordinators, but without ordination.

“Right now, when you are a woman serving in any capacity, there’s often a cloud of suspicion hanging over your work, the sense that your work would be better done by a man or a priest,” said Anna Nussbaum Keating, a Catholic writer living in Colorado who supports restoring the diaconate for women. “There’s a sense she is inferior or maybe she’s there because she wants to change the church, versus understanding that there have always been women in ministry in the church and that their contributions are holy and valid and good.”

The coronavirus, which has killed more than 650,000 Americans, has only accentuated the need for more Catholic hospital chaplains as people died alone and without the comfort of a priest or a deacon during their final days.

On Sept. 3, the feast day of St. Phoebe, the group Discerning Deacons held a Zoom prayer service celebrating the legacy of the 1st-century saint with some 500 women from across the world. It included videotaped stories of women who were passionately called to serve the church and hurt by their inability to do so formally.

Documentary filmmakers Pilar Timpane and Andrea Patiño Contreras are now filming “Called to Serve” about some of the U.S. women now pushing the church for ordination as women.

“We’re looking at the needs of the church today,” said Stanton, who lives in Durham, North Carolina. “Might including women in this order help further the church’s mission in the world?”

This article originally appeared at Religion News Service.

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Yonat Shimron joined RNS in April 2011 and became managing editor in 2013. She was the religion reporter for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. from 1996 to 2011. During that time she won numerous awards. She is a past president of the Religion Newswriters Association.