Gimme that old time diaconate?
Last week's news that Pope Benedict XVI has appointed his friend Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller of Regensburg as the new prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has led many to pay closer attention to the incoming prefect's track record. One of the things that surfaced in news articles about his appointment is the fact that Müller has been one of the most outspoken opponents to the proposal to reintroduce the historically well documented ordination of women to the diaconate.
Here in the U.S. Phyllis Zagano has been the best-known advocate for the return of women deacons, always carefully differentiating ordination to the diaconate, which in recent decades has been supported by many theologians and bishops, from ordination of women to the priesthood, something Rome has "definitively" ruled out. Earlier this year she made a very persuasive argument for women deacons in an interview with the editors of U.S. Catholic.
Müller, however, would clearly not be impressed. The new head of the CDF has frequently and often harshly attacked those campaigning for the revival of women deacons. In 2002 Müller wrote in the conservative Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost: "Sometimes one has the impression that there are some in the church who keep stomping their feet, yelling and screaming like misbehaving kids until their mother finally gives in--not because she is convinced but merely to end the embarrassing looks from those witnessing this spectacle."
In that same article he accused proponents of the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood of a "tireless media campaign that creates a hysteria that is supposed to intimidate the bishops and scientifically serious theologians." He even thinks he has found the masterminds of the evil cabal behind the campaign: "the wives of ex-priests and monks who have abandoned their vows."
In an interview with the same newspaper a few months earlier Müller dismissed the women deacons of old as an "amusing anachronism," saying, "What women today are doing as religion teachers, professors of theology, pastoral associates, and directors of religious education, but also as volunteers in their parishes far exceeds what the deaconesses in the old church ever did. The re-introduction of the old office of deaconesses would merely be an amusing anachronism."
I suppose one could have a somewhat amusing argument about whose position in this debate really is the anachronism here.