Mean Girls is the iconic, modern coming-of-age comedy film from 2004 that centres on the popular girls in an American high school and one new student’s desperate attempts to break into their clique.
One of the mean girls, Gretchen Wieners, attempts to coin a new phrase (“That’s so fetch!”) to describe things that are considered cool, in the hope the phrase will catch on in the school and prove her popularity.
At one point, Regina (the group’s Queen Bee) exasperatedly tells her to stop. “Gretchen, stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen; it’s not going to happen.”
While “fetch” didn’t catch on, the catchphrase “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen!” did, at least amongst pop culture tragics like me.
I have to say, that line keeps coming to my mind with the constant talk of the ordination of women to the diaconate here at the Synod on Synodality.
“Susan, stop trying to make ‘women deacons’ happen; it’s not going to happen.”
It doesn’t matter how many times this idea seems to be knocked back by successive pontiffs, its proponents keep pushing it, as if it will get through one day. Much like Gretchen Wieners, they overstate its popularity.
At a synod media conference, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Dr Paolo Ruffini, referred to the “restoration” of the female diaconate. The use of the word “restoration” intimates that the female diaconate in the form that is currently being pushed—equivalent to the permanent male diaconate and the reception of the sacrament of holy orders—had previously been in existence, but this is not the case.
As the Holy Father said in May 2019, following the first of his commissions for the study of the female diaconate: “The formulas of female deacons’ ‘ordination’ found until now, according to the commission, are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess.”
It is uncontroversial that women assisted when full immersion baptism of adult females occurred. What is being suggested now is a liturgical role that would include performing baptisms, presiding over weddings and funerals and preaching at Mass. Comparing the historical form to current proposals is at best mistaken, at worst dishonest, and the record should be corrected.
Speaking of correcting the record, it is also being reported that the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia requested the ordination of women be addressed, but this is not correct. The Plenary Council records show the opposite: attempts to include a statement of support for women’s ordination to the diaconate were rejected by the members and the only reference to women’s diaconate that achieved the requisite support was one that said Australia would consider how to best implement female deacons if approved by the Vatican.
That’s a very different thing. Members of the Plenary Council did not ask for female deacons and rejected the idea when presented with it.
The problem with this continual drum-beat about women’s diaconate is that it has the effect of drowning out the voices and concerns of the vast majority of Catholic women who have absolutely no interest in being ordained.
For all the proclamations and self-congratulations about deep listening and the promotion and advancement of women, the Instrumentum Laboris actually has very little to say to or about women. For example, there is not a single mention of motherhood in the 64-page document, despite it being the vocation of the majority of Catholic women across the world. Nothing about infertility or miscarriage. Nothing about those who are carers for elderly parents or children with special needs. Nothing about single women. Nothing about victims of family violence.
Some might explain that this is because the synod is not addressing specific issues, but rather the process of “synodality,” which involves listening to each other and journeying together. Maybe that’s true, but it is difficult to see how you can journey with women when you refuse to acknowledge any of the realities that face them every single day.
Mercifully, Australian delegate Professor Renee Kohler-Ryan (a Catholic wonderwoman in her own right) is making a lot of sense, telling a press conference that women’s diaconate was a “niche” issue that distracts and detracts from real supports for women:
“What do I really want? I want [my children] to be educated and I want them to be educated in the faith,” Professor Kohler-Ryan said.
“We need to live somewhere; we need to have food on the table; they need to be clothed. I want them to have a future and a future when they are welcomed into the church and everyone they know and love is welcomed into the church … that isn’t possible for every woman in the church.
“We could be making sure that professional women are not forced to choose between having families and being out there in the workforce … we could be doing more to make sure that families are supported are supported in all kinds of ways, including with the different economic pressures that are going on as well. I think that’s a far more interesting conversation for most women.”
Amen. Who says women don’t preach in the church?