FutureChurch Survey Finds Thirty-nine Percent of Female Respondents May Be Experiencing a Call to the Diaconate

FutureChurch Survey Finds Thirty-nine Percent of Female Respondents May Be Experiencing a Call to the Diaconate

women-deacons-survey-report_page_01Read PDF version of the women-deacons-survey-report


On May 26, 2016, FutureChurch distributed an open survey via Survey Monkey to lists of just over 13,000 FutureChurch e-mail subscribers asking Catholic women to share their personal discernment regarding a call to the permanent diaconate.  The survey also asked both Catholic women and men about their support for women deacons and the commission set up by Pope Francis to study the issue.  Thirty (n=30) questions were directed to women and a subset of the questions (n=23) were directed to both women and men.

Four hundred and two (n=402) participants completed the survey on May 26th and May 27th.  The return rate was 3%.  Data received after May 27th was discarded due to a deliberate attempt by a blogger to skew the data and sabotage the results beginning May 28th.  The blogger, well known for his distasteful antics, disparages women who are considering a call to the diaconate calling them “deaconettes.” He wrote to his followers, “Most of us, however, probably don’t have questions or concerns about the impact of deaconettes: I’m quite certain that it would be bad.”

The responses received (n=402) highlight the voices of women discerning a vocational call to the permanent diaconate.   It also indicates the level of support for women deacons by female and male respondents.

Who Took the Survey

Of the 402 respondents, 84% (n=337) were female, mostly from the United States.  Six percent were from Canada, U.K., Australia, India and Germany.  Sixteen percent (n=65) of respondents were male.

The majority of respondents (76%) indicated they were active in their parishes, including 57% as lay leaders, 14% sisters, 4% priests and 2% permanent deacons.  Eight percent indicated they wanted to be more active in their parish and 14% indicated they were not active in a parish.  Seventy-five percent had some education or training related to ministry, religious education or theology up to a Ph.D. with only 25% indicating they had no formal education or training in this area.  Eighty-five percent were 55 years of age or older although it is significant to note that 15% of respondents were younger Catholics from the Gen X or Millennial age group.

Women Who Are Called To Serve as Deacons

Of 335 women who responded when asked if they were called to the diaconate, 11.64% (n=39) said they were called with another 27.76% (n=93) indicating it was somewhat true to say they were called.  Of those who explored their call (n=90), 80% percent had discussed it with family and friends and 51% had discussed it with someone in their faith community.  79% (n=95) of the 120 who answered the question indicated that if the diaconate were available to women today, it was completely true or somewhat true that they would be ready to enter a formation program.

Even though the majority of all female respondents had not personally discerned a call to the diaconate, 53 % the 324 women who responded to this question said they would consider a call if asked by a priest, bishop or someone in the community.

Some women indicated that they were called to the priesthood and not the permanent diaconate.  Twelve percent of 271 women responding to this question, said that the priesthood was their vocational call, not the permanent diaconate.

Support for Women Deacons

Of the 321 who answered this question, 93% (n=299) expressed complete support for women deacons and another 6% (n=19) expressed some support.  When asked if ordaining women deacons would strengthen the Church in terms of pastoral care, evangelization and liturgy, 91% agreed completely and another 8% agreed that it was somewhat true.

When prioritizing the diaconal ministries that would benefit the Church if available to women deacons, 94% indicated that preaching is a priority.  Ninety-two percent indicated that presiding over baptisms, marriages and funerals was paramount and 90% said that proclaiming the Gospel during Mass was most important.  Another 89% said that assisting during the Mass was important.

Ninety-five percent (n=305) of respondents said they knew a woman/women who would make fine deacons.  Ninety-three percent (n=299) said they would encourage a woman/women to consider becoming a deacon and 81% (n=260) said they would recommend women to serve as deacons to their pastor or bishop.

One question directed to priests and deacons asked whether they knew women whom they would consider to make fine deacons.  Of the 33 that responded, 91% indicated that they knew such women.

These parish-oriented respondents indicated that they were willing to advocate for the restoration of women deacons.  Eighty-six percent (n=277) said they would pray.  Seventy-nine percent (n=254) indicated they would learn more about the history and theology of women deacons.  Sixty percent (n=193) indicated they would attend workshops or days of reflections focusing on the restoration of women deacons. Fifty-two percent (n=168) indicated they would write or talk to their bishop asking him to support the restoration of women deacons and 57% (n=183) indicated they would create opportunities in their communities for others to learn about and discuss the history, ministry, and theology of women deacons.

The Impact of Women Deacons on Lay Ecclesial Ministers and the Work for Women’s Ordination to the Priesthood

We wanted to give respondents the opportunity to voice their concerns about women deacons  in light of the ministry thousands of women have been providing as lay ecclesial ministers or in light of advocacy for women’s ordination to the priesthood.  Three hundred and twenty one responded to these questions.

Thirty-seven percent (n=119) said it was true or somewhat true that they were concerned or had questions about the impact of women deacons on the work of lay ecclesial ministers and 55% (n=178) indicated they did not have concerns or questions and 7% answered “not applicable.”  In terms of the impact on the work for women’s ordination to the priesthood, the results were similar. Thirty-nine percent (n=126) indicated it was true or somewhat true that they were concerned or had questions and 57% (n=183) said they had no concerns and 4% answered “not applicable.”

Support for the Commission

More than 99% (n=318) of respondents knew about Pope Francis’s decision to create a commission to study women deacons and 93% (n=298) strongly supported it while another 6% (n=16) supported it somewhat.  When asked to put forward the names of candidates for the commission, Phyllis Zagano topped the list with Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Joan Chittister, OSB following.

Summary and Conclusions

Thirty-nine percent of women who responded to the question “Do you experience a call to be a deacon?” expressed a strong or somewhat strong sense that they were called or discerning a call to the permanent diaconate. A majority had consulted with family, friends and community about their call and most felt they would be ready to enter a program if it were available today.

The support for women deacons from this group of female and male respondents was strong with 99% agreeing that women deacons would strengthen the liturgical life, ministry and outreach of the Church.  They felt it was important that women deacons preach, preside at baptisms, marriages, funerals and at Mass, and that they proclaim the Gospel at Mass.  They not only supported the restoration of women deacons today, they also felt committed to educating and advocating for women deacons in their communities and with their bishops.

Survey Data


Four hundred and two (n=402) females and males participated in the survey.  Eighty-four percent identified as female (n=337) and sixteen percent (n=65) identified as male.



Thirty percent were born before 1941 (Pre-Vatican II era), fifty-five percent were born in the Vatican II era (1941- 1960), ten percent were born in the Post-Vatican II era (1961 – 1978) and five percent were born after 1978 (Millennial era).



350 of the 402 survey respondents identified their diocese.  The highest number of survey participants came from the Cleveland and St. Paul-Minneapolis dioceses 18 each. Sixteen participants identified Cincinnati as their diocese.  Twenty-three international respondents were from the Canada, U.K., Australia, India and Germany.


Survey Questions for Female Respondents

Question 6:  When responding to, “I am called to the permanent diaconate”, 11.64% (n39) of 335 female respondents indicated this was completely true.  Another 27.76% (n 93) indicated it was somewhat true and the rest (n 203) indicated it was not true or that it did not apply.


Question 7:  When asked to indicate the ways by which they had explored this call (they could choose all that applied), 90 female respondents answered.

  • Eighty percent shared it with family and friends.
  • Fifty-one percent shared it with someone in their faith community.
  • Forty-six percent had discussed it with a spiritual director.
  • Twenty-three percent shared it with their pastor.

Question 8:  When asked if they were ready to enter a formation or training program, if the diaconate were open to women today, 120 female respondents answered.

  • Thirty-three percent (n 40) indicated it was completely true.
  • Forty-six percent (n 55) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Twenty-one percent (n 25) indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Questions 9 and 10:  Just three of all the female respondents said they had enrolled in a diaconal formation program when their husbands entered a program.  One of those said they feel ready to serve as a result and another said they partnered with their husband in ministry.

Question 11:  When asked if they would be open to discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate if approached by their pastor, bishop or other member of the community, 324 female respondents answered.

  • Twenty-five percent (n 80) indicated that it was completely true.
  • Twenty-eight percent (n 91) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Forty-seven percent (n 153) indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Question 12 was optional.  The question read, “I am called to the priesthood and not the permanent diaconate.  Two hundred and seventy-one (n 271) responded.

  • Twelve percent (n 32) responded “yes”.
  • Eighty-eight percent (n 239) responded “no”.

Questions 13 through 30 were directed to both female and male respondents.

Question 13:  When asked about respondents’ ecclesial status, 285 female and male respondents answered.

  • Fifty-seven percent (n 221) indicated they were laity active in their parishes.
  • Eight percent (n 31) indicated they were laity not particularly active now, but interested in becoming active.
  • Fourteen percent (n 54) indicated they were not active.
  • Fifteen percent (n 57) indicated they were vowed religious.
  • Four percent were priests and nearly two percent were deacons.Question 14:  Asked about their time commitment in ministry, 385 females and males responded.
  • Eighty-three percent indicated that they were engaged in a full-time capacity.

Question 15 and 16:   Respondents were asked to indicate their area of ministry and to choose all that applied. They were also asked if they were compensated for their ministry.  Three hundred and three (n 303) responded.

areas-of-ministryTwenty-two percent were compensated for their work.  Another 49% engaged as volunteers and 29% indicated that they had engaged in both.

Question 17:  When asked about their level of education/training, 300 respondents answered.


Question 18:  When asked to indicate their support for women deacons, 321 female and male respondents answered.

  • Ninety-three percent (n 300) indicated that was completely true.
  • Six percent (n 18) indicated it was somewhat true.
  • One percent (n 3) indicated it was not true or not applicable.i-support-women-deacons
    Question 19:  Respondents were asked to indicate which diaconal ministries were important in terms of women’s participation.  They could check all that applied.
  • Ninety-four percent indicated that preaching during the homily at Mass was important
  • Ninety-two percent indicated that presiding over baptisms, marriages and funerals was important
  • Ninety percent indicated preaching the Gospel during Mass was important
  • Eighty-nine percent indicated assisting during the Liturgy was importantministries-needed-from-women-deaconsQuestion 20:  When asked if they could think of at least one woman who has the gifts for diaconal ministry, of the 321 who responded, 95% indicated “yes”, and 5% indicated “no”.

Question 21:  When asked if they have encouraged or would be willing to encourage a woman to consider that she is called to the permanent diaconate, of the 321 who responded, 93% said they would, 3% answered “no”, and 4% indicated it was not applicable.

Question 22:  Eighty-one percent indicated they would be willing to recommend a woman/women for diaconal ministry to their pastor or bishop.  Seven percent indicated “no” and 12% indicated it was not applicable.

Question 23 was directed to priests and deacons and asked if they had met women who would be fine deacons and if they had encouraged women to pursue theological and pastoral studies to serve the people of God.  They were asked to choose all that applied.  Thirty-three (n 33) responded.

  • Ninety-one percent of priests/deacons indicated they met women who would be fine deacons.
  • Fifty-two percent indicated they had encouraged women to pursue theological/pastoral studies.
  • Three percent indicated “neither of the above”.

Question 24:  When asked what activities respondents would be willing to participate in to promote the restoration of women deacons, 321 responded.

  • Seventy-nine percent indicated they would learn more about the history and theology of women deacons.
  • Sixty percent indicated they would attend workshops or days of reflections focusing on the restoration of women deacons.
  • Eighty-six percent indicated they would pray for the restoration of women deacons.
  • Fifty-two percent indicated they would write or talk to their bishop asking him to support the restoration of women deacons.
  • Fifty-seven percent indicated they would create opportunities for their community to learn about and discuss the history, ministry, and theology of women deacons.
  • Forty-six percent indicated they would create opportunities for their community to advocate for the restoration of women deacons.
  • Four percent indicated “none of the above”.

Question 25:  When asked if ordaining women as deacons would strengthen the community’s ability to provide pastoral care, evangelization, and opportunities for worship, 321 responded.

  • Ninety-one percent indicated that was completely true.
  • Eight percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Less than one percent indicated it was not true or not applicable

Question 26:  When asked if they had concerns about the impact of women deacons on the 31,000 female lay ecclesial ministers already serving the church in the U.S. and those serving in other parts of the world, 321 responded.

  • Ten percent indicated it was completely true.
  • Twenty-seven percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Fifty-five percent indicated this was not true at all.
  • Seven percent indicated it was not applicable.

Question 27:  When asked if they have concerns/questions about the impact of women deacons on the work women have done to promote women as priests, 321 responded.

  • Ten percent indicated that was completely true.
  • Twenty-nine percent indicated that was somewhat true.
  • Fifty-seven percent indicated it was not true at all.
  • Four percent indicated it was not applicable.

Question 28:  When asked if they were aware of the announcement on May 12, 2016 by Pope Francis to create a commission to study the question of ordaining women to the diaconate, 99% (of n 321 respondents) indicated “yes” and 1% indicated “no”.

Question 29:  When asked if they support the creation of the commission, 321 responded.

  • Ninety-three percent indicated it was completely true.
  • Five percent indicated it was somewhat true.
  • Two percent indicated it was not true or not applicable.

Question 30 asked respondents to recommend members for the commission.  Phyllis Zagano topped the list with Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Joan Chittister. OSB in second and third place.




Did you hear about Mary of Magdala on Easter Sunday? Read our survey results.

mary-of-magdala-card-cover1Even today, St. Mary of Magdala is portrayed as a repentent prostitute rather than the faithful witness and leader she was in the early Church.

Where ever we find her denigrated, we endeavor to bring the good news of her true role as “an apostle to the apostles.”

More than 330 people from around the world responded to FutureChurch’s Mary of Magdala Restoration Project survey asking whether they heard the full text of John 20:1-18 proclaimed on Easter Sunday that includes the story of Mary of Magdala as the first witness to the Resurrection and/or if the homilist reflected on her central role during the homily.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said they heard all of John 20:1-18 proclaimed, while 64% heard the only the official text, John 20:1-9.  Most of the remaining 13% heard a text from Luke or Matthew (see chart below).When asked if Mary of Magdala was mentioned in the homily, 54% of respondents said she was not, 26% said she was mentioned briefly and 13% indicated that the homilist went into great detail regarding Mary of Magdala’s role (see chart below).When she was mentioned in the homily, 27% said she was portrayed as a witness to the Resurrection with 22% indicating that she was portrayed as a central figure in the story.  Almost nine percent said she was portrayed as a minor figure in the story and 2.88% said she was portrayed as a repentant sinner or prostitute.

Fifty five percent of respondents said they would be willing to ask their pastor to read all of John 20:1-18 and to preach on the whole of the text which would include Mary of Magdala’s central role as primary witness to the Resurrection.  Five percent said they would not be willing to ask on either count.  Others indicated they were not sure.

To learn more about FutureChurch’s Mary of Magdala Restoration Project, go to #reclaimmagdala.

To join FutureChurch and communities around the world in the celebration of Mary of Magdala’s feastday on July 22nd, please write to russ@futurechurch.org to get details for this year’s celebration.

What did you hear on Easter Sunday about Mary of Magdala’s Witness?

Artist: Margaret Beaudette, S.C.
Artist: Margaret Beaudette, S.C.

In 2015, FutureChurch launched the Mary of Magdala Easter Gospel Restoration Project working with Catholics around the world to ensure that the full story of Mary of Magala’s witness to the Resurrection and commission by Jesus to “go and tell” is heard on Easter Sunday.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., reminds us that for centuries, Mary Magdalene has been portrayed within the Christian faith as a former prostitute who repented her sins and became one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers. But, “in fact, Mary of Magdala was one of Jesus’ most influential apostles—and she was not a prostitute,” said Sr. Johnson. “Mary kept vigil at the cross throughout Jesus’ crucifixion, discovered the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, and was then commissioned to ‘go and tell’ the good news.”

In Canada the bishops include all of John 20:1-18, but in the United States and elsewhere Catholics hear only part of the story, John 20: 1-9.  Thus, the telling of Mary of Magdala’s role as a primary witness to the Resurrection slips from view.

When reading the two versions side by side it is easy to see how dramatically the trajectory of the story changes when all of John 20:1-18 is proclaimed.  In the shortened version, the focus is on Simon Peter and their lack of understanding.  But in the longer version, we learn that the male disciples went home while Mary of Magdala stayed and continued to search for Jesus.  In doing so, she finds him, recognizes him as the risen Christ and is commissioned to go and tell the others.  The inspiring story of Mary of Magdala’s witness, commission and leadership role is proclaimed.

It will help us track the success of these efforts to restore the witness of Mary of Magdala to our Easter Sunday experience and will raise awareness so that more Catholics will be inspired to participate in this restoration work.  Share with us what you heard on the most holy of days, Easter Sunday.

Women Witnesses of Mercy are not push overs

Do not be lulled into thinking women who are merciful, are the silent sweet types.  They are not.

The women honored in our Women Witnesses of Mercy series are not push overs.  They are spirited and courageous and possess a kind of holy stubbornness when it comes to justice.

Artist: Marcy Hall
Artist: Marcy Hall

Sr. Dorothy Stang was feisty and energetic and loving — one of the great saints. She remained faithful to the poor, to the ruined Amazon, and so, to the Gospel and the God of justice and compassion. Beautiful stories come down to us.  She fed the hungry, built community, lived in destitution.  She confronted illegal loggers and corrupt ranchers, the class who stole land from the poor, kept them in misery, and bought off the police, the military and the government. Death threats rained down on Dorothy for years, along with insults and hate mail. Ranchers took aim at the community center for women that she had founded and riddled it with bullets. On one occasion the police arrested her for passing out “subversive” material. It was the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Another time, she escaped by a hairs-breadth an attempt on her life. Yet she carried on and included the ranchers in her prayers for peace. Her defense of the poor was fearless.

simoneSr. Simone Campbell is another case in point.  She has gone nose to nose with her most vocal critics and continues to plod a path to their door to engage them in dialogue.  She does not give up when it comes to creating a society that is just for all and especially those who live at the fringe of our economic and social stratosphere.

A constitutive component of Sister Simone’s understanding of and preaching of the Gospel is that everyone — individuals, families, communities, organizations, and governments –must play their part in building a more just society.  Her conviction comes straight out of Catholic Social Teaching.  In CST we learn that in the image and likeness of a Triune God, the person is not only sacred but also inherently social. Living in community is an essential expression of who we are. But community isn’t something that just happens. Catholic Social Teaching and Scripture proclaim that each person has both the right and the obligation to participate society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, but especially the poor and vulnerable.

Sr. Simone struggles with what it means to carry out the Gospel.  In her heartfelt poem, Loaves and Fish she writes:

I always joked
that the miracle of loaves
and fish was: sharing
The women always knew this.
But in this moment of need
and notoriety I ache, tremble
almost weep at folks so
hungry, malnourished,
faced with spiritual famine
of epic proportions. My heart
aches with their need.

Apostle-like, I whine:
“What are we among so many?”
The consistent, 2000-year-old
ever-new response is this:
“Blessed and broken, you are
enough.” I savor the blessed,
cower at the broken, and
pray to be enough.

In April, we will release the next Women Witnesses of Mercy resource on Sr. Dorothy Stang.  Another tough, “stubborn” woman witness of mercy, she was murdered for her work defending poor Brazilians and the sacred life of the Amazon where they lived and where so many living creatures depend on its ongoing vibrancy and health.

Please donate $125 or more to FutureChurch’s Women in Church Leadership Campaign and get a poster with all twelve women witnesses of mercy with beautiful original art by Marcy Hall.

Women Ready to Serve as Deacons

drm-Flier Ready To Serve TeleconferenceThe Second Vatican Council recognized “there are men who actually carry out the functions of the deacon’s office” and thus “it is only right to strengthen them by the imposition of hands.”

Today the same is true of many women who lead parishes and serve as catechists and chaplains and in other ministries. In light of mission opportunities and pastoral needs, local Churches should be allowed to call forth women for the ordained diaconia of liturgy, word and charity.

Please join us on April 13, 2016 at 8pm ET as we hear from three women who are ready to serve as deacons.

Connie Walsh has always felt a particular call to the permanent diaconate, not priesthood or religious life. Cynthia (Sam) Bowns recognized her desire to serve as a deacon as she accompanied her husband through his diaconal formation program. Natalie Terry is engaged in and feels called to greater ministerial leadership, and would seriously consider the diaconate if opened to women. After each speaker shares her story, Luke Hansen, S.J., will facilitate questions and discussion.  Read the bios of our panelists below.

RESOURCES for those interested in women deacons!

  1.  Visit our new Catholic Women Deacons website.
  2.  Sign up for our retreat for those discerning whether they want to be deacons from September 16 – 18, 2016 at River’s Edge in Cleveland, Ohio by sending an email to Russ@futurechurch.org.
  3. Sign up for our teleconference series.   The first one is April 13th with our three panelists.  The second one is May 18, 2016 at 8pm ET with expert Phyllis Zagano.  The third is TBD.

Bios of Teleconference Panelists

Connie Walsh, of Maplewood, Minnesota, a certified community health worker, recently retired after 24 years as the manager of advocacy services at United Family Medicine in St. Paul, Minnesota. The clinic serves a diverse group of largely uninsured or underinsured persons. Connie served for eight years on the Commission of Women for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and for five years she taught a domestic violence curriculum at St. Paul Seminary and for deacon couples. She has received formation as an Ignatian Associate, served on a parish council and on 23 Cursillo retreat teams, volunteered in Guatemala, and served as a lector, Eucharistic minister, fundraiser, and religious educator.

Cynthia (Sam) M. Bowns, of Crete, Illinois, recently retired as an associate and alumni coordinator in the development department at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Sam has a Masters of Divinity and a certificate in spiritual formation from Catholic Theological Union, where she continues to volunteer. A married mother of three, she has served for decades in a variety of parish ministries, including co-chair of RCIA, lector, Eucharistic minister and art and environment. Sam, a certified spiritual director, first recognized her desire to serve as a deacon as she accompanied her husband Loren Bowns through his discernment and training as a deacon in the Diocese of Joliet. Following his ordination, Sam pursued further theological education in order be a well-prepared advocate for women called to ordained ministry. Loren, who serves as a deacon in the Archdiocese of Chicago, will also participate in the teleconference.


Natalie Terry, originally from Wynantskill, New York, is the director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center and Children’s Faith Formation at St. Agnes Catholic Church in San Francisco. She has a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California, where she is currently writing her thesis for a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in the area of sacramental theology. She graduated from John Carroll University in 2010 with Bachelor of Arts in religious studies, and then served as a volunteer with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Pulaski, Pennsylvania.  Natalie has been a facilitator and prayer leader with the Ignatian Solidarity Network, and she has served as a lay preacher, lector, Eucharistic minister and presider of Communion services and Liturgies of the Word.

Luke Hansen, S.J., a member of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus, is a student at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, California. Luke has a Master of Arts in social philosophy from Loyola University Chicago, has worked on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and served as an associate editor of America magazine from 2012 to 2014. He has reported from the Vatican, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has won several awards from the Catholic Press Association for his writing. As an intern for FutureChurch, Luke recently edited the first edition of VOICES, a magazine that features the storytelling of Catholic women who work for the empowerment of women around the world through anti-trafficking initiatives, health care, education and other fields.



What Will Pope Francis Say in His Apostolic Exhortation on the Family?

Francis, my experts
by Pat Marrin

Sources say Pope Francis signed the 200 plus page post-synodal apostolic exhortation on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph but it is being translated into other languages (from Italian) before its release.  Reports say it will be published on April 8, 2016 at 11:30am (Rome time) and that Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna who was part of the German language group that offered a form of the “Internal Forum” as a way to bring divorced and remarried Catholics back into the fold, will present it.   Other expected participants at the press conference are: Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops;  Professor Francesco Miano, lecturer in moral philosophy at the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, and his wife, Professor Giuseppina De Simone in Miano, lecturer in philosophy at the Theological Faculty of Southern Italy in Naples.

The event will be live-streamed on Vatican Radio.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the architect of a pathway to Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics recently said that Pope Francis will “definitively express himself on family issues addressed during the last synod, and in particular on the participation of the divorced and remarried faithful in the active life of the Catholic community”.

The National Catholic Register reported Kasper as saying the exhortation will represent “the first step in a reform” that will mark the “turning of a page” in the Church’s history “after 1,700 years.”

“We must not repeat past formulas and barricade ourselves behind the wall of exclusivism and clericalism,” Kasper told the audience.  The Church must live in the current times and “know how to interpret them,” also saying that women must be offered more opportunities to serve in Church administration.

If changing protocol is a marker for what lays ahead, Francis may be sending another signal.  On Febraury 27, when Argentina’s new president, Mauricio Macri, visited Pope Francis in the Vatican, accompanied by his third wife, Juliana Awada, Francis, overcame resistance from the protocol chiefs and secretariat of state and received Macri with his wife in his private library.  Prior to that, Vatican protocol required that if a Catholic head of state visited the pope accompanied by a spouse not married to him (or her) in the church then that person was not admitted to the official audience with the pope. Instead, the pope would greet that person separately in another room after the main audience.  Unhappy with that protocol, Francis changed it.

Journalist Gerald O’Connell makes some predictions about what will be in Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

  1.  There will be no change in church doctrine. Pope Francis will reaffirm that marriage is between a man and a woman in a lifelong union open to having children. He will restate church teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.
  2. Pope Francis is expected to open doors in terms of the church’s pastoral approach to issues such as cohabitation, how divorced and remarried Catholics may be reinstated in the church and allowed to receive Communion, and homosexuality in the family.
  3. Mercy will be emphasized as the heart of the Gospel message.  He will also highlight the vital importance of “accompaniment” and “reconciliation.”The document is scheduled to be released during the first part of April, apparently, thank goodness, in multiple languages.

New Hope for Francis-style Bishops with the Appointment of a New Apostolic Nuncio

Archbishop Vigano washes the feet of a religious sister on Holy Thursday.

Media outlets have reported that Pope Francis has chosen Archbishop Christophe Pierre, now the Vatican’s representative to Mexico, to be his next envoy to the  United States replacing the retiring Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Michael Sean Winters shows how this role functions and predicts the new Francis appointment could produce changes for the U.S. Church including a new wave of Francis bishops.

  1.  The nuncio, like all ambassadors, is charged with maintaining relations with the U.S. government. The Vatican and the U.S. government collaborate on a host of issues around the world, even when tensions exist between the local Church and the government.
  2. The Vatican is concerned about the candidacy of Donald Trump.  Because opposition to immigrants is such a central part of Trump’s political rise, and concern for immigrants has been such a central focus of Pope Francis’ articulation of the Church’s social doctrine, it surely occurred to the Vatican leadership that an archbishop who has spent the last nine years in Mexico could be uniquely valuable at this point in time. As well, immigration is one issue on which the U.S. bishops are not only united, but on which they are totally in sync with the Vatican.
  3. A lot of routine and non-routine business is either handled by the nuncio. He  forwards petitions and other information, and is free to comment thereon, and shape the Vatican’s response with those comments.
  4. Nowhere is a nuncio’s influence more obvious, and more enduring, than in the selection of new bishops. When a diocese becomes vacant, the nuncio is charged with investigating the needs of the diocese and then proposing the names of three candidates who could meet those needs. That list of candidates, a terna, is sent to the Congregation for Bishops, which can pass it along to the pope as is, change the rankings of the three names on the list, or even reject the list and ask for a new one. Different nuncios handle this task differently, with varying levels of attention to the actual needs of a given diocese.  And although the Pope has his own method for finding bishops as is the case with Archbishop Blaise Cupich, in most cases, the nuncio draws up the first list of potential nominees.Right now are about a third of the U.S. bishops are very supportive of Pope Francis, a third harbor grave reservations about his leadership, and a third are not sure what to think.The new appointment will be instrumental in making Francis appointments. According to Winters, if the pope wants a bishops’ conference that will support him, he needs his new nuncio to name about twenty to thirty bishops who are with the program. Winters notes that in the past couple of years, when reading the lists of appointments at the Vatican website each morning, the new bishops in Mexico have all been pastors. Archbishop Pierre got the memo and, if he is indeed coming to Washington, we can hope he will appoint pastors to lead U.S. dioceses too.To learn more, read Winters’ article in full.

Why Voices of Faith In the Vatican Matters

IMG_2692The international initiative Voices of Faith seeks to both shine a light on the contributions women are making in the Church and in the world and advocate for expanded opportunities for women at all levels of Church governance.

On March 8, 2016, from inside the Vatican, women from around the world shared stories of fighting human trafficking, poverty, child marriage and more during the 3rd annual Voices of Faith Event.   A two-part event, the first half highlighted women leaders and experts from around the world who shared how their work helps curb the violence, exploitation and poverty women and children face daily. Their incredible journeys of faith, tenacity and courage are a witness to the Gospel message that overturns those cultural and societal norms that denigrate, de-value and de-humanize women and children.

During the second half of the event, a multi-generational panel of five women including Gayatri Lobo Gajiwala, Nicole Perone, Petra Dankova, Geralyn Sheehan and Carolyn Woo along with moderator, Tom Smolich, S.J., talked about the ways the Church has grown in terms of including women’s gifts, but also shared their ideas for expanding women’s roles within the Catholic Church.  The panel discussion can be viewed at the Voices of Faith website (1:40 – 2:44). The transcript can be read on the FutureChurch website.  The 2015 panel discussion transcript is also available.

Very often, people wonder if the expansion of women’s roles within the Church is connected to the plight of women in the world and the challenge of confronting violence against them with Gospel values.

The connection is strong and clear.

  1.  The Catholic Church misses out on the wealth of resources women bring when it excludes them from decision making within the Church. Catholic women have been pioneers on the Catholic frontier since the beginning.  Because they work closely with those who have suffered and those at the margins, they are effective in making the Gospel a reality.  Their dedicated service is woven into the fabric of Catholic life, especially in areas such as health care, parish life, education, social services, poverty reduction, care for orphans and children and care for the planet.  They are CEOs, presidents, CFOs, chancellors and provosts, yet they have no place at the table when it comes to the development of Church teaching, canon law, the choosing of bishops and many other areas that affect Church life. Those who live at the margins would benefit from the insights, wisdom, intellect and faith of Catholic women in the ongoing development of Catholic teaching, policy, doctrine, law and other disciplines that affect Catholic life.
  2. Effective governance pivots on the ability to have an inclusive and diverse governing body filled with people who have a stake in the outcomes associated with the mission.  Francis has begun that work in earnest appointing bishops and cardinals from outside of Europe and the West to new posts. But that drive for diversity should not end with prelates.  It should also include a healthy influx of women and laity from diverse regions of the world.  When a governing body includes those whose wise counsel comes from experience in the field, the governing body builds its capacity to respond more effectively to those most in need.
  3. Models matter.  And what the Catholic Church models matters.  The Catholic Church has enormous influence in the world.  It is a global player and its decisions affect the lives of women (Catholic and those who are not Catholic) everywhere.   For instance, the Vatican has significant influence at the United Nations both helping and sometimes crippling the efforts to bring women into full equality worldwide.When Pope Francis decreed that women should be included in the foot washing rite on Holy Thursday, women in Kerala, India and in Washington D.C. were included for the first time. When the Church models equality; when it models justice for women and men; when it creates new realities for women based on the deeply egalitarian practices of Jesus — it serves as a counter-cultural model — a beacon of new life for women everywhere, but especially in regions that unapologetically view women as second class citizens.
  4. We need to move beyond the few to the many.  Much of what the Church accomplishes is enormously life-giving, but it has not fully embraced or integrated women’s gifts, talents or faith into its governance structures. Panelist Nicole Perone stressed that most Catholics cannot name Catholic women leaders in the same way they can name Catholic male leaders.  Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, pointed out, that while a few women have risen to the top of their field, these women are the exceptions and not the rule.

    According to Woo, we need:

    1. The engagement of women as leaders in the Church to move from the exceptional to the habitual; from ad hoc to systematic.
    2. The engagement of women as family; not as guests or guest workers.
    3. To cast the feminine genius as more than simply being sensitive, intuitive and nourishing to include qualities such as entrepreneurial and persistent acting as a social critic and speaking truth to power.
    4. To make the Church not only a provider of services to women, but also an advocate for their rights.

The Church will be more credible as a teaching body and more effective in spreading the Gospel when it fully incorporates women into all levels of Church governance, ministry, leadership and life.

The Voices of Faith effort seeks to put a spotlight on the ways in which women are leading today while advocating for a new tomorrow where women will step up alongside their brothers fostering a richer brand of Catholicism and a more effective Gospel outreach for all people.















Vatican Rulings Protect New York Churches!

For the past 16 months, FutureChurch has actively supported parishioners in the Archdiocese of New York who appealed November 2nd 2014 and May 8, 2015 announcements by Cardinal Timothy Dolan that merged 149 of the Archdiocese’s 368 parishes.

Last week, the Vatican issued rulings for 9 of the 14 parishes whose appeals were accepted for review by the Congregation for the Clergy. In 6 of these, the Vatican took unusual care to amend the Archdiocese’s original decrees. The amendments said parishioners should be able to continue to worship in churches that had effectively been closed by Cardinal Dolan. While the Vatican did not reverse any merger rulings, the amendments provide important protections for parishioners wishing to preserve the integrity of their churches. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, (WSJ) one local leader had this to say:

“The Congregation is telling the archdiocese that you just can’t arbitrarily close churches and not allow the people to use it,” said Charles Shaw, a parishioner of St. Joseph who has helped to lead the appeals process. “The Congregation was very clear that the Polish nature of our church—and the personal nature of our church as a Polish-ethnic church—the cardinal needs to give us the right to carry on our worship in that fashion, and we’ve been doing it since the church was established in 1901.”

The WSJ also reported that three appeals were not amended and decisions about five others are still pending.

Canon lawyer Sr. Kate Kuenstler, who worked with most of the New York appeals, was pleased with the outcome: It is so good to see the Vatican respecting the parish faith community of the laity. I am delighted at the clear sensitivity of the Vatican that tempers the blunt instrument used by Cardinal Dolan to dismantle the parishes built by and for the European immigrants so many years ago.” 

By way of analysis, it seems clear that the Vatican’s protective amendments will make it more difficult for Cardinal Dolan to sell the churches of newly merged parishes. Further, the rulings effectively informed the laity that the Cardinal should not “suppress” personal parishes and that the Vatican has oversight over the sale of Catholic property. In several instances, the amendments specifically state that parishioners have the right to appeal again if the rulings are not upheld by local pastors or by Archdiocesan leadership.

FutureChurch congratulates these exceptionally faithful New York Catholics, and Sr. Kate, for this important victory on behalf of the rights of laity in the Church.


As Chicago prepares for the next round of mergers, they are asking what Chicago Catholics think.   http://www.archchicago.org/renew

Shrinking the Catholic Brand: Are We Witnessing the Woolworth Model of Management? by Deborah Rose-Milavec

numberofpraisheswopriestsMedia outlets are reporting new rounds of parish mergers and closures.  If you are scratching your head at this phenomenon, you are not alone.  You may even ask, “How is this prelate-led strategy beneficial for the Body of Christ, or more importantly, how does it catalyze the community in making the Gospel mission a reality throughout our world?”

Our faith tells us that we are to be the People of God, the Body of Christ — the eyes, ears, heart and hands of God here on earth, commissioned to bring the Good News especially to those who are marginalized in our societies.  Yet, by all measures, those in leadership seem to be downsizing — shrinking the number the Eucharistic communities where we feed on God’s word and learn how to love God and neighbor.  Does this strategy help us accomplish our mission?

Pope Francis knows that the Church benefits mightily from solid managerial practices.  He has done some heavy lifting in terms of Vatican finances and restructuring curial offices.   But what about Church at the local level?  When it comes to restructuring parish communities, is it fair to ask, “Are bishops suffering from the Woolworth management syndrome?” Woolworth stores, once a leading model in the retail five and dime business, went bust in the 1990s because they couldn’t adapt to a changing environment.  The Guardian wrote that the company “had outlived its usefulness.”

The Catholic Church is not a five and dime store.  Indeed, we need fewer places for consumers to consume.  But, whatever value Woolworth had, its inability to adapt to new models of commerce — the signs of the times — led to its demise.  Wouldn’t it be a sad story if the Catholic Church went the Woolworth way?

We know the CARA statistics — the hundred thousand mile view. People are moving to the West and South and along with it we see a Catholic migration.  The statistics make parish mergers and closings in the North and East seem logical.  Maybe it is true that our penchant to replicate European building structures presents a formidable challenge when there are demographic shifts, but at the heart of our dilemma is an attachment to one way of providing the Eucharist and sacramental life —  through the male celibate clergy.   Indeed, Catholic bishops have not been able to adapt to a changing environment in a way that revitalizes the Church and they have been loath to address the looming priest shortage in a way that allows for innovation and change at the heart of our ministerial (operating) system.  We need to ask, “How will this end?  Are we going the Woolworth way?”

Over the past decade over 1,350 parishes have closed.  In the Archdiocese of New York, although he has not had his way entirely thanks to the work of tenacious Catholics, Cardinal Dolan has been working to merge and close over 149 parishes.  The Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed or merged 46 parishes.  The Archdiocese of Chicago will face a second round of mergers and closures involving 80 to 100 parishes.  The Diocese of Sioux City will close 41 parishes by 2017. The Diocese of Cleveland will face another round of mergers and closures due to the shrinking number of priests. The list and the problem goes on.

Archbishop Blaise Cupich, a Francis appointee, will work as thoughtfully and pastorally as any bishop can, but if we cling to the idea that we need one priest for each parish in a Catholic environment where the priest shortage is not a minor blip, but an ongoing reality, how does one more merger or closure, no matter how pastorally presented, solve anything?

The fall out from merging and closings parishes is huge.

1.  We lose Catholics.  Parish mergers and closings drive down the numbers of practicing Catholics. One study shows that up to 40% of Catholics never return when they are turned out of their parish home.

2.  We lose valuable outreach to disenfranchised communities.  We shrink our ability to carry out the Gospel mission.

3.  We strain and sometimes collapse already fragile communities.  When a parish closes, gas stations close.  Stores close. People who need more services get fewer.  Blight roots itself more profoundly and people lose hope.

Whether by design or default, the genius that is the Body of Christ — the organism that powers God’s Gospel-oriented transformation on earth — is being diminished, one parish community at a time.

While we are inundated with loads of statistical data meant to allay fears and foster acceptance of the current strategy, we have a responsibility to look hard at the methods being employed by our bishops and call for greater courage and clarity in facing the root causes and the unsustainable attachment to models of ministry that no longer serve us in this age.  We have seen the effects of round one in the merger/closure strategy.  Will round two, three, four or five make us stronger or just bring us closer to some eventual end – diminishing our numbers and ultimately impeding our collective ability to carry out the Gospel? Will someone write two hundred years from now that the Catholic Church “outlived its usefulness”?

In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis urged Catholics to remember, “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach (28).”  In 2007, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he urged priests to “rent a garage” so people could experience Eucharistic community.

Some bishops have been taking his words to heart and are working pastorally and creatively to keep their parishes open.  Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., from the Diocese of Scranton appointed Mary Ann Cody, I.H.M. to serve as parish life coordinator and to shepherd the community of Our Lady of the Eucharist in the absence of a resident priest.  In Indiana, Archbishop Joseph Tobin reversed a decision to merge 4 rural parishes into one mega-church.

More than ever we need courageous conversations.  We need to share emerging models for ministry, like those in Austria and Switzerland.  We need men who are married, women and an empowered laity to step up alongside our priests to nurture the life that is our parish community.  We need Eucharistic communities more than ever – places to nourish one another and to grow in holiness.  We need to be transformed – not for some individualistic end, but for our work as the People of God in carrying out God’s dream.

Recently, Archbishop Cupich wrote, “We should not be afraid to face these realities, but rather see this moment as a graced opportunity to chart new ways to live out our mission more fully.” Let’s take Archbishop Cupich’s words to heart and seek new models born of God’s spirit today.