All News & Blogs
Lynne Mapes-Riordan hopes to enter the Catholic Church's deacon formation program, which allows only men.
CHUCK BERMAN/CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Visit the Photo Place
BY MANYA A. BRACHEAR
CHICAGO--Lynne Mapes-Riordan of Evanston, Ill., hopes women will one day serve as Roman Catholic deacons. After 800 years, she could be one of the first.
Growing up, she never gave ordination a second thought. But then she learned that, unlike the church's verdict barring women priests, the question of women deacons has never been resolved.
That open question has led Mapes-Riordan, 49, and her fellow parishioners at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Evanston to seek an answer. If the church finds in favor of female deacons, she could become one of the first women ordained since the 12th century.
After meeting last winter with members of the parish, including Mapes-Riordan, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George reportedly promised to raise the question in Rome during his visit earlier this year.
Scholars say women deacons wouldn't be a novel or new idea, but the restoration of a tradition abandoned centuries ago.
The idea of female deacons "is being talked about very slowly," George said earlier this year
Mapes-Riordan, a lawyer, wife, mother of two and longtime parishioner at St. Nicholas, does not take a position on whether women should become priests. The church has made it clear that's not permitted. Ordaining women as deacons is not the same, she said.
"In a strange way, I don't see this being about women," Mapes-Riordan said. "I see it as being about church and mission."
She continued: "We have this part of a puzzle, this piece, that I'm not going to say is missing, but we could have a fuller picture if this [letting women become deacons] was added. I don't see it as a women's issue. I see it as a matter for our church."
At a time when critics have accused Catholic church leaders of declaring a war on women by restricting insurance coverage for contraceptives, rebuking American nuns and maintaining an all-male priesthood, a renewed discussion about ordaining women as deacons indicates high-profile church leaders such as George want to give women more opportunities for church leadership.
"It's a message of hope. It's a way to stay within the boundaries of Catholic teachings and have women with real preaching authority within the system," said Phyllis Zagano, one of the American church's leading researchers on the subject of women deacons. "I think the bishops need to address this issue directly."