Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why didn't someone tell me deacons got a demotion in 2009?

Why didn’t somebody tell me that deacons got a demotion in 2009?  On October 26, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio (one of his papal decree options) that demoted deacons to being mere mortals like the rest of laity. 

How did he do this?  He changed the wording of Canon Law.  Previously Canon 1008 said that anyone ordained to Holy Orders operated in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. Furthermore, “according to his grade” of orders, all the ordained used to be called to fulfill “the functions of teaching, sanctifying, and governing”.  The pope removed this verbiage from Canon 1008.

Instead, Benedict XVI added a paragraph to Canon 1009 that says only bishops and priests act in persona Christi.  Deacons “are empowered to serve the People of God in the ministries of the liturgy, the word and charity”.  They no longer are called to “teaching, sanctifying and governing” functions.  They no longer act in persona Christi.

This is interesting on many fronts:
1.  The pope said he changed Canon Law after reviewing thoughts of the Congregation for the Doctrine Faith (CDF) written during Pope John Paul II’s papacy.  Who led the CDF under John Paul II?  That was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now pope Benedict XVI.  So, essentially, the pope said he is certain after consulting himself that he’s right.  Mrs. Slocombe from the old British sitcom “Are You Being Served” used to have a catchphrase when she employed a similar thought process, “...and I am unanimous in this”.

2.  The pope consulted himself but did he consult church history?  Prior to the Lateran Synod of 769, many popes were only ordained deacons before becoming pope including St. Leo the Great (Pope Leo I).   Were deacons less Christ-like then, possibly calling into question the validity of early popes?  If the old deacons were Christ-like enough to be elected pope, why are deacons less Christ-like now?  The pope strongly criticizes “relativism” yet he seems to be employing it here.  Why?

3.  Does this open the possibility for ordaining women as deacons?  Scripture clearly indicates female deacons, such as Phoebe.  But church leaders refuse to ordain women deacons now because of the in persona Christi aspect of holy orders.  Church leaders argue that since Jesus was a male, a person must be a male to act in the person of Christ.  Jesus’ gender is the only aspect of him that church leaders insist as a requirement for acting in his person.  As mentioned in my last blog posting, many church leaders do not actually imitate Jesus’ actions such as owning almost nothing, making himself powerless, dissenting, defending dissenters, promoting unity and forgiveness, caring for the poor, etc....  According to Canon Law, those aspects of Jesus’ person are immaterial but his sexual organs are of paramount importance for people to recall Christ’s person. However, now deacons are no longer bound to the in persona Christi requirement which church leaders believe only males can meet.

By the way, I hate to burst church leaders’ bubble, but men who live in bishop mansions do not remind me of Christ.  Men preoccupied with protecting church financial assets and power structures do not remind me of Christ.  Men who marginalize, excommunicate and censure do not remind me of Christ.  Men who rape children do not remind me of Christ.  Men who moved child rapists do not remind me of Christ.  Men who continue to dodge accountability for their brotherhood’s past actions aiding and abetting felonious pedophiles do not remind me of Christ.  And when these men stand on the altar to offer the Mass, I don’t magically find it easy to see the person of Christ in them.  I must remind myself that they too are fallible humans and pray that they, who call aspects of themselves infallible and consider themselves more Christ-like than others, come to realize their human fallibility.

I contrast this with the examples I’ve seen by many deacons, working directly with the poor and humbly serving in many capacities.  In my years on this earth, all but about 10 days of which have been as a baptized Catholic, I have encountered dozens of deacons who readily remind me of Christ.  Why am I supposed to see them as less Christ-like now?

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