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%. The low return rate was due to a deliberate attempt by a blogger, well known for his un-Christian antics, to skew the data and sabotage the results beginning May 28th. Thus, data received after May 27 was discarded. The blogger 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 402 response sampling does not represent all Catholics, but the results do highlight the voices of Catholics sincerely discerning a vocational call and their support for women deacons.
Who Took the Survey
Of the 402 respondents, the clear majority, 84% (n=337) were women, mostly from the United States, but 6% were from Canada, U.K., Australia, India and Germany. Sixteen percent (n=65) of respondents were male.
The vast 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 GenX 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.
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 Cleveland and St.Paul-Minneapolis dioceses had the highest number of survey participants at 18 each with Cincinnati at 16. 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% (n=39) 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 appl
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 and the rest skipped the question.
· 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.
Twenty-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.
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 ove rbaptisms, marriages and funerals was important
· Ninety percent indicated preaching the Gospel during Mass was important
· Eighty-nine percent indicated assisting during the Liturgy was important
Question 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 completel ytrue.
· 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 somewha 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 a tall.
· 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 thecommission. Phyllis Zagano topped the list with Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ and Joan Chittister. OSB in second and third place.