The thought police never sleeps

And the crackdown continues. The latest in the continuing saga of speaking bans, censures, and reprimands for theologians comes from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where a prominent and widely respected deacon theologian, who previously headed the bishops’ secretariat for the diaconate, is no longer allowed to speak.

Deacon William Ditewig has been disinvited from a talk he was scheduled to give to the archdiocese’s deacons in March. The cancellation of this talk comes after the archdiocese’s Speaker Approval Commission recommended that he not be approved to speak in the archdiocese because his appearance would “cause doctrinal confusion.”

So which church teaching has Ditewig dared to question? Actually none. The thought crime he is being accused of committing is entertaining the possibility that women could again be ordained to the diaconate, a practice that was well established in the church for many centuries.

Ditewig and his two co-authours, Phyllis Zagano and Gary Macy, point out in their recent book Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future (Paulist) that, while the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood has officially been ruled out by the Catholic Church, the question of ordaining women to the diaconate is entirely different and remains open for discussion.

The speaker approval commission itself acknowledges that the magisterium “has not made a definitive pronouncement” on Ditewig’s positions about the diaconate for women but claims that “an argument can be made that the ordinary universal magisterium has moved against” those positions. Having him as a speaker—on an unrelated topic, by the way—“would introduce the possibility of doctrinal confusion.”

In other words, even though Ditewig has not publicly questioned a church teaching, the commission’s speculation about what the magisterium might at some point say about the question at hand is now enough to prohibit a well-respected theologian from talking about any topic whatsoever.

As the National Catholic Reporter notes, among many other bishops, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George recently referred to the possibility of ordination of women to the diaconate as an “open question.”

Given the “doctrinal confusion” that statement could sow, one wonders when Cardinal George will be banned from speaking in the Philadelphia Archdiocese as well?

For more background on the “open question” of women deacons, please see our interviews with Deacon Ditewig's two co-authors, Phyllis Zagano and Gary Macy.

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