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Holy Saturday message: Adopt a bishop

Special to the National Catholic Reporter

The women on the cover of Phyllis Zagano’s book Holy Saturdayýare not afraid. Unlike many depictions of the women who went to anoint Jesus’ body, these women have purpose painted across their faces. Bearing their ministerial tools -- alabaster jars of spices Ñ they sidestep the sleeping watchmen and learn of the Resurrection from an angel.

Those who are participating in the Adopt-a-Bishop campaign related to the book, which advocates ordaining women deacons, are not afraid either. Zagaono and others are trying to make sure the book gets into the hands of bishops.

In her scholarly work, subtitled An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church, Zagano is not arguing for a change in the ban on women priests. Instead she is bringing the weight of extensive historical research to her call for a permanent diaconate for Catholic women.

Zagano, founding co-chair of the Roman Catholic Studies group of the American Academy of Religion, believes it is entirely within the church’s tradition to restore its ancient practice of ordaining women to the diaconate. She uses theology, ecclesiology and historical documentation, along with contemporary understandings of deacons’ roles, to solidify her claim.

“I’m convinced she’s right. Her argument is on target,” Dominican Sr. Marian McCarthy told NCR. She brought the book to the attention of the General Chapter of her order, the Dominicans of Sinsinawa, Wis.

The Provincial Council of the order encouraged McCarthy, who wanted to get Zagano’s book into the hands of the men who could do something about it: the bishops

McCarthy has sent Holy Saturday (Crossroad, $16.95) to a dozen bishops and received “a few responses.”

A similar idea emerged among alumnae at the high school Zagano attended, Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead, N.Y. On April 5 the school kicked off the “Adopt-A-Bishop” campaign. It allows fans of Zagano’s book to buy a copy at a discount and have it sent to a U.S. bishop of their choice. The campaign is being organized by the Christian Meditation Center in Roselle, Ill., which McCarthy and her brother, Fr. Warren McCarthy, run.

Zagano points out that Holy Saturday, her ninth book, was inspired by the late New York Cardinal John O’Connor. In 1979 when O’Connor was an auxiliary bishop of the Military Ordinariate, he asked Zagano, a member of the Navy Reserve, how he could get women to serve as ministers in the military. “Ordain them as deacons,” Zagano said, noting that military chaplains have to be ordained.

O’Connor urged her to put her ideas on paper. If she wrote a book, he said, he’d get it to the pope.

Last spring, shortly before he died, O’Connor received one of the first copies of Holy Saturday. Zagano doesn’t know whether the book made it to Rome, but she has reason to believe the question of women deacons remains open at the Vatican.

In 1987 when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger visited New York, Zagano broached the subject at Ratzinger’s meeting with journalists. Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal czar, told her, “It is under study.”

Patricia Lefevere’s e-mail address is pal-scribe@erols.com

National Catholic Reporter, April 13, 2001