Pope did not say he’d ordain women deacons, spokesman says

Catholic News Service reports that when Pope Francis met members of the International Union of Superiors General, the leadership group for superiors of women’s orders, on May 12, he accepted a proposal that he establish a commission to study the role of New Testament deaconesses and the possibility of women serving as deacons today.

Pope Francis told the sisters that he thought it would be a good idea to form a commission “to take up this question again in order to view it with greater clarity,” Father Lombardi said. “But one must be honest: The pope did not say he intends to introduce a diaconal ordination for women and even less did he speak of the priestly ordination of women. In fact, talking about preaching during the eucharistic celebration, he let them know that he was not considering this possibility at all.”

On hearing the frenzy created by the media, CCRI received a request from the Huffington Post to comment. Rene Reid, CCRI Director, said

“We support any move towards greater inclusion of women in the church but recognize that this will be a slow and gradual evolution. For the Vatican to entertain reopening the diaconate to women as was done in the early Church, it would be considered the lowest level of ordination. The commission, when formed, should rethink the theology of all ordained ministries, namely, ordination of bishops, priests, deacons and deaconesses. There is a need to move away from hierarchical theology to the theology of service based on a person’s gifts … We can learn from other churches who have struggled with this issue for years … and learn from the mistakes they’ve made, namely, that ordination is not an ordination to a particular level of power. Rather it should mean ordination to different types of service based on the person’s innate gifts and talents. Some women will be called to be deacons. Others to be priests. And still others could be selected by the community to be their bishop.”

Before responding to the Huffington Post Rene consulted the CCRI Advisory Board and received the following comments:

We already have some ladies who perform many of the functions of a deaconess – one even presents a ‘communion service’ when the priest fails to arrive. I think their inclusion and expansion of their duties would present no problem (other than perhaps with the hierarchy!) And would provide a much-improved service to the community.
Geoff Harris, South Africa

I think it is a good point to respond with church history that there were women deacons in the church for centuries, even more there are catacombs in Napoly Italy revealing a women bishop. We have posted this on our church websites below. It would be a major step forward for the church to include women in ministry.
Bishop Karl Rodig with Catholic Ecumenical Church of Christ, U.S

The creation of a commission is the recognition of an issue but at the same time the delay of a decision. In small independent communities, women are often doing the work of a deacon without the title. In dependent parishes, this freedom does not exist. Giving women the authority to preach and distribute communion in parishes by ordaining them deacon, can be seen as an attempt in the direction of equal rights for everybody in the church. I would like to see a deadline set on this commission so it doesn’t go on ad infinitum.
Ed Schreurs, the Netherlands

As a lawyer I take particular pleasure in what Francis says about the obstacles placed in the way of women religious by canon law.  To paraphrase: “Get over this preoccupation with canon law!  Canon law is ‘juridical help’ to the Church, not a driver of policy.  Good grief!  The Code has been totally remade twice in the last century.”  There is no doubt in my mind that Francis puts canon law in its proper place.  If Church decision makers change policy, canon law will follow.
The case of Galileo provides some perspective on use of a “study commission” to finalize policy change that had been in practice for a long time.  Galileo was forced to retract his views in the 1630’s.  There was a formal study about this in the 1940s that was not conclusive.  Finally, JPII invoked a study commission in 1979 which reached a definitive conclusion thirteen years later in 1992. I hope this commission does not drag on like this.
It will be interesting to see who is appointed to the study commission on women as deacons.  Based on what Francis is reported to have said in the NCR article, it would not surprise me if the commission addresses the ordination of women as well.
Clyde Christofferson, U.S.

I agree that women religious have been short changed for too long. Again, this sort of injustice has been allowed to continue due to the fact that there isn’t a voting voice.  In the parish I grew up in, Nuns took care of the altar, Women Eucharistic Ministers handed out communion, Women served as Lectors. This was a half a century ago. The Diaconate is not a huge Leap into major reform. Another Commission? More Boards?   Where’s the danger?
Brad, U.S.

It is a small step.  Yes, two Popes earlier (Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II) did institute similar commissions. We hope something will come out of the one instituted by Pope Francis because he is a Pope who wants to promote women’s role in ministry in the Church.  It is not that women are not playing a role.  There are several women across the world who are doing the work of deacons, keeping parishes going, doing just what Francis says ordained women deacons could do for the Church, but they are not ordained.  In Europe that means these women do not get any benefits that priests get from the State because they are not ordained.  Therein lies the great injustice.  These women just receive a stipend, no health care benefits etc.  For too long women’s contribution to the Church has been exploited and underpaid.  This injustice has to end and we hope Pope Francis recognizes this truth.
The success of this commission depends on the people appointed to that commission.  They should be qualified women theologians who have mad e a thorough study of this issue to make a strong case for the diaconate for women.  A few supportive men will also be an asset.
Virginia Saldanha, India

What challenges do you anticipate lie ahead? 
There is always a danger that conservative forces would try to use such a commission to reinforce the Church’s existing indefensible opposition not only to women’s ordination but to the very discriminatory and foolish exclusion of women from top executive positions in the Church such as heads of dicasteries, positions of authority that do not require ordination.
What do you hope comes from such a commission? 
Such a commission would hopefully be at least a proper recognition of the need to recognise the equal and complementary God-given gifts of women.
What kind of impact could deaconesses have on the Catholic Church?
One need only loo at the tremendous impacts of women religious over the history the Church to see the importance of including women in this ministry.
Peter Johnstone, Australia

We must make very clear that CCRI defends the Ordination of Women. A commission as the one appointed by the Pope is a step in the right direction. The fact remains that there is no sound theological argument to continue the present state of affairs. There are more and more theologians coming to this conclusion.
Eduardo daSilva, Norway

As I understand it, we (CCRI) are all in favour of women’s ordination. If this is so, perhaps we should simply say any move towards greater inclusion of women in the church, with a view to arriving at their ordination, would be welcome and, in that light, we welcome the establishment of the commission as reported. 
Nessan Vaughan, Ireland and supported by Christina Reymer, New Zealand

I would suggest we wait with dignified, hopeful caution. Since it may turn out to be, that after discussion and study the Church will just re-state, that women cannot be ordained. To loose heads now, and get excited might turn out to be a bitter disappointment, and a terrible loss of dignity accompanied by bitter recrimination. THAT would not be good at all. Quiet is the way to go it seems to me, and wait and see with calm, the least said *for the moment,* the better. (Clergy are crafty remember!).
Olly Dennis, United Kingdom

I have to admit I have sympathy with what Olly says.   When I read the NCR article earlier this afternoon I searched www.news.va  to see if it was reported there.   I could not find anything.  Maybe it will be on that site tomorrow?
Valerie Stroud, United Kingdom

I’m grateful that Pope Francis will create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church.
Sr. Barbara Dreher, CSJ, U.S.

See also “Take this message to my brother …..”

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