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Pope calls for commission to study female deacons

May 13, 2016

Pope Francis met with superiors of women’s religious institutes on May 12 and said he would like to establish a commission to study women deacons, “above all with regard to the early days of the Church.”

In a meeting with participants in the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, the Pontiff fielded questions and warned against temptations to “feminism” and “clericalism.”

Addressing a question on women and decision-making in the Church, the Pope distinguished the Mass, at which a bishop or priest presides, from the inclusion of women in the Roman Curia and in diocesan bodies. The Pope said he would ask the Congregation for Divine Worship to study the question of preaching.

In response to a question about the ordination of women to the diaconate, the Pope recounted remarks by a Syrian scholar on the roles of deaconesses in the early Church, including the baptism of women by immersion and the examination of the bodies of women who told the bishop that their husbands had abused them.

The Pope said he would consult with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about the historical role of deaconesses and added, “I would like to set up an official commission that will study the question, and I think that will be good for the Church to clarify this point.”

He said later in his remarks that it would be “useful” for the commission to “clarify this well, above all with regard to the early days of the Church.”

The Vatican press office indicated, in a statement released after the Pope's remarks, that the Holy Father intends not only to study the historical question, but also the possibility that women might be ordained as deacons in the future.

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, St. John Paul II taught that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." However, that document did not directly address the question of female deacons.

In 2002, the International Theological Commission examined the possibility of female deacons as part of a broader study of the diaconate. The commission concluded that although it was probably not possible to ordain women as deacons, the Church had not definitely settled the question. 

Pope Francis indicated that he would ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to conduct the study of the issue. The Congregation is headed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller-- who is the author of the book Priesthood and Diaconate, which argues strongly that only men can be admitted to Holy Orders.


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  • Posted by: bernie4871 - May. 16, 2016 11:09 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis seems to think he is a Pope unto himself. Everything is up in the air and there are no precedents. Nothing is settled, Including good ol' Luther and any question he wishes to re-examine, just so long as it keeps everyone's dogmatic understandings up in the air, instead of down in the foundations of our lives.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - May. 15, 2016 8:59 AM ET USA

    As a deacon, I find it somewhat amusing that feminists are excited about this possibility. They may be less excited to realize 1) Pope St. John Paul declared DEFINITIVELY that the Church could not ordain women to priesthood 2) There is absolutely no money to pay deacons; we should end up in the financial red every year 3) Deacons operate with no power other than the sacramental power to baptize, and the (rare) authority to officiate at matrimony.

  • Posted by: Robby - May. 15, 2016 3:10 AM ET USA

    I'm wondering why my previous angst on the subject is non-existent. I cannot explain. Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

  • Posted by: ILM - May. 14, 2016 10:37 PM ET USA

    When we went from "Altar Boys" to "Altar Servers" the boys disappeared. Are we now going to try this with deacons?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - May. 14, 2016 6:10 PM ET USA

    It seems that every time Pope Francis speaks off the cuff he creates more confusion. There is enough confusion in the world without our spiritual leader creating more.

  • Posted by: Bernadette - May. 14, 2016 5:11 PM ET USA

    Dear God, I hope not. Why are some women not content to be women? To be true feminists, to look to Mary for their role as powerful women of God? This seems to be the selfish, narcissistic trend today: give me more, more, more. It's all about ME! I am so tired of women who are always looking for something more, something else, to be so-called "equal" to the male sex. There is a restlessness, a dissatisfaction, an unhealthy desire to be something other than what God intended us to be.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 13, 2016 11:48 PM ET USA

    “Feminism” and “clericalism” are terms that are both extremely fluid and politically charged that can have completely different meaning in different parts of the world. They need precise explanation every time they are being used, but especially when the Successor of Saint Peter is using them.