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What did Pope Francis actually

say about the female diaconate? 

by Elise Harris

Vatican City, May 13, 2016 / 04:55 am (CNA/EWTN News) - Update: Fr. Federico Lombardi stated May 13 that "one must be honest: The Pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests. In actual fact, talking about preaching during the Eucharistic celebration, he let them know that he was not considering this question at all." Fr. Lombardi added that "it is wrong to reduce all the important things the Pope said to the religious women to just this question."

Yesterday Pope Francis raised eyebrows around the world after declaring his openness to establishing a commission to study the female diaconate, but a careful look at his full response is less of a shocker, and points to nothing new.

In fact, in addition to giving a brief summary of a deaconesses' duties in the ancient Church, the Pope suggested that in modern times, nuns perhaps already fill the role.

“(The question) touches the problem of the permanent diaconate. One could say that the 'permanent deaconesses' in the life of the Church are the sisters,” he said May 12, with a laugh.

"What were these deaconesses? Were they ordained or no?” he asked, and noted that the Council of Chalcedon in 451 spoke about the topic, but was “a bit obscure.” It is because of this obscurity the Pope said he wanted to form a commission to study the topic.

Francis’ comments came in response to a question posed by a sister and member of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), who met with the Pope May 12 as part of their May 9-13 Plenary Assembly, which focuses largely on the role of women in the Church, and obstacles hindering it.

Francis’ lengthy discussion with the sisters consisted of four questions that touched on the lack of consecrated and lay women in decision-making roles in the Church, how to better insert women into the life of the Church, as well as the temptations of both feminism and clericalism.

In the question on deaconesses, the sister asked why the Church doesn’t include women in the permanent diaconate, since they already work with the poor and sick, and, in some cases where there is no priest, distribute Communion, lead prayer services and even give the equivalent of a small homily.

“What stops the Church from including women from being permanent deacons, like in the ancient Church? Why not form an official commission to study the question?” the sister asked.

Part of the Church’s sacrament of Holy Orders, the diaconate is currently only open to men.

Pope Francis said the topic of the female diaconate was something that interested him a lot when he came to Rome for meetings. He usually stayed at the Domus Paolo VI residence on this trips, and there met a Syrian theologian who was an expert on the topic of the permanent diaconate.

After asking the man, whom he described as “a good professor, wise, a scholar,” about the role of female deacons, Francis said the answer he got was that their role in the early Church was “to help in the baptism of women, in the immersion…for decency,” and to anoint women's bodies.

In addition to assisting with the full-immersion baptisms of women, deaconesses would also serve as an aide to the bishop in determining the authenticity of domestic abuse, he said.

The Pope recalled how the Syrian professor told him that “when there was a matrimonial judge because the husband beat the wife and she went to the bishop to complain, the deaconesses were in charge of looking at the bruises on the woman’s body from her husband’s beatings and informed the bishop.”

“This, I remember,” he said, noting that while the Church has already published documents on the topic of the permanent diaconate which touch on the topic of deaconesses, including a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission, the conclusion for modern times was still “unclear.”

The document, which gave a thorough historical context of the role of the deaconess in the ancient Church, overwhelmingly concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had “no liturgical function,” nor a sacramental one.

It also maintained that even in the fourth century “the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns.”

However, given the lack of clarity on the issue today and due to the fact he was only speaking on the basis on his conversation with the Syrian professor, Francis said that “I think that I’ll ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to refer me to the studies on the issue.”

He also voiced his desire “to establish an official commission to clarify this point. I am in agreement, and I will speak to do something of this kind.”

“To me it seems useful to have a commission that clarifies this well, above all regarding the ancient times of the Church.”

In her question, the sister also asked the Pope to give an example of where he sees “the possibility of a better insertion of women and women consecrated in the life of the Church.”

While concrete areas of insertion didn’t immediately come to his mind, the Pope said that “consecrated women must participate” in consultations and assemblies with religious, “this is clear.”

Women, he said, see things “with a different originality than that of men, and this enriches: both in consultations and in decisions, and in concreteness.”

The work consecrated women carry out with the poor and marginalized, in teaching catechesis and accompanying the sick and the dying, “are very maternal works, where the maternity of the Church can be expressed more,” he said.

Updated May 13, 2016, 16:28 MDT to include Fr. Lombardi's comments.

 

Past Issues

Feb. 10, 2019

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Jan. 13, 2019

Dec. 23, 2018

Dec. 9, 2018

Nov. 25, 2018

Nov. 11, 2018

Oct. 28, 2018

Oct. 14, 2018

Sept. 16, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: 2018 Golf Classic; student athletes; physically challenged; Leonard Stegman; Lesson in forgiveness; Sending us on a mission

Sept. 2, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Priest crisis; Scandal; Opioid addictions; Seeds of Suicide; Leightons; St. Anne; Vincke; seminarians; Dominican Sisters; Stewardship Conference; Dead Sea Scrolls; PSR programs; Roe V. Wade

 

August 12, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Prayer and Action; Totus Tuus; Janee Bernal; Diana Ramirez; Heidy Ramirez; Bishop Gilmore honored for 20 years ministry; suicide; contraception and abortion; Dead Sea Scrolls; Humanae Vitae; certification in youth ministry; Chuck Weber; Cathedral rectory chapel; Sister Viola Heichelbech; Adam Urban

July 15, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Immigration Protest/Rally; Faith and Light Fiesta; Seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls; Corpus Christi procession; Prayers for priests; Sisters turn 100; Michael Brungardt; Gerald Vincke; Massacre in San Salvador; Action for Alex 

 

June 3, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Parish Pray for Priestly Vocations; Appeal reaches $10 million; Gangs; Seminarians; Pam Willis; Why I like being a priest; Happy Father's Day; Patricia Lujan; Tyler and Rachel Bennett; Adoption Protection Act.

May 20, 2018
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation
KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Track meet; Beloved Sinners; Benjamin Martin retires; Smiles; Future of Fortune Telling; Hoisington mission; DofI; Getting Equipped; Spring Social; First Communion; Confirmation

May 6, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Archbishop Romero; Seeing, Touching, Tasting; Exhortation; Father Patrick Conroy; Happy Mother's Day; A child on your doorstep; Vibrant Ministries Grant; From the heart of a young father; Love Gives Life; Roman Holiday; Smartphone; retirement
Fossil Hunting

 

April 15, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Easter Vigil; Angelica Village; Colorado woman; The art of anger; Cimarron Couple; Staats; Adoption; 

Father Ultan Murphy anniversary; Coughlan; Spiritual Advisor to Hoodlums; Woman of Courage; Oration contest; Darcy Feist  

 

April 1, 2018

 

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Defending Adoption; Led by the Spirit; Knights; ABC Pregnancy Center;
Memorial of Mary; Homeless; Relics; Down syndrome abortion; Chrism Mass

 

March 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: SKYAC; Aleksandr Men; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; Uganda; School for deaf; Rannah Evetts; Oberle; Rachel and Doug Trombley; Oscar Romero; Paul VI; DACA

 

 

March 4, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Fasting for priestly vocations; Father Juan; Fasting and prayer;
Quest Weekend 2018; DACA; With God, anything is possible; Homelessness in our communities; Rhubarb, Kansas;
What's the point of fasting; Rite of Election; same-sex couples

 

Feb. 18, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Catholic Schools Week; Rachel Doll; Ellinwood; Great Bend; Garden City; Ness City; Dodge City; Sister Rita Schwarzenberger; Nigeria; Bishop Hermes; Fasting for Priestly Vocations; World Day for Consecrated Life; 50th Anniversary St. Dominic School; What will life be like in 50 years?

 

 

Feb. 4, 2018

 

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: March for Life; Tracy and Ross Smith; Adoption; Vibrant Ministries; Faith and Light;
Pro-Life; Mortal sin to discard elderly; DACA; Abortion; Dreamers; Human Trafficking

 

Jan. 21, 2018

 KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Louise Korbe; Anne Frank; Miep Gies; Home Heat; Father Solanus

 

Jan. 7, 2018

KEYWORDS, PHRASES: Good news and kingdom living; dreamers; Sister Teresa Orozco; Infant Adoption; Elderly; a moral conundrum; seminarian; feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

 

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