THE Pope has set up a new commission to study the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate, after an initial study commissioned in 2016 reported last year inconclusively.
At the Synod of Bishops’ meeting in October 2019, which focused on the peoples of the Amazon, bishops acknowledged that many of the region’s RC communities were already led by women (News, 1 November 2019). One resolution stated: “It is urgent for the Amazon Church to promote and confer ministries of men and women in an equitable manner.”
At the close of the meeting, Pope Francis said that he would take up the challenge that had been put forward, “that women be heard”. But advocates for a permanent diaconate for women were dismayed by his announcement in February this year that he did not want to “clericalise women”, and that the status quo would remain.
Under the presidency of Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, Archbishop of Aquila, the members are listed by the Vatican as: Professors Catherine Brown Tkacz, Lviv (Ukraine), Dominic Cerrato, Steubenville (United States), Don Santiago del Cura Elena, Burgos (Spain), Caroline Farey, Shrewsbury (Great Britain), Barbara Hallensleben, Friburgo (Switzerland), Don Manfred Hauke, Lugano (Switzerland), James Keating, Omaha (US), Mgr Angelo Lameri, Crema (Italy), Rosalba Manes, Viterbo (Italy), and Anne-Marie Pelletier, Parigi (France).
The Vatican nominations for the new commission have been criticised by proponents of women’s ordination as having a conservative bias. The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research described it as “an inside job”.
“Rather than selecting commission members from Catholic theological associations around the world, the Vatican has nominated ten insiders, not even one of whom is on record as ever having voiced a desire for, let alone approval of, the ordination of women to the diaconate,” a statement said.
“Such a contentious issue calls for independent, peer-reviewed expertise and not for court theologians. Until the selection for such papal study commissions is made public, transparent, and open, there is little hope that the past will enlighten the present or that truth will prevail.”
The Institute expressed itself “baffled” by the appointment of Dr Farey, a diocesan mission catechist for the diocese of Shrewsbury, who, it says, has published nothing either on women deacons or women’s ordination. A press statement from the Women’s Ordination Conference said that women had played a leading part in the history of the faith since the time of the Gospels.
“We have heard the cries of the people of the Amazon and around the world for this ministry to be restored. We pray that the overwhelming historical evidence of women deacons, and the urgent need for women’s ordained ministries, guides the work of this commission to formalise a path towards ordination for women by recognising the work that women already do.”
Catholic Women’s Ordination expressed itself “saddened that yet another opportunity for progress in our Church seems to be being shut down”. The movement endorsed a press release from its umbrella body, Women’s Ordination Worldwide, which said: “Given how the decks are stacked against any recognition of the 1000 years of evidence of women deacons, we fear these Curia-approved scholars will soon be pronouncing that women should be shielded from ‘clericalism’ and continue to champion yet more platitudes about our ‘special nature’.
“At a time when the Church so urgently needs to reform its leadership structures and welcome women as equal and sacramental partners in ministry and decision making, the last thing we need is another commission.”
The historical debate about whether women deacons served in large numbers in the early centuries has tended to focus on what the term deaconess denotes at various times and places.