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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Truthiness and the Pope's commission on women deacons

In the news: Vatican Announces Commission on Women Deacons

Here's the prevalent truthiness version of this news: "our progressive reforming pope, wanting women to have equal opportunities in the church, has come up with the idea of a commission to study women now being deacons". Who doesn't like this warm and fuzzy view of reality? But it doesn't correspond with the facts.

It's not just me who sees this - here's the beginning of an article at National Catholic Reporter from May: It's time to be honest about Pope Francis and women ...

Several years ago, I asked in this column, "When does our hope for Pope Francis become denial?"

After last week's frenzy over women deacons, I believe I may have found my answer.

The glimmer of hope came, of course, when Francis agreed to launch a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early church. The idea of a commission was suggested to the pope by a group of women religious during their annual International Union of Superiors General (UISG) meeting.

Hours later, just about everyone saw some version of a headline declaring that the pope was considering ordaining women deacons.

Unfortunately, few people had the time to read the full story behind the headline. And even fewer people had time to read Francis' complete response to the sisters' question about women deacons. (You can find it here in Italian and English.) If they had, they would have heard the pope reassert all of the theological ideas that prevent women from any form of equality in the Roman Catholic church ....


So what then *are* the facts of this situation? For those who don't have time to read that whole article from NCR, let me enumerate them ....

1) The idea of women being deacons has surfaced now and then over the last few years, and none of these instances had to do with the pope ...

In February of 2013, Cardinal Kasper said that maybe women could be deacons ...

Cardinal Walter Kasper suggested a new “diaconal” office for women at the recent spring assembly of the German bishops’ conference, German media are reporting. His proposal is for a “community deaconess” who would carry out pastoral, charitable, catechetic, and specific liturgical roles. This would be distinct from the office of male deacons, to be commissioned by a blessing rather than sacramental ordination ...

And a few months later there was an update on the issue from The Tablet ...

The president of Germany's bishops' conference has called for the creation of a new, specific office for women deacons .... But a spokesman for Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, whom Pope Francis has appointed cardinal-adviser for Europe, said ordaining women deacons was "not on the agenda". And Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg said the office of deacon was inseparably bound to that of priest and bishop and the sacrament of ordination, and the "tradition that only men can be ordained is based on the Bible".

So, women *might* get to be deacons someday (or not) but if they do get to, they won't be deacons in the normal sense of the word, they won't be the kind of deacons that men are (ordained).

Nothing more was said of women deacons until October of 2015, during the synod of the family, when Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher made a suggestion that women could be deacons ...

"I think we should really start looking seriously at the possibility of ordaining women deacons because the diaconate in the church's tradition has been defined as not being ordered toward priesthood but toward ministry."

What was the response to his limited suggestion? The idea went nowhere, of course, and this comment was made at the press briefing for Day 8 of the synod by Vatican Radio (audio version) ...

On the question of the ordination of women to the deaconate, Abbot Schröder said that it was a single proposal by an isolated voice that did not seem to be important in the room.

2) The idea of a commission to study women as deacons wasn't the pope's idea but the idea of women religious ...

During a meeting between the pope and some women religious, he was asked what prevents the church from including women among the permanent deacons, just like during the early church. And then the women religious proposed that there would be a commission. He [the pope] accepted that proposal and has said that he would bring that forward (link).

3) The commission is not studying the possibility of women now being deacons in the church, but the commission is only to study what the role of women deacons was back in the early church ...

The head of the Vatican’s doctrine office is suggesting little new will come from a study commissioned by Pope Francis into the role of women deacons, according to Associated Press. Cardinal Gerhard Muller says the Vatican is putting together a list of experts for the study. But he says the focus will be historic in nature, studying the role of women deacons in the early church, and that regardless a comprehensive study was completed in 2002. That study found that female deacons of the early Church cannot be compared to the ordained male diaconate of today ... (Vatican doctrine chief downplays expectations over women deacons)

4) The pope has never wanted women to have equal opportunities in the church, never wanted them to be ordained ....

One of the reasons church guys haven't wanted women to be deacons is the "ordained" slippery slope thing .... if you let women be ordained in the church as deacons, if you accept the idea that women can be ordained, then you will have no good excuse to not ordain them as priests too ...

The doctrine of the Catholic Church on the ordination of women, as expressed in the current Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that "Only a baptized man (Latin: vir) validly receives sacred ordination." The Catholic Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law and thus doctrinal. The question of whether only males can receive ordination to the diaconate has not been definitively ruled out by a document of the Magisterium (i.e., the pope, the Roman Curia, and the bishops), although it is considered that there is a fundamental unity between deacons, priests, and bishops in the single sacrament of Holy Orders, which is currently interpreted to mean that women cannot validly be ordained as deacons. (Wikipedia)

And if there's one thing the pope has made clear, it is that he does *not* want women to be priests in his church ...

- Pope Francis reaffirms ban on women’s ordination
- Pope Francis, women and 'chauvinism with skirts'

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