Study Commission on the Women's Diaconate
The Study Commission on the Women's Diaconate was established in August 2016 by Pope Francis to review the theology and history of the office of deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and the question of whether women might be allowed to become deacons.
After existing for several centuries, the vocation of deacon was gradually transformed in the Catholic Church into an office reserved to men who were candidates for ordination as priests and were ordained as temporary deacons. Participants in the Second Vatican Council recommended the restoration of the ancient permanent diaconate with votes taken in October 1963 and September 1964. The Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium) said that:
...the diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be established for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men, for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact.
Although the question of including women in the ordained diaconate was brought to the Council, in 1967, Pope Paul VI authorized the establishment of a ministry of permanent deacons, still restricted to men but open to married men. Under the rules he established, both permanent and transitional deacons belonged to a single order and were ordained according to the same rite.
The Catholic Church last examined the question of women deacons in 2002 in a report by the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. On 26 October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI modified canon law to clarify the distinction between deacons and priests, noting that only the latter act "in the person of Christ", that the diaconate and priesthood are specific ministries rather than stages the sacrament of order, thereby ending the argument that women can not be deacons because they can not be priests.
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Canada, raised the idea of ordaining women as deacons when speaking to the Synod on the family in 2015 and continued to raise the issue following the synod. A few senior prelates who have taken opposing positions on the possibility of a female diaconate, including Cardinals Walter Kasper and Gerhard Müller. Many bishops are supporting the restoration of women as ordained deacons.
On 12 May 2016, during an audience with 900 women religious at the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), Pope Francis took questions, two of which raised the issue of women deacons: "In the church there is the office of the permanent diaconate, but it is open only to married and non-married men. What impedes the church from including women among permanent deacons, just as it happened in the early church? and, Why not construct an official commission that might study the question?" He responded that the history was "obscure" and that it was not clear what role woman deacons played or that they were ordained. He added: "It would do good for the church to clarify this point.... It seems useful to me to have a commission". When media reports said that Pope Francis was considering ordaining women deacons and priests, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi contradicted those accounts and said: "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."
When Pope Francis created the Study Commission on the Women's Diaconate on 2 August 2016, he tasked it with considering the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Roman Catholic Church. He named Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as its President and twelve members, six women and six men:
- Núria Calduch Benages, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission
- Francesca Cocchini, faculty member at La Sapienza University (Rome) and the Patristic Institute Augustinianum
- Piero Coda, president of Sophia University Institute (Rome), member of the International Theological Commission
- Robert Dodaro OSA, president of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum
- Santiago Madrigal SJ, ecclesiologist at the Pontifical University Comillas (Madrid)
- Mary Melone SFA, president of the Pontifical University Antonianum (Rome)
- Karl-Heinz Menke, emeritus professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn, member of the International Theological Commission
- Aimable Musoni SDB, ecclesiologist at Salesian Pontifical University (Rome)
- Bernard Pottier SJ, faculty member at Institute D'etudes Théologiques (Brussels), member of the International Theological Commission
- Marianne Schlosser, theologian at the University of Vienna, member of the International Theological Commission;
- Michelina Tenace, theologian at the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome)
- Phyllis Zagano, senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University (New York)
The commission's members appear divided in their views. Zagano has written a book titled "Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church", while Menke has argued that women cannot be deacons because they cannot be priests.
- Cummings, Owen F. (2004). Deacons and the Church. Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. p. 50. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- Rahner SJ, Karl (1993). "The Teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the Diaconate". In Bourke, David; Kruger, Karl H. Foundations for the Renewal of the Diaconate. Bishops' Committee on the Diaconate, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. pp. 181ff.
- "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church". The Holy See. 21 November 1964. Retrieved 8 August 2016, chapter III, paragraph 29.
- "Frequently Asked Questions About Deacons". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
- "Apostolic Letter: Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem". The Holy See. 18 June 1967. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
Finally as regards the rite to be followed in conferring the sacred order of the diaconate and those orders which precede the diaconate, let the present discipline be observed until it is revised by the Holy See.
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