Pope opens discussion on female deacons

Pope Francis has created a gender-balanced commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church.

The 12-member panel of scholars will study the question of whether women were ordained as deacons in the early church, and whether they could be ordained in the Catholic Church today.

If female deacons were to be ordained, it would be an historic step.

The commission will be led by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, a Jesuit who serves as the second-in-command of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.

The formal name given to the group is “Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate.” The commission’s members include experts in patristic theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality.

Among noted names are: Franciscan Sr. Mary Melone, who heads Rome’s Pontifical University Antonianum, and Phyllis Zagano, a senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in New York.

Zagano says she feels “like I’ve won the Academy Award” to have been chosen.

The panel includes a second American, Fr. Robert Dodaro, president of the Augustinianum University in Rome, a priest widely viewed as a conservative.

Deacons are ordained ministers who can preach or preside over weddings and funerals but cannot celebrate Mass.

As recounted in the New Testament, the role of the deacon was created by the Apostles so that they could deploy ministers specifically dedicated to doing charitable works and thus free themselves to focus on preaching.

In the Catholic tradition, the role of deacon was eventually subsumed into the priesthood and hierarchy, until the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s revived the diaconate as an ordained order open to “mature” men over 35, who can be married.

Details about when the commission panel will meet and when its report and recommendations are due are still to be announced.




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