Pope’s commission on female deacons stalls without consensus

The Vatican commission exploring the possibility of female deacons has not been able to agree on whether women in the early Christian church were ordained as deacons in the same way men were.

Pope Francis says each of the 12 commission members (six men and six women) have quite different positions on the issue, and two years into their research they have stopped work.

On the positive side for ordaining women deacons, the commission found evidence and agree that female deacons performed functions such as immersion baptisms for women, anointing of the body and investigations into marriage annulment.

As an example, a document was found showing deaconesses were called by the bishop when there was a marriage dispute for the dissolution of the marriage.

“The deaconesses were sent to look at the bruises on the body of the woman beaten by her husband. And they gave testimony before the judge,” Francis says.

However, a sticking point for the commission was whether women underwent the same sacramental ordination as male deacons.

“For the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate,” Francis said during an in-flight press conference earlier this week when he was returning from a visit to North Macedonia and Bulgaria.

“Fundamentally, there is no certainty that it was an ordination with the same form, in the same purpose as male ordination. Some [of the commission members] say there is doubt, let’s go ahead and study.”

Francis says while the commission members “all had different positions, sometimes sharply different, they worked together and they agreed up to a point.

“Each one had his/her own vision, which was not in accord with that of the others, and the commission stopped there.”

The commission’s inability to agree will probably be a blow to proponents of ordaining female deacons today, as well as the umbrella association of religious sisters which in 2016 asked Francis to create a commission to study the issue.

Deacons today are ordained ministers, not priests, though they can perform many of the same functions as priests. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass.

Currently, while married men can serve as deacons, women cannot.

Further study into the issue will be arranged, although Francis has not said whether the commission members would be invited to undertake this or if another panel would be selected.

He did say, however, that members of the commission were continuing to study the issue on their own.

Advocates for the women’s diaconate say it would provide women with a greater role in the ministry and governance of the church, while helping address the effects of the Catholic priest shortage by allowing women to perform some priestly functions.

Opponents say ordaining women would signal the start of a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood.

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