Commission for female deacons to hold first meeting

Vatican News

It is almost two years since Pope Francis said he would re-form the commission on female deacons.

Although he announced the new members’ names in April 2020, their meetings have been delayed as a result of COVID 19.

On Monday, however, the new commission confirmed it will hold its first meeting in Rome in the middle of next month.

The meeting comes just ahead of the global synod’s launch. The synodal process will bring lay people, priests and bishops in local churches together to discern new pastoral priorities. Female deacons are likely agenda items, says Tablet commentator Christopher Lamb.

He says an analysis of the new commission members suggests an even split between those for and against female deacons. This leads to the danger of repeating the first commission’s impasse, where members were said to be unable to reach agreement.

Lamb notes, however, that although those on that commission presented their evidence, they didn’t see what Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who had overseen their work, presented to the Pope.

“A critical issue is the precise question the new commission will be asked to discuss,” Lamb says. “No one is disputing the presence of deaconesses in the early Church, but those opposed to reinstating women deacons argue they were not ordained and only carried out tasks related to women, such as helping with their baptisms. Some of the commission members have expressed scepticism that the roles carried out by female deacons had roles similar to men.”

Alternatively, the new commission could be tasked with examining the nature of ordained diaconal service and which tasks carried out by male deacons are impossible for women to perform, Lamb suggests.

Rather than seeking a female priesthood, the Second Vatican Council stressed the diaconate is a “ministry of service,” he notes.

Furthermore, Benedict XVI changed canon law in 2009 to reinforce the distinction between the ordained priesthood and deacons.

Lamb says he sees the key questions as concerning ecclesial service, not doctrine, which could be addressed by local synods, along with the new commission.

In the push-pull of those for and against, female deacons will be fiercely resisted by some in Rome, curia Cardinals are believed to have been opposed to any opening for the female diaconate at the Amazon synod and central; to maintaining the status quo.

A potential game-changer is the Pope’s choice of Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi – a person outside the curia – to lead the new commission, says Lamb.

He will work with Fr Denis Dupont-Fauville, former overseer of the Archdiocese of Paris’s permanent diaconate.

When asked whether Francis had given any instructions about the new commission’s upcoming meeting, Dupont-Fauville explained he couldn’t comment as the work is covered by the pontifical secret.

The Amazon synod’s final document called for “the Church in the Amazon to promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner.” This year, Francis changed Church law to allow women to be formally instituted into the roles of lector (reader) and acolyte (server) while establishing the ministry of catechist which will be open to men and women.


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