Pope Francis, it’s time to release the women deacons report

women deacons

By all accounts, Pope Francis has had an eventful papacy.

This first pope from the Americas has breathed new life into the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, refashioned the Vatican’s staid bureaucracy, and pushed the Catholic Church to focus on the needs of the environment and global peripheries.

One especially interesting turn: Only 22 years after Pope John Paul II claimed the church had “no authority whatsoever” to ordain women as priests, Francis in 2016 created a first-of-its-kind papal commission to study the history of the ordination of women as Catholic deacons.

Even more, in 2020, after that commission had wrapped up its work, the pope created another.

For an institution known for thinking in terms of millennia, this is something akin to lightspeed.

And Francis deserves special applause for listening to the voices of Catholic sisters, long neglected or, worse, mistreated by the Vatican, who bravely asked him to create the first commission.

What’s particularly frustrating, then, is the near-complete lack of transparency about the work of the commissions.

Asked by NCR’s then-Vatican correspondent Joshua J McElwee in 2019 about the first group’s research, Francis said the 12 members of that commission had been unable to find consensus about the role of women deacons in the early church.

A few days later, the pope announced the group had written a report.

He formally handed the text over to the Rome-based umbrella organization of Catholic sisters around the world, the International Union of Superiors General, or UISG.

The document has never been released publicly.

The UISG and the commission members have kept almost total silence about what it said.

But as Phyllis Zagano, a recognized global expert who served on the commission, has surmised, the pope said he gave only a portion of their text to the sisters.

The rest presumably remains with the Vatican’s powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The work of the second commission is even murkier.

Although one Catholic news outlet reported that it had met together for the first time in August 2021, more than a year after the announcement, the Vatican has released no other information about its operations.

It is officially unknown how many times the group has met, if they are still meeting, or if they have written a report of their own.

The lack of information is egregious. Continue reading

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