Pope backflips on female deacons?

female deacons

Pope Francis seems to have changed his mind about female deacons.

This week, in a CBS TV interview, he explained that ordaining women has never been on his agenda, but non-ordained female deacons could be.

Female diaconate supported

In February, one of Francis’ theological advisers, Sr Linda Pocher, said while the Church wasn’t considering women’s priestly ordination, Francis actively supports the idea of female deacons.

She said discussions about the role of women in the Church were an integral part of the ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, scheduled to end this October.

Francis confirmed this point in the TV interview.

He told the interviewer that he wouldn’t consider female deacons with Holy Orders.

“But women have always had, I would say, the function of deaconesses without being deacons, right?”

“Women are of great service as women, not as ministers, as ministers in this regard, within the Holy Orders.”

They are “the ones who move changes forward, all sorts of changes.”

“…making space in the Church for women does not mean giving them a ministry, no. The Church is a mother, and women in the Church are the ones who help foster that motherliness,” he continued.

“Don’t forget that the ones who never abandoned Jesus were the women,” he pointed out. “The men all fled.”

Surprise reversal

The pope’s response surprised some who believed he was open to the possibility of ordaining female deacons.

During his pontificate, he has created two commissions to study the question of female deacons.

The first, tasked with examining the role of female deacons in church history, came back with inconclusive results.

The second commission, which focused more on the ministry of the diaconate, met in September 2021 and July 2022. The results of that work have not been made public.

The October 2023 Synod on Synodality where the subject was further discussed concluded the topic required further study.

In its final document, the synod assembly asked that the embargoed reports from the first study commission be given to the synod assembly this October to help guide their recommendations.

In the period between the two meetings, ten study groups organised by the Vatican’s synod office and others will look into the topics the synod said merited further discussion.

One asked “theological and canonical questions about specific ministerial forms” which include “the question of women’s possible access to the diaconate”.

Discussion vs discernment

Francis has changed his mind in the past about matters he’d previously seemed to favour.

In 2017, he seemed to open the door to ordaining married men capable of ministering to the many remote communities in the Amazon.

However soon after the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon closed, Francis said it was not possible to ordain married men since the Amazon Synod was merely a discussion.

“There was a discussion … a rich discussion … a well-founded discussion, but no discernment, which is something different from just arriving at a good and justified consensus or at a relative majority” Francis said.

A synod is a “spiritual exercise,” a period for discernment of how the Holy Spirit is speaking, and for self-examination regarding the motive beyond positions.

“Walking together means dedicating time to honest listening, capable of making us reveal and unmask (or at least to be sincere) the apparent purity of our positions and to help us discern the wheat that – up to the Parousia [the second coming] – always grows among the weeds.”


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