Groups supporting the ordination of women deacons have expressed “disappointment” and “astonishment” at Pope Francis’ suggestion that the Church is not ready to take this step.
In a statement, the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, which represents over 1,000 Irish priests, issued a strongly worded rebuke, accusing the Pope of “kicking the can down a timeless road” on the issue.
The Association, which has repeatedly highlighted the consequences of the decline in priest numbers for an ageing clergy, said the Pope’s comments on the papal flight after his visit to Bulgaria and Macedonia confirmed that many women’s gifts would continue to be wasted and that “to be a full member of the Church, exercising all the privileges, you have to be a man”.
The group said it also “confirms that women are not good enough, and that in the eyes of the official Church, men are more worthy than women”.
Describing women’s equality as “critical for the credibility and the future of the Church”, the ACP said introducing women deacons was “such a minimalist step that if [the Pope] cannot move on that, there is little or no prospect of any real movement towards equality”.
Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW), an international network of groups campaigning for the inclusion of women in all ordained ministries in the Church, said it was “astonished that Pope Francis has again delayed restoration of the ordained women’s diaconate” on account of a lack of clarity as to historical roots of the sacramental rite.
According to WOW, theologically and historically there is no valid reason for an exclusively male priesthood or a male-only diaconate.
“While the Catholic Church is able to develop and transform many of its teachings and practices, when it comes to women, the Vatican finds every excuse to stall,” the group criticised.
They called on Pope Francis to make public the complete findings of the Commission on Women Deacons.
Fr Roy Donovan, a spokesman for the ACP told The Tablet, “Women need to be consulted about how they see diaconate and all ministries rather than fit into old model of church.” He called on the Irish bishops to “demand from Pope Francis concrete practical actions in opening up all structures of the Church to women”.
In March, Dr Phyllis Zagano, a member of the papal commission on women’s diaconate, addressing a conference in Santa Clara, California, titled ‘Women Deacons: Past, Present, Future, said that about half of the Irish bishops had not yet introduced permanent deacons.
She said some of the bishops had indicated to her that half of those who hadn’t introduced deacons had chosen not to “because they can’t have women deacons”.