Pope Francis has said he will establish a Vatican commission to look at whether women can be ordained as deacons. Speaking today to a group of female religious, the Pope said a commission would be useful in order to clarify the role of women deacons in the early Church.
During the meeting with 900 leaders of female religious congregations, Francis had been asked simply: “Why not construct an official commission that might study the question?" He told the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), who were meeting in Rome, that it was unclear to him what role female deacons had played during early Christianity. "It would do good for the church to clarify this point," he said in comments reported by the National Catholic Reporter.
For centuries the diaconate was a staging post for those becoming priests but following the Second Vatican Council the ministry was opened up to married men. Technically a deacon is a member of the clergy and can perform all the functions of a priest apart from say Mass and hear confessions.
Allowing female deacons would sanction a form of female ordination something that is likely to upset conservatives. Permitting women deacons would be seen as a possible first step towards priesthood.
However, Pope John Paul II definitely ruled out the latter and Pope Francis has also said he is not in favour.
Back in 2002 the Church’s International Theological Commission studied the question of the female diaconate. They concluded that deaconesses in the early Church had not been the equivalent to deacons.
In 2013 Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, former President of the German Bishops’ Conference suggested creating a diaconate specifically for women and something similar has been put forward by Cardinal Walter Kasper.
The news on the female diaconate comes as the Pope is being urged to give a more visible role to women in the Church. Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano recently ran a series arguing that women should be allowed to preach the homily at Mass.
But when asked about today the Pope said this task must be reserved to the priest because he is preaching “In persona Christi” (in the person of Jesus Christ).