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New book by Pope Benedict, Cdl Sarah rules out female deacons

The impossibility of female deacons has already been 'settled definitively' by Saint John Paul II, wrote Cardinal Sarah
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Cardinal Robert Sarah giving a homily at the conclusion of Chartres Pentecost Pilgrimage, May 21, 2018. Catholic Sat / Youtube screen grab
Maike Hickson By Maike Hickson

January 13, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A new book co-authored by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI and Cardinal Robert Sarah – the Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship – has ruled out the possibility of the Church creating female deacons, a matter that came up at the Amazon Synod that concluded in October. 

On January 12, the story broke that Pope emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah were publishing a book, in different languages, in defense of priestly celibacy. The English edition, titled From the Depths of Our Hearts, will be published by Ignatius Press. LifeSiteNews received a galley proof.

In this book, Cardinal Sarah makes it clear that the female diaconate has been ruled out by the Catholic Church. The “possibility of women being ordained as priests or deacons,” Sarah states, “was settled definitively by Saint John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis dated May 22, 1994.” 

Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah explicitly state that this book – which contains each an individual essay by Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah – was written after many personal and written exchanges between the two of them and they stress the “similarity of our concerns and the convergence of our conclusions.” Therefore, Cardinal Sarah's conclusion on the female diaconate likely reflects Pope Benedict's own position on the matter.

In a chapter titled “The Sacrament of Holy Orders and the place of the women,” Cardinal Sarah states that “the weakening of celibacy shakes the ecclesial edifice as a whole. In fact, debates about celibacy naturally give rise to questions about the possibility of women being ordained as priests or deacons.” After saying that this has been ruled out by Pope John Paul II in 1994, he goes on to quote John Paul II  on this matter: “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Comments Cardinal Sarah: “To dispute this reveals an ignorance of the true nature of the Church.” He goes on to explain God's plan of “complementarity between man and woman” and to compare it with the “spousal relation between Jesus and his Bride the Church.”
“Promoting the ordination of women,” the African cardinal continues, “amounts to denying their identity and the place of each sex.” 

Cardinal Sarah writes that a woman has the disposition “to receive love,” and the Church, just the same, is receiving “Jesus' virginal love.” “I dare say,” Sarah continues, “that the Church is fundamentally feminine; she cannot do without women.” He also establishes a direct link to Mary, the Blessed Mother, with her “dispositions of listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.” Women, by imitating these characteristics, can recall “these dispositions to all the baptized,” the prelate says.

The role of government of the Church, however, is entrusted to men. Cardinal Sarah calls it “a loving service of the bridegroom for the bride.” “Therefore,” he explains, “it can be carried out only by men who are identified with Christ, the Bridegroom and Servant, through the sacramental character of priesthood. If we make it the object of rivalry between men and women, we reduce it to a form of political, worldly power.”

Cardinal Sarah then explicitly mentions the discussion on the female diaconate: “Nowadays cleverly orchestrated media campaigns are calling for the female diaconate. What are they looking for? What is hidden behind these strange political demands? The worldly mindset of 'equality' is at work. They are stirring up a sort of mutual jealousy between men and women which can only be sterile.”

Placing the discussion on the female diaconate in a political context, Cardinal Sarah makes it clear that these demands are not coming out of the Tradition of the Church and from the context of the Gospel, but, rather, are stirred up by feminist ideas. Such ideas in the Church, however, can for him “only be sterile.”

Showing the important role of women in the Church's history, the African prelate quotes Saint Catherine of Siena's strong admonishment of Pope Gregory XI, whom she reminded of the need to suffer for the Church and to have “a heart which is that much bolder and manlier and does not fear what may come.”

“What bishop, what Pope would let himself be challenged today so vehemently?” Cardinal Sarah then asks and continues: “Today, voices eager for polemics would immediately describe Catherine of Siena as an enemy of the Pope or as a leader of his opponents. Former centuries had much greater liberty than ours: they witnessed women holding a charismatic place. Their role was firmly to remind the whole institution about the necessity of sanctity.”

By quoting Saint Catherine of Siena, Cardinal Sarah reminds us how women have influenced and should influence the Catholic Church for the sake of holiness, even reminding men at times of their own duties. He also quotes Saint Hildegard who “criticized the bishops” and Saint Bridget who “offered recommendations.”

Returning to the question of female ordination, the curial cardinal insists that, also historically, women were always excluded from service on the altar:

“Appreciation for the specific qualities of women is not achieved by way of female 'ministries' that would only be arbitrary, artificial creations with no future. We know, for example, that the women who were called 'deaconesses' were not recipients of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Ancient sources are unanimous in forbidding deaconesses to have any ministry at the altar during the liturgy.”

Rather, he goes on to explain, deaconesses at the time would help, in certain regions, with the “pre-baptismal anointing of the entire body of women,” for the sake of “modesty.”

Cardinal Sarah puts this discussion of female ordination in the context of the questioning of priestly celibacy when he concludes that “questioning priestly celibacy is decidedly a source of confusion about the role of everyone in the Church: men, women, spouses, the priest.”

Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah, in their concluding comments at the end of the book remind us “Woe to the one who remains silent.” And they call us to resistance against false intimidations when they state: “It is urgent and necessary for everyone—bishops, priests and lay people—to stop letting themselves be intimidated by the wrong-headed pleas, the theatrical productions, the diabolical lies and the fashionable errors that try to put down priestly celibacy.” 


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Maike Hickson

Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli, Catholicism.org, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana, Katholisches.info, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.