Maike Hickson

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Theologian claims Vatican commission on female deacons found no evidence they existed

Maike Hickson Maike Hickson Follow Maike

March 21, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Professor Peter Hünermann – a well-connected and prominent German theologian – has told LifeSiteNews that, according to members of the German bishops' doctrinal commission who spoke to him, the report of the Vatican commission on female deacons found that “there is no historical evidence that in the patristics women were ordained as deacons.” 

In a recent interview in Germany, Professor Hünermann spoke about this Vatican commission on the history of female deacons that had been established, in 2016, by Pope Francis. This commission has ended its work and gave Pope Francis, already in mid-2018, its report. Professor Hünermann commented on the fact that Pope Francis “has withheld the results for months now,” saying that this “is a sign for me that he does not agree with this statement as it stands.” 

When LifeSiteNews reached out to the German theologian, asking him for more information on this matter, he answered, saying that “Professor [Marianne] Schlosser of Vienna – a student of then-Professor Ratzinger [and a member of the Vatican female deacon commission] – informed the German doctrinal commission about the results of this study [of the commission]. This I learned from members of the doctrinal commission.” He further explained that the “result of the Roman commission” is: “there is no historical evidence that in the patristics women were ordained as deacons.”

As Professor Hünermann explained, this position had been earlier held by Cardinal Gerhard Müller – the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome – as well as by Professor Karl-Heinz Menke, who was a member of this 2016 Vatican commission on the female diaconate. As LifeSiteNews reported, Menke had said, in 2016: “A female diaconate has nowhere and never participated in the office transmitted by ordination.” 

Professor Hünermann also pointed out to LifeSiteNews that “I assume that Cardinal [Luis] Ladaria as the president of this [2016 Vatican] commission shares this position.” Hünermann himself is in favor of a female diaconate and has discussed this position in a 2012 academic article.

“Whether Professor Zagano herself, or other members [of that commission], have introduced a dissenting minority report and whether this has been documented in the final report, is not known to me,” the German professor adds. LifeSiteNews had recently reported on some statements made by Zagano, who claimed that in the early history of the Church the “ordination ceremonies for women deacons were identical to the ordination ceremonies for men.” She implied that, therefore, a female diaconate would be possible.

Professor Hünermann also hopes for such a female diaconate. He confirms to LifeSiteNews that he himself had recommended, in 2016, to Pope Francis to establish such a study commission on the female diaconate. He also told LifeSiteNews that “it is my reflection that it is not an accident that Pope Francis has not yet published the [findings of the] counseling commission. In his view, the very fact that the findings of this commission “are obviously highly 'shaky' can be seen in the practice of several Orthodox churches which in the meantime have resumed their old practice and ordain women as deacons and have very good experiences with it in the pastoral care.” 

Already in 2002, a similar commission of the Vatican's International Theological Commission had published its own findings concerning this topic; it found that there was never an ordained office of female deacons in the history of the Church. It stated:

  1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church – as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised – were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons;
  2. The unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium.

As Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated in 2013: “According to Catholic doctrine, the Sacrament of Holy Orders – in its stages bishop, priest, and deacon – can only be validly received by a man.”

Professor Manfred Hauke, in recent comments to LifeSiteNews, further strengthened this position when he said: “We cannot identify the consecration of deaconesses with the ordination of deacons. It was not sacramental ordination that can be identified with the Sacrament of Orders (for bishops, priests, and deacons).” He added: “The history of the institution of deaconesses offers no solid basis, therefore, for the introduction of a sacramental female diaconate. The ancient Church was unacquainted with a female diaconate equivalent to the male diaconate.” 

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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.