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Cardinal Robert McElroy entering the Paul VI Audience Hall for Synod on Synodality meetingsMichael Haynes

LOS ANGELES (LifeSiteNews) — San Diego’s Cardinal Robert McElroy has revealed that participants of the Synod on Synodality discussed ending the so-called “transitional diaconate” in order to more easily accommodate having “female deacons.”

Addressing the annual Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Religious Education Congress last week, McElroy renewed his previous calls for the promotion of women to the diaconate. His talk – only segments of which have appeared in the media – included fleeting details about the content of the discussions at the October 2023 session of the Synod on Synodality, along with a criticism of Catholics who have voiced concern about Fiducia Supplicans. 

McElroy echoed the phrase used by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich after the synod meeting, attesting that there was a common opinion amongst the Synod members that it was time for a “paradigm shift” on the role of women in the Church. Crux paraphrased McElroy as saying about the synod discussions that “it was the sense that the time has come for a ‘paradigm shift’ with regard to the inclusion of women in the Church.”

He reported the existence of a “full-bodied” discussion on the “female diaconate” that took place in October at the month-long Vatican event.

Paraphrasing the cardinal once again, Crux wrote McElroy said that the discussion included “perhaps ending the transitional diaconate, meaning ordination as a deacon as the final step before priesthood.”

According to the report, McElroy argued that divorcing the diaconate and the priesthood “could make it easier to have women deacons [sic].”

LifeSiteNews has requested the full transcript of McElroy’s text from the Diocese of San Diego, but has not received the text.

Growing calls for diaconal reshuffle 

The San Diego cardinal – who has been accused of likely excommunicating himself – is on record in calling for women to become deacons, although has stopped short of advocating for “female priests,” saying that the latter is an issue that “at this time would deeply divide the Church.” 

McElroy has been one of the ranking members of the Synod calling for some form of “female diaconate,” and doing so with renewed vigor following the conclusion of October 2023’s synod meetings. Indeed, his comments to the LA Religious Congress very much follow in line with those made alongside Cupich in October.

READ: Cardinals Cupich, McElroy promote Synod’s ‘urgent’ call for female governance  

At that time, McElroy told the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) how “there was a lot of feeling that [the diaconate] should be focused not on liturgical things, as much as on serving the poor and the marginalized,” and that this raised the question of whether to retain the diaconate generally.

Meanwhile, Cupich told NCR that the process of ordaining a seminarian to the diaconate before the priesthood should perhaps be reevaluated. He cited Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 amendments to canon law regarding (in part) the role of deacons, as being behind this call to “reimagine” the diaconate. 

“Does it un-complicate some of the theological questions that some people have?” said Cupich. “It’s valid to ask, if that’s the case… why are we ordaining candidates for the priesthood to the diaconate? It’s a legitimate question to ask. And if, if you start with that, then maybe you can begin reimagining what the diaconate is about.”

READ: Pope Francis affirms Catholic teaching regarding female deacons: ‘Orders are reserved for men’

Such is becoming a recurring argument made by proponents of the “female diaconate,” with such activists suggesting that the entire concept of the diaconate must be reevaluated, perhaps during the current Synod, and then opened up to women.

Indeed, a nun chosen by Pope Francis to organize a recent workshop for his select group of cardinal advisors on the “role of women in the Church,” which included an Anglican female bishop, claimed that Francis was personally “very much in favor of the female diaconate [sic].”

READ: Pope Francis ‘is very much in favor of the female diaconate,’ claims nun invited to address Vatican cardinals

She gave further credence to the likelihood of a new concept of the diaconate, stating that Francis “is changing the way of thinking and living the difference between the ordained ministry and the baptismal priesthood, extending to all the baptized some rights that until recently belonged to bishops, priests or religious.”

Catholic impossibility of ‘female deacons’

While such activist arguments have been, and will continue to be, made in conjunction with the synod, the Catholic Church has clearly pronounced the impossibility of “female deacons.” The diaconate, as part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, is not possible to be opened to women.

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II wrote, “I declare that 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.” 

READ: Pope appoints female deacon advocates to Synod as October meetings confirmed

In 2002, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission wrote after much study that:

  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

In 2019, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), spoke with LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson about the issue of female ordination, issuing a categorical clarification about the Catholic prohibition on the matter of women as priests or deacons:

It is certain without doubt, however, that this definitive decision from Pope John Paul II is indeed a dogma of the Faith of the Catholic Church and that this was of course the case already before this Pope defined this truth as contained in Revelation in the year 1994. The impossibility that a woman validly receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders in each of the three degrees is a truth contained in Revelation and it is thus infallibly confirmed by the Church’s Magisterium and presented as to be believed.

Some months prior to that, Cardinal Müller issued an intervention concerning the working document of the Amazon Synod, noting that “no synod – with or without the Pope – and also no ecumenical council, or the Pope alone, if he spoke ex cathedra, could make possible the ordination of women as bishop, priest, or deacon. They would stand in contradiction to the defined doctrine of the Church.”

Indeed, in 2018, the then-current prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., defended the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as bearing the mark of “infallibility,” with John Paul II having “formally confirmed and made explicit, so as to remove all doubt, that which the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium has long considered throughout history as belonging to the deposit of faith.”