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Papal advisers on female deacons hopeful for positive answer

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

BRONX, New York, January 31, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis’s special commission to study female deacons turned its report over to him earlier this month, with some members saying the pope will know when the time is right to act on the decision of ordaining women as deacons.

“He will know the time to say something,” Hofstra University Adjunct Professor Phyllis Zagano said.

Zagano, a widely known advocate for women’s ordination to the diaconate, also said that Catholics should get involved in the matter.

“It’s up to the Church to make noise, said Zagano, cautioning, “To delay a positive answer” on women deacons “is a negative answer.”

Francis established the Special Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women in August 2016, with 12 members, six each, men and women. It is lead by Cardinal (then-archbishop) Luis Francisco Ladaria, whom Zagano said has “turned in a report and the Holy Father has it.”

Her comments were part of a Jan. 15 panel discussion on “The Future of Women Deacons: Views from the Papal Commission and the American Pews,” held at Fordham University’s Center for Religion and Culture, live-streamed by Salt and Light Media and covered in a Crux report.

The panel consisted of three Commission members; Zagano, Jesuit Father Bernard Pottier, professor for the Institute of Theological Studies in Brussels, and Sister Donna Ciangio, O.P., chancellor for the Archdiocese of Newark.

Moderator for the discussion was Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Media and consultant to the Holy See Press Office. 

The Commission was charged with studying whether deaconesses in the early Church were in fact ordained. The panelists at the Fordham event gave signals of support for ordaining women deacons.

“I have no promises for you,” said Zagano.

She said further that Commission members could only say so much about the report, according to the Crux report, but she and Pottier indicated that there was general consensus among Commission members on the past evidence and what role women deacons could play in the future.

“The Church will call forth what it needs,” Zagano stated.

Zagano and Pottier remarked that women were ordained for millennia, but that there have been differing opinions with regard to the ordinations and whether these women were considered “blessed” or “ordained,” maintaining that the terms have been used interchangeably historically.

They also said there had been specific liturgies for the ordination of women deacons, with women and men serving different roles in their function as deacons.

The Catholic Church holds that the diaconate is a sacrament of holy orders, below ordination to the priesthood and to the episcopate, and thus it can only be validly conferred on baptized men.

The International Theological Commission, a body of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), concluded in a 2002 report that deaconesses of the early Church were not the same as deacons today, and that the Church’s ecclesial tradition, in particular its magisterial teaching, underscores that the diaconate is a component of holy orders. 

The Church revived the permanent diaconate after Vatican II. Deacons, who can be married when ordained, can preach, officiate at weddings, funerals, and baptisms, but they cannot celebrate Mass or hear Confession.

There is marked general apprehension among Catholics that the move to “ordain” women deacons is part of a larger push for women in the priesthood.

The panelists observed that the idea of women’s leadership in the Church seems more timely than ever, the Crux report said, considering the continued clergy sex abuse scandal fallout, with Catholics having growing distrust in Church leadership. But likewise the three conceded that for Francis this issue might not be “on the top pile of his desk.”

Zagano said that given strong language on women’s leadership in recent Church statements, including both the final document from the recent Synod on Youth and the working document for October’s Synod on the Amazon, she is hopeful.

Toward the end of the discussion, an audience member pressed the panelists to give their thoughts on women priests. Crux said the panelists insisted it was unhelpful to try and conflate the topics of women’s ordination to the priesthood and the diaconate.

Bishop Erwin Kräutler, one of the organizers of the October Pan-Amazon Synod of Bishops, has given indication that Francis would not rule out women’s ordination. 

Francis has reaffirmed that women cannot be ordained priests, but it remains to be seen where he will come down on the issue of women deacons.



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