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L - R: Anglican bishop Jo Bailey Wells, Catholic religious Giuliva Di Berardino, Pope Francis Sr. Linda Pocher (far right).Anglican News/X screenshot

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — A nun who recently addressed Pope Francis and his C9 group of cardinals attests Francis “is very much in favor of the female diaconate,” though has no immediate plans to implement it. 

“We already know that the Pope is very much in favor of the female diaconate, but it is still something we are trying to understand how to put into practice,” stated Sister Linda Pocher. 

Speaking to Europa Press on February 8, Pocher – daughter of Mary Help of Christians and professor of Christology and Mariology at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium in Rome – revealed inside details about the recent C9 meeting of Pope Francis’ close advisors.

READ: Female Anglican ‘bishop’ addresses Pope Francis and cardinal advisers on ‘role of women in Church’

The meeting had continued looking at the C9’s current theme of the “role of women in the Church,” and included Anglican female bishop Jo Bailey Wells as one of three women who gave testimonies to the assembled group. 

Pocher attested that the “diaconate was also discussed” during the meetings.

She added 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.”

Pocher stated that the Pope had asked her to organize the meeting, presumably meaning in terms of organizing the guest presentations which she made, alongside Wells and a Catholic religious Giuliva Di Berardino. 

“I thought it would be interesting to confront the experience of the Anglican Church in this regard,” Pocher stated, explaining why she invited Anglican prelate Jo Bailey Wells. Pocher revealed she asked Wells to discuss “what kind of process they followed to arrive at the decision to ordain women and to tell how this has changed life in their Church [Anglican Church]. So what she did was to relate an experience, which we then discussed with the cardinals and the Pope.”

Meanwhile Berardino was tasked by Pocher with speaking on “the possible ministries for women in the Catholic Church, on the possibilities that are really feasible now in the Catholic Church.”

While outlining the Pope’s alleged personal support for female deacons, Pocher added that “there is no reflection on the priestly ordination of women in the Catholic Church.”

She also stated how while the C9 cardinals were “very willing to listen,” and a “rich and open dialogue” took place, there was no unanimous support for the female diaconate. Some were “less” open than their fellow cardinals at the meeting, she said, citing that such opposition was perhaps linked to “culture” and cultural norms – in a comment likely aimed at Africa’s leading prelate, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, who led resistance to Fiducia Supplicans based on Africa’s cultural stance.

“The cardinals who are on the Council are all pastors of local churches,” she said. “So they also come burdened with the sensitivities of their own people.” 

Pocher argued that the “question of women in the Church takes on different nuances,” noting that “in some countries there is still a lack of opportunities for them to study.” 

“So we have to focus on that first; in other countries, however, we know that there is an explicit demand for greater participation at the Church level and also through the ministries,” she stated.

Catholic teaching on female deacons

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.” 

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 2018, the 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.”

Pope’s position and synod’s ‘urgent’ calls

The Holy See Press Office has not provided comment on Pocher’s description of the Pope’s alleged support for female deacons, nor is any clarification expected, given the practice of remaining silent even in light of controversial interviews such as those conducted by the late Eugenio Scalfari.

Just last week, Pope Francis spoke to the Dicastery for Divine Worship about how “the woman herself has a very great symbol in the Church as a woman, without reducing it to ministeriality.” Such comments were interpreted as papal arguments against advocating for female deacons. 

Indeed, in a book-length interview released last year, Francis strongly argued against female deacons or priests. On the topic of female priests, Francis stated that “this is a theological problem” that, if attempts were made to include women in the priestly ministry, could “undermine the essence of the Church.”

Francis stated how “holy orders are reserved for men,” and added that he did not support the argument that the implementation of female ordinands could perhaps bolster Church attendance.

Nevertheless, Francis has opened the door to confusion on the issue in the past by establishing two commissions to discuss the topic of female deacons, despite Catholic teaching on the topic being clear and unchanging. 

The first was a 12-member commission to study the issue of women deacons in August 2016, which included leading advocate of ordaining women deacons Phyllis Zagano and Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer as its president. The second was set up in 2020, in light of the 2019 Amazon Synod, but neither has published their findings.  

The 2023 Synod of Synodality interim report called for the results of both studies to be presented at the October 2024 synod meetings, in light of the 2023 synod meeting calling for “theological and pastoral research” on the female diaconate to continue.

The 2023 synod report contained numerous calls for more women to assume governance roles in the Church, a topic deemed to be “urgent.”

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