Speaking to a gathering of superiors general of women religious communities on May 12, Pope Francis said he will look into setting up a commission to study the question of whether or not women can serve as Catholic deacons, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The NCReporter’s Joshua McElwee reports that Francis’ statement came in response to a request from a superior general at the assembly of the Rome-based International Union of Superiors General. Indicating that women served as deacons in the early Church, the superior general asked the Holy Father to set up “an official commission that might study the question.” From McElwee’s report:
The pope responded that he had spoken about the matter once some years ago with a “good, wise professor” who had studied the use of female deacons in the early centuries of the church. Francis said it remained unclear to him what role such deacons had.
“What were these female deacons?” the pontiff recalled asking the professor. “Did they have ordination or no?”
“It was a bit obscure,” said Francis. “What was the role of the deaconess in that time?”
“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” the pontiff asked aloud. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”
“I accept,” the pope said later. “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”
Update #1: Aleteia’s Diane Montagna has posted an English translation of Pope Francis’ response to the question about women deacons.
According to Catholic News Service’s Cindy Wooden, Pope Francis also said on the question of women deacons, “I will ask the (Congregation for the) Doctrine of the Faith to tell me if there are studies on this.”
In 1994, Pope John Paul II stated in the document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” Some have argued that the diaconate might remain open to women, pointing to the apparent presence of “deaconesses” in the early Church. In 2002, the International Theological Commission concluded a five-year study of the question of women deacons, initiated at the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and reported that the deaconesses of the early Church were not analogous to the ordained deacons of today, either in their role in the Christian community or in how they were commissioned. The ITC did not claim Magisterial authority for its conclusions, however.
Update #2: Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ said on Friday that Pope Francis “did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests.”
“In actual fact,” Lombardi continued, “the Pope made clear in his preaching during the course of the Eucharistic celebration that he was not considering this (question) at all.”
In his meeting with the superiors general on Thursday, Francis also addressed the question of women preaching homilies during Mass, as well as the role of women in Church governance. From Wooden’s report:
Pope Francis also promised to have the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments send the UISG a full explanation of why women cannot give a homily at Mass. While women can preach at a Liturgy of the Word when there is not a celebration of the Eucharist, he said, at Mass the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are parts of a whole and only one who is ordained can preside and preach.
The main part of the question was about the lack of influence women religious are given in church decision-making processes. Pope Francis said the obligation to listen to women in the parish, diocese and at the Vatican “is not a matter of feminism, but of right.”
All the baptized — women and men, lay or consecrated — have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit for the good of the entire church, he insisted. The entire church suffers when some voices are excluded from the conversation, he said.