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The Pope creates a commission to study the role of deaconesses in ancient times

2016-08-02

Pope Francis has set up the commission that will study the role of deacon women in the primitive Church. 

The Vatican has published the names of twelve theologians, male and female, that will study this tricky issue. The statement never mentions the word "deaconess”.

The Pope wants to settle the discussion on a matter that concerns many people: if early Christian women were appointed deacons or if they were ordained. If they were ordained, it could mean that they somehow participated in priesthood.

Pope Francis was surprised by the reaction to the creation of this commission, when some considered it a step towards the ordination of women, an issue the Pope has spoken about many times. 

POPE FRANCIS
July 28, 2016
"As far as the ordination of women, the Church has already spoken out and the answer is no. John Paul II made the Church's stance definitive. The door is closed. But let me tell you something, Our Lady, was more important than the apostles, bishops, deacons and priests. Women play a role that's more important than that of bishops, or priests. How? This is what we have to explain better publicly.”

Pope Francis has appointed Archbishop Luis Ladaria, a Spanish Jesuit, president of the commission. Ladaria is also the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The group will not start working until September, but a lot of work has been done for them.

In 2003, the Vatican published a study on the Diaconate prepared by the International Theological Commission after ten years in the making. The document concluded that "this ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate. ” 

Many renowned female theologians are part of the new commission. Amongst others, there is Michelina Tenace, professor of Fundamental Theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, Sister Nuria Calduch-Benages, a Spanish professor and biblist, and Sister Mary Melone, the only female rector  of a Vatican university.

SR. MARY MELONE
Rector, Pontifical University Antonianum
December 2015
"I don't believe that women have to be priests in order to have an active, constructive role of responsibility in the Church. But this does not mean that it's not important to rethink how the priesthood is lived today by men, in the sense that-and I use the words of Pope Francis- it is a form of service. When interpreted as a form of power, obviously it creates discrimination and usually women are the first to suffer because they never reach the priesthood.”

Perhaps, the work of this commission will help to unveil many issues concerning early Christians and perhaps it will also help the Pope to better theologically describe the role of women in the Catholic Church.

However, most experts maintain that this commission shouldn't be seen as a step towards female priesthood.


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