Huge news. Josh McElwee of NCR and Cindy Wooden of CNS are reporting that Pope Francis has told a gathering of women religious meeting at the Vatican that he will set up a commission to study the question of women deacons.
This is not only an idea whose time has come, but a reality recovered from history.
Women deacons would be able to baptize, preside at marriages and funerals, and preach during the Mass. Their preaching at Mass would mean that the church would finally be able to hear, from the pulpit, the experience of over half its members. Taken together, all this would be an immense gift to the church. This news fills me with immense joy.
UPDATE, from NCR:
Pope Francis has announced he will create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church, signaling an historic openness to the possibility of ending the global institution’s practice of an all-male clergy.
The pontiff indicated he would create such a commission during a meeting at the Vatican Thursday with some 900 leaders of the world’s congregations of Catholic women religious, who asked him during a question-and-answer session why the church excludes women from serving as deacons.
The women religious, meeting with the pope as part of the triennial assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), told Francis that women has served as deacons in the early church and asked: “Why not construct an official commission that might study the question?”
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.”
“I like hearing your questions because they make me think,” the pope told close to 900 superiors general, representing almost 500,000 sisters around the world. “I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it’s going to come from.”
Asked about deaconesses in the New Testament and the possibility of the modern church admitting women to the permanent diaconate, Pope Francis had said his understanding was that the women described as deaconesses in the Bible were not ordained like permanent deacons are. Mainly, he said, it appeared that they assisted with the baptism by immersion of other women and with the anointing of women.
However, he said, “I will ask the (Congregation for the) Doctrine of the Faith to tell me if there are studies on this.”
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.
Over the years, I’ve posted on this issue several times as it’s come up. Check out these items:
And the great Deacon Bill Ditewig offered some insight on his blog a few years back. Check it out.