Pope opens door to female deacons
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis yesterday appointed a commission to study the issue of female Church deacons in a move seen as a potential first step towards women entering the Catholic clergy.
The 13-member commission, made up of seven men and six women, will examine the question with a particular focus on the history of women having played this role in the early years of the Church, the Vatican said in a statement revealing the commission members.
The panel will be chaired by Spanish Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the secretary of the Vatican’s theological watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
A Jesuit, Ladaria is seen as a neutral figure without strong ties to either the progressive or conservative wings of the Vatican hierarchy.
The establishment of the commission follows a pledge made by Francis in May during a question-and-answer session with members of female religious orders.
That was warmly welcomed by Catholic feminist groups such as the US-based Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC).
But Francis subsequently complained that the media had blown his comments out of proportion, saying he had not raised the possibility of women serving as deacons.
Advocates of such a move have long argued that women are pitifully under-represented in the Church’s hierarchy and decision-making processes, despite the number of women in religious orders far outweighing the total of priests and monks combined.
Allowing women to enter the clergy at a rank just below a priest would represent a first step towards correcting this imbalance, they argue.
They also insist there is no theological obstacle to the move because of the precedent established by women performing the role in the early centuries of Christianity.
Francis said in May that he was unclear about the history and that it “would do good for the Church to clarify this point”.
He made it clear that he did not see women becoming priests. That option was examined and categorically rejected by one of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II, in 1994.
In 2001, a commission charged with looking into the term “deaconess” concluded there was no basis for ordaining women to the role.— AFP.