Francis announces his intention to create a commission to study the question of “women deacons" in the early Church. Men and women "should be complementary, and it is important that women are involved in consultations". A woman may give the homily during a Liturgy of the Word, but not in the Mass.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Pope Francis wants to set up an official commission to "study the issue" of the diaconate in the early Church, in particular as it regards the role of "deaconesses," or what they actually were charged with doing. The Pope himself said as much during a meeting with over 800 general superiors participating in the meeting of their International Union. The announcement sparked jubilant reactions particularly in "lay" circles, for the most part unjustified – when one considers the examples Francis used - but understandable in light of how what the Pope actually said is interpreted - and quite often exploited.
"Female deacons" aside, the pope's statements in the meeting held yesterday are of note. He was responding to some questions posed by the nuns – on the "feminine genius" and the role that women must also have in formation and the decision-making processes in Church. "Because women look at life with their own eyes, and we men cannot look at it the same way. The way a woman looks at a problem, the way a woman sees something is different to that of a man. They must be complementary, and it is important that women are involved in the consultation process".
Another "hot issue", was about the possibility of women giving the homily during Mass. The Pope responded by highlighting the difference between the sermon given during a Liturgy of the Word and that of the Eucharistic liturgy. "There is no problem - he said - with a woman - a religious or lay woman – giving the sermon in a Liturgy of the Word. No problem. But the Mass is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because the celebration is one - the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, are united - and the He who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides, does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological and liturgical reality. In that situation, since there is no ordination of women, they cannot preside. But what I have very quickly and simply just said can be studied and explained more".
The issue, however, allowed Francis to warn against "two temptations" related to the theme of the homily. "The first is feminism: the role of women in the Church is not that of feminism, it is a right! It is the right of a baptized with the charisms and the gifts that the Spirit has given her. We must not fall into feminism, because this would reduce the importance of women. Right now, I do not see this as a great danger among religious. I do not see it. Maybe once, but generally this is not the case. The other danger, which is a very strong temptation, and I talked about it several times, is clericalism. And this is very strong. Just think that today more than 60 percent of the parishes – I do not know about the dioceses, but maybe fewer - do not have a Council for Economic Affairs and the pastoral council. What does that mean? That the parish and the diocese is led with a clerical spirit, only by the priest, who is not implementing parish synodality, diocese synodality, this is not new to this Pope. No! It is in Canon Law, the pastor is obliged to seek the advice of the laity, for and with the laity, lay and religious, for pastoral programs and the financial affairs. And they do not do this. And this is the danger of clericalism in the Church today. We have to go ahead and remove this danger, because the priest is a servant of the community, the Bishop is a servant of the community, not the head of a firm. No!".
The Pope then spoke in favor of the idea of "prolonging” temporary vows in consecrated life. "In consecrated life - he said – I was always struck - positively – by the intuition of St. Vincent de Paul: he saw that the Sisters of Charity had to do such a difficult job, so 'dangerous', right on the front lines, that every year they must renew their vows. Only for one year. But he did so as part of the charisma, not as a culture of the provisional: to give freedom. I believe that in consecrated life first vows facilitate this. And, I do not know, you all should discuss this, but I would be quite favorable to prolonging 'temporary vows a bit, for this culture of provisional that young people have today ... to prolong the engagement before getting married! This is important".
Returning to the theme of "female deacons", Francis said that "in fact there was [a female diaconate] in ancient times: there was a beginning ... I remember it was a subject that interested me when I was in Rome for meetings, and I was staying at the Domus Paul VI; there was a Syrian theologian, really good, who wrote a critical edition and translation of the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian. And one day I asked him about this, and he explained to me that in the early days of the Church there were some 'female deacons'. But what are these female deacons? Were they ordained or not? The Council of Chalcedon (451) speaks about it, but it is somewhat nebulous. What was the role of women deacons in those days? It seems - the man told me, he died, he was a good teacher, wise, erudite - it seems that the role of women deacons was to help women in baptism, immersion, they baptized them, out of decorum, they even anointed women's bodies, in baptism. And a curious thing: When there was a judgment on marriage, because a husband beat his wife, and she went to the bishop to complain, female deacons were charged with seeing the bruises left on the body of the woman from her husband's beatings and inform the bishop. This, is what I remember".
"There are a few publications on the diaconate in the Church, but it is unclear what it actually was. I think I will ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to report to me on the studies of this issue, because I have responded to you only based on what I'd heard from this priest who was an erudite and valid scholar on the permanent diaconate. And also I would like to set up an official commission to study the issue and I think that will be good for the Church to clarify this point; I agree, and I will discuss doing something like this".