Cardinal Walter Kasper, close theological adviser to Pope Francis, has come out in favour of giving women a “non-sacramental, liturgical blessing” to carry out leadership roles in the Church.

Driving the news

The President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was responding to the red light Pope Francis appeared to give in early May to the restoration of the female diaconate.

“The formulas of female deacon ordination” in antiquity “are not the same for the ordination of a male deacon and are more similar to what today would be the abbatial blessing of an abbess”, explained Pope Francis on his return flight to Rome after a visit to Macedonia, commenting on the findings of the special commission he set up in 2016 to revisit women’s ministry in the early Church.

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Where it stands

“The result of the commission, which was to deal with the question of the history of the female diaconate, did not surprise me”, admitted Kasper, adding that for him “it makes little sense to continue to debate this question”.

However, the cardinal pointed out that the “position of the woman in society as in the Church is today very different from the one of the women in the first millennium”.

“Today, women have many functions in the Church that go far beyond those that the female deacons had in the first millennium”, explained Kasper: “extraordinary eucharistic ministers, lectors at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, leaders and presiders of Liturgies of the Word, next to often important leading functions in the Church’s charitable works and administration, as well as those offices in dioceses and in the Roman Curia which are not bound to sacramental ordination”.

For the record

It is in this context that the cardinal proposed a kind of rite of initiation for women who take on these posts but that would not, however, amount to a sacramental ordination.

“The Church is free to put into effect the vocation of women to these offices with the help of a non-sacramental, liturgical blessing – in the presence of the whole congregation and within the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (for example in the context of the Prayers of the Faithful) – and to do so in such a form that there is no confusion with a sacramental ordination. In similar ways, it is done in the case of the blessing of an abbot or an abbess, of a religious profession, of the Sacrament of Matrimony, and so on”, explained the prelate.

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Cardinal Kasper added:

“Innumerable priests and bishops owe their vocation to the priesthood to the example and prayers of their mothers; St. Augustine certainly was not the only one. It is a form of bad clericalism to think only a clergyman has influence in the Church. Each parish that I know around the globe would have already long collapsed without the service of women in the fields of catechesis, charitable works, and more”.