On the subject of his new commission to study the possible ordination of female deacons, Catholic women have warned Pope Francis against cementing their “second-class status” in the Church.
– “We do not need to prove our sacramentality”
In a press release April 8, the same day the Vatican announced the formation of the new commission, the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) cautioned the pontiff that it supported a commission on women deacons that was “open to the movement of the Spirit and the reality of the historical record, not one that seeks to justify a foreordained conclusion”.
The WOC – a self-described “feminist voice for women in the Roman Catholic Church” – recalled the Pope’s words in May 2019 to the effect that “I cannot make a sacramental decree [on women deacons] without a theological, historical foundation”.
But that “theological, historical foundation” for the ordination of women to the diaconate “exists in abundance”, the WOC said, thanks to progressive scholars who have been working on the issue for years.
“Holding women deacons to an impossible standard of historical consistency that is not used for other elements of our tradition is out of line with the essentially Catholic belief in development of doctrine”, the Women’s Ordination Conference added.
The women’s ordination advocates insisted that “women have been protagonists in the history of our faith since the time of the Gospels”.
“We do not need to prove our sacramentality. The ability of our bodies to manifest revelation is not up for debate”.
Recalling especially the women of the Amazon – on whose behalf bishops asked for the restoration of the female diaconate at last October’s Amazon Synod in Rome – WOC members said they were praying “that the overwhelming historical evidence of women deacons, and the urgent need for women’s ordained ministries, guides the work of this commission to formalize a path toward ordination for women by recognizing the sacramental work that women already do”.
– “Church can’t listen to real women and what they are saying?”
The reaction of the WOC to the Vatican announcement of the new women deacons commission captured the tone of disappointment with that new committee among Catholic reform groups and women’s rights campaigners.
The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, for example, warned with a few notes on the background of the members of the new commission that many of those delegates “appear to already have made their minds up against the possibility of a sacramental ordination of women to the diaconate”.
FutureChurch went further and criticised the Vatican for its lack of transparency in selecting the members of the new commission, as well as for the lack of synodality and geographical diversity among the integrants.
Irish priest Roy Donovan, meanwhile, writing on the blog of the Association of Catholic Priests, made the most of the occasion to ask: “Why is it that the Catholic Church speaks so much with fork-tongue around women? Says nice things about women but nothing substantial. Can’t listen to real women and what they are saying?”
For her part, women’s ordination advocate and member of the inaugural papal commission on women deacons (2016-19) Phyllis Zagano said “since there has never been any Magisterial finding that women cannot be ordained as deacons, I can only hope and pray that this new commission does not present an argument that women are ontologically different from men or that women cannot image the risen Christ”.
“Such would be a terrible betrayal of the people of God, the Body of Christ,” Zagano warned.
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