VATICAN CITY, Aug. 2 (UPI) — Pope Francis has formed a commission to study the role of female deacons in the Catholic Church.
In a meeting May 12 with the participants in the Plenary Assembly of Superiors General, he said the Vatican should establish a commission to study the history of women becoming deacons, “especially with regard to the first ages of the Church,” the Vatican’s press office said in a statement Monday.
“After intense prayer and mature reflection, Pope Francis has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women,” the statement said.
Francis appointed Spanish Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer as president of the commission and named six women and six men from academic institutions around the world.
Deacons, a clergy rank below priest, “are ordained as a sacramental sign to the church and to the world of Christ,who came ‘to serve and not to be served,’ ” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Deacons can baptize, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services, but they cannot hear confessions. They cannot celebrate a Mass, but can give a homily.
Only married or celibate men over age 35 are now eligible to become deacons.
Two other commissions studied the historical role of women deacons since 1992 but neither led to changes.
An appointee to the new commission, Professor Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University in New York, has written in favor of female deacons.
Zagano wrote in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, “history documents women ordained to the diaconate from the earliest centuries of Christianity to the Middle Ages, when the diaconate faded as a separate order. As priests absorbed the work of deacons, ordination to the diaconate became simply a step in the cursus honorum on the way to priesthood. Fewer and fewer women — abbesses — were ordained as deacons, primarily for service within their own convents.”
During a meeting with members of the International Union of Superiors General, which represents 500,000 nuns worldwide, the Pope was asked why they can’t preach at Mass or be ordained as deacons. “I feel like a goalie, who is standing there waiting for the ball and not knowing where it’s going to come from, he said.
The Women’s Ordination Conference issued a statement that month saying “until women are included in all decision-making structures and as priests and bishops of the church, equality remains painfully denied.”