The IUSG is a congress of the leadership for superiors of women’s orders. The meeting took place last Thursday, May 12, at the Vatican and some of the female leaders present asked the Pope directly about the possibilities for a female diaconate. Sister Carmen Sammut, superior of the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and president of the UISG, said the sisters “were quite excited by the fact that Pope Francis did not leave any question out; he really wanted to answer each of our questions.”
Furthermore, when asked about the possibility of a commission to investigate the possibility, Sister Carmen said that the Pope “accepted that proposal and has said that he would bring that forward so that it could be studied even more than it has already. And I hope that one day there will be a real decision about this.”
The day after that meeting, the men were closing ranks in their ecclesiastical phalanx to distance the Pope from any idea of female ordination.
According to the Catholic Herald, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who serves as Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, issued a “clarification” on May 13, saying that it “is a question that has been discussed much, including in the past, and that comes from the fact that in the early church there were women who were called deaconesses, who carried out certain services within the community.
“But one must be honest: The Pope did not say he intends to introduce a diaconal ordination for women and even less did he speak of the priestly ordination of women. In fact, talking about preaching during the eucharistic celebration, he let them know that he was not considering this possibility at all.”
The number two official at the Vatican’s Secretariat for State, Italian Archbishop Angelo Becciu, tweeted “Let’s not rush the conclusions!”
Sister Carmen, on the other hand, said that the Pope “was very strong about the fact that women should be in the decision-making processes and the decision-making positions of the Church.”
What was the exact question? “The permanent diaconate is open only to men, married and not. What prevents the Church from including women among permanent deacons, as happened in the primitive Church? Why not create an official commission that can study the question?”
The Pope gave a somewhat long answer, as he likes to do and which I appreciate, because he frames his answers within the historical conditioning of Church tradition. Much of what he answered was based on a discussion he once had with a theologian of the Syrian Church—rich in history and tradition—who explained to the Pope that the Early Church did indeed have women serving in the diaconate.
Was the Pope serious about establishing a commission? He must have been because Archbishop Becciu’s tweet was in response to the Pope making a surprise phone call to Becciu, telling him that he wanted a commission on women deacons.
Ah! Looks like Becciu was telling the Pope not to rush to conclusions as much as he was telling that to the women of the IUSG.
And this is what Pope Francis continually faces within his own camp. Francis makes bold and reform-minded statements and the male hierarchy tries to walk them back or even fetter what the Pope is proposing to the point of refusing to have the discussion.
Whom do we believe? The Pope or the spin doctors of the church?
We know that Francis has continually sided with women by denouncing violence and discrimination against women. Their elevation to the diaconate might be a way to send a powerful counter-signal. That was part of the case made by Quebec’s Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher in the October 2015 Synod of Bishops when he introduced the idea of female deacons. I always liked that guy.
Furthermore, as John L. Allen, Jr., editor of Crux magazine states it, “Francis repeatedly has called for more visible leadership roles for women in the Church, and this would certainly be one way to do it. Most ordinary Catholics will never attend a Vatican synod or a board meeting for the Vatican bank, but they do go to Mass, and seeing a woman helping to lead the community in worship would be powerful symbolism.”
One thing is clear. To attempt any prediction as to what Pope Francis is going to do is foolhardy. He would make a great Jazz musician because he follows the theme but his improvisations are usually something extraordinary.