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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Pope Francis made it clear the church can’t ordain women as deacons

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women as deacons - The Catholic weekly
Pope Francis sits down exclusively with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell at the Vatican 24 April, 2024, for an interview ahead of the Vatican’s inaugural World Children’s Day. The CBS interview marked the first time a pope has given an in-depth, one-on-one interview to a US broadcast network, according to CBS. A roughly 13-minute portion of the interview aired 19 May on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” with the balance of the session broadcast in a one-hour primetime special 20 May. (OSV News photo/Adam Verdugo, courtesy, 60 minutes, CBS NEWS)

The Catholic Weekly’s Facebook page lit up in response to my article on the Orthodox deaconess in Africa. It’s good to see that people can still get fired up. 

And my suspicion that Pope Francis reads The Catholic Weekly has been confirmed again. In a US interview on 20 May he said quite clearly that an ordained female diaconate was out of the question.  

I enjoyed the Facebook discussion because it showed the difference between the people who believe what the Catholic Church has always taught, and the people who believe it’s just a human organisation that’s being difficult for perverse reasons of its own. 

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These two groups of people are unlikely to agree on anything to do with the church, because only one of the two groups understands what the church really is.  

It’s also amazing how many people out there think that being a deacon is about leadership. The word actually means, “one who does as he is told.” 

I was very glad when one lady finally said that we shouldn’t even use the term “deaconess”. We should just use “deacon”, regardless of whether the person is male or female.  

And there’s the rub. The Acts of the Apostles clearly distinguishes male deacons from female deaconesses.  

So does the practice of the early church. But of course, if your aim is to use the diaconate to create a pathway to the ordination of women as priests, you’d immediately want the term “deaconess” to disappear.  

This severs the role from its historical roots, because after all, those historical roots can’t give you what you want—a pathway to ordaining women. The role of the deaconess in the early church is too clearly defined for that. 

So instead, you start talking about “female deacons”, which is a completely different concept with no historical roots in the church. Now we’re having a different conversation. 

women as deacons - the catholic weekly
(OSV News photo/Rhina Guidos, GSR)

But Pope Francis has also already said—reaffirming the ongoing teaching of the church— that there can’t be any ordination of women as priests. So how can we create a female diaconate, equivalent to the male, and close off the priesthood from them?  

We can’t. We can’t do it any more than the Anglican church could when it tried the same thing—ordaining women as priests, but not bishops. But once having ordained women, they didn’t have a theological leg left to stand on.  

(This always reminds me of a dear priest friend of mine who, when asked about this many years ago, said, “The Anglican church may as well have a go at ordaining women. After all, they can’t ordain men.”) 

This is what the “female deacon” cheer squad is really after. They hope to wear down the church both here and overseas by sheer dint of persistence. 

I’m also puzzled as to why no one has done a cost benefit analysis to show exactly what a female diaconate would give the church, especially in Australia. I know that the people pushing for it the hardest are those who want the role for themselves.  

But what about the rest of us? What do we get? 

Has anyone told those pushing the female diaconate that the number of baptisms in the Catholic Church in Australia is anecdotally in freefall? Church weddings are also dying out even among Catholics.  

We actually don’t need any help with doing these—quite the opposite. But we do have lots of funerals. 

And as for reading the Gospel and preaching, I have always thought two things about women doing this. 

The first is that a long working life alongside men has taught me that if a man can offload a responsibility on to a woman, he will do so, and with zero guilt. I think we have seen the ill effects of this in the church in Australia.  

The second is that the solution to poor preaching is to teach priests and deacons how to do it better. They will mostly hate this, but it will do them a world of good to learn.  

In fact, I can’t see a single benefit that a female diaconate would bring to the church in Australia. As I said before, we have plenty of priests, and lay people are already doing most of the more traditional “deaconess” tasks very competently.  

I think that satisfying the desire of a very small group of affluent women who want the diaconate for themselves for personal reasons is not enough of a reason to upend 2,000 years of church teaching.  

And thankfully this time round, Pope Francis agrees with me.  

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