Thursday, May 12, 2016

Pope Francis says he supports studying the possibility of female deacons

Julie Zauzmer and Anthony Faiola
Washington Post
May 12, 2016

Pope Francis on Thursday reportedly told an international conference of nuns at the Vatican that he supports the idea of studying whether women can serve as deacons in the church.

It was not immediately clear whether Francis’s remark, offered during a question-and-answer session, means he supports only studying more deeply the role of women in the early church or rather is open to allowing women to serve as deacons now.

In the Catholic Church, deacons are clergy who may baptize in a similar way to priests, may officiate at weddings and may preach. Unlike priests, they may marry.

The National Catholic Reporter and the Catholic News Service first reported that a sister at the conference of the International Union of Superiors General on Thursday asked the pope about women serving as deacons — and about women’s role in the past — and that Francis said he would appoint a group to study the issue.

“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” Francis said, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says there are currently more than 13,000 deacons in the United States.

Francis reportedly noted during his talk with the nuns in Vatican City on Thursday that in the early centuries of the church, women did serve as deacons. He said he once asked a professor to educate him on the role of those early female deacons — including whether they were ordained. The answer, he said, “was a bit obscure.”

The pope’s words on Thursday immediately generated confusion over what, precisely, he was aiming to do. Senior Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Washington Post that it was not yet clear what the pope’s intentions were. He said Vatican officials will need to more closely examine transcripts of his comments, which Lombardi described as coming in the form of a “spontaneous conversation” with a nun who asked a question at Thursday morning’s meeting.

The pope may, Lombardi said, have simply been calling for a study into the historical role of women as deacons in the early church.

Asked if that also opened the door to a commission on whether women should be permitted to serve as Catholic deacons today, Lombardi said: “I think it‘s too early to say what [the pope] has exactly in mind.”

Francis has repeatedly surprised Catholics and others with his willingness to question long-standing Catholic traditions. Although he has said that women cannot be priests, he released a major document that was interpreted as an opening to offering communion to Catholics who have divorced and remarried. He suggested that contraception might be permissible, in the case of the Zika virus. And in perhaps his most famous moment as pope, he said of priests who are gay, “Who am I to judge?”

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