First meeting of Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women

In my email a Communiqué of the Holy See Press Office

Today, November 25, 2016, the first meeting of the Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women took place. This commission was established by the Holy Father on August 2 with the purpose of doing an objective study on the situation in the early Church. Chaired by Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Commission members will meet in morning and evening sessions over two days in the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

So, their slow march to the vanishing point has begun.

Reading that Communiqué’s carefully crafted text suggests a few things.

First, the commission has a purpose: “the purpose of doing an objective study on the situation in the early Church” with respect to the “Diaconate of Women”.  That’s the commission’s purpose.  Not another.

The purpose of the commission, as stated at least, is not to make recommendations about what to do (i.e., Holy Father you can ordain women / you can’t ordain women!).  Also, they are confined to the early Church.  That takes us up through, probably, what many scholars call “late antiquity”.  There is still a lot of material there, but most of it has been picked over already.

Second, they are tasked to produce a “study”.  What sort of “study” can 12 members produce collectively?  And on what time line?  Don’t hold your breath or keep your calendar open.

Third, they have four meetings over two days for this round.

Consider how meetings go.

The first meeting has to be nuts and bolts and introductions.  Then at 1 PM they will break for a long lunch, because when in Rome that’s what you do. The first day’s second session will probably allow individual members to make short presentations.  Since there are twelve of them, they would have to be really short, maybe 10 minutes a piece.   In Rome things rev up after lunch at about 4 PM and they go to 7 PM: 3 hours. That’s two hours plus and the bulk of the afternoon session.  They might be asked to turn in texts so that everyone else can get them tomorrow morning, if they weren’t collected and distributed ahead of time.  They won’t be that organized.

And there was – or will be – evening, and morning, the first day.

On the second day, tomorrow, they’ll probably hear anyone who didn’t get squeezed in today because some members will run long and take 15-20 minutes.  Then, after a coffee break with dry biscuits around 10:30 (‘case that’s when we did it when I worked there), they might open up the table for a kind of round-table discussion, with some backing and forthing.  Then they’ll break at 1 PM for another long lunch, because that’s what you do in Rome.  In the lunch-groggy evening session, punctuated by a coffee break with more biscuits, they will have a soul annihilating philological rag chew about what the meaning of the “is” is in 4th century Coptic manuscripts (there will be claims and counter claims) until Archbp. Ladaria, poor man, calls a halt around 7 PM.  They’ll be congratulated for a couple of fruitful and enlightening days and then adjourn sine die.

So….  Nuts and bolts.  Introductions.  Initial comments.   A little discussion.  They go their separate ways without knowing the date of the next meeting.

I’ll guess 6 months, at the least.  Maybe 9.  Why rush?

This will go nowhere, verrrrrry slooooooowly.

Meanwhile, Deacon Greg Kandra has on his blog a piece with an update about how some Orthodox have begun their own study of deaconesses.  I can’t see that going anywhere, either. HERE

Bottom line: As I wrote before and stick to now:

The question will eventually be resolved (frankly, it probably is already resolved) wholly on the basis what it means to be ordained TODAY, not centuries ago.  What do Holy Orders mean NOW.  That’s the key.  Inevitably our present understanding of Holy Orders will trump history, philology, etc.  I suspect that this move [establishing a commission to “study” the early Church] will forever bury the question, and properly so.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jackie L says:

    So this is headed by a Jesuit eh…..

  2. They will probably spend a week debating what the sign on the door should read. Should it be “Study Commission on the Diaconate of Women,” or maybe “SCDW,” or “STUDY COMMISSION ON THE DIACONATE OF WOMEN,” or just “STUDY COMMISSION.” What font should be used? Perhaps the first letter of each word should be in large caps and the rest in small caps? Should it be all on one line, or on separate lines? Black on white or white on black or blue on yellow? Latin, English, French, or Italian, or maybe all four?

    Seriously, they had this sort of debate at one of our clients when it was time to move into a new office, from what I heard from someone who works there. However, remember Humanae Vitae. They had a study commission before that too, and everyone thought that the foregone conclusion was that things were changing, and then everyone got angry when it didn’t and simply ignored what Pope Paul VI actually taught. Granted, this is a bit different, but I wouldn’t get too comfortable.

  3. JabbaPapa says:

    I think the “early church” business has three purposes :

    1) to try and avoid doctrinal conflicts with the Othodox

    2) because ideological opposition against the Deaconesses was a by-product of East vs. West dissensions

    3) to remind people more loudly that the Deaconesses were not “fuzzy equal rights LGBT wymmyn Deacons in rainbow stoles”

  4. Unwilling says:

    Journalist unintelligible “So, there can never be ordination of women?”
    Pope Francis: If we read well the declaration made by St. John Paul II, [we find that] it goes along this line, yes.

    The iffyness and obliquity of this reply leaves me unsettled. What if we don’t read it that way — then where would we or it go? Maybe St. John Paul II [meaning well and being saintly and all] went along a line that led him astray? But why bother yourself with what he said? Maybe he said it for the hardness of your hearts, but from the beginning it was not so. Maybe Pope Francis will gainsay him and welcome the ordination of women. Maybe this is just one of the things that Pope Francis must correct and reverse.

  5. THREEHEARTS says:

    we should be very careful of how we speak for the orthodox Kallistos Ware who has forced the orthodox church into Walsingham has very decided views that woman should be priests. He is respected greatly among some of the byzantine churches. He will persuade many that there should be deaconesses. Remember that there are many orthodox cults and it would not be surprising for a large no of the following Ware just to annoy us Latins. Sheer pique I say.

  6. Austin says:

    This would indeed be how things would progress if the meeting were operating honestly. Decades of bitter experience in Anglicanism me to expect that the meetings and discussions will be largely for show, that the substantive and theologically grounded findings will be shelved, and that the dissenting and heterodox views that are expressed given undue prominence and publicity. The simple expression of heterodox views will be cast as their having both theological backing and popular support. A further commission will take those views as the starting point, putting conservatives and the orthodox unexpectedly on the back foot. An experimental regimen will be out in place that gives the liberals most of what they want. It will be declared a great success, regardless of the actual outcome. And so change will be put in place, at first purely voluntary, with protections for the benighted conservatives, then mandatory for all. I hope and pray that this is not the case, but the method used manipulate the synod on the family and subsequent events bear all the hallmarks of planned subversion. Dark days.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Few comments….one, the Orthodox Church is no longer of one mind, like the Protestant denominations. Especially in America, one can here see very, to use a political term, “far left” views including the Lutheran idea of Consubstantian rather than the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantian among some Orthodox priests. Secondly, there has been a move among the Orthodox for women priests, as well as women deacons, again in certain Orthodox groups. We Catholics may be the one Church of the preservation , thankfully, of Christ’s intention for the male priesthood. I hear almost daily, sadly, this silly idea that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was “bound by His time.” Ridiculous, as God created the patriarchal system…and to state Christ was culturally backward is part of the hydra-headed Modernist heresy.

    Thirdly, it is my understanding, from having rather good teachers in college on the early Church, that deaconesses had nothing to do with the priesthood and were there to work with women in the Church, such as dealing with widows, and being present for the baptism of adult women. These would be purely pastoral and needed in an ancient culture where men did not enter the houses of single women, for example, and where there were more cultural rules concerning single men speaking with single or even married women, and so on.

    Father, your pointing out that the concept of deacon has changed to be only connected to priestly ordination, or in the case of permanent deacons, being part of the tradition of the male presider, is key….

    I doubt whether anything contrary to tradition will be decided. Looking into the “question” seems to be a formality, just as was St. John Paul II’s not surprising restatement on the male priesthood, which merely clarified for some modern minds that nothing had or will change.

  8. anilwang says:

    “Study” and “dialog” are two things that make me very nervous when it comes to Tradition.

    While Fr Z’s assessment might be the usual Italian way of doing things, people with agendas like to take advantage of sluggishness with fervor and guile.

    Take two cases from the Protestant world.

    Catholics more than a few times have gone to Protestant Bible Studies to study the Word of God. However, because the rule of study assumes that the Bible is the only authority and it is a judge of Tradition, Catholics who go through such studies tend to start to see things through Protestant eyes and drift away from the Church even without explicit evangelization.

    Similarly, many Protestant denominations have become pro-LGBT because of similar studies. First the LGBT contingent presents the relevant Bible passage and “only asks that we study those passages together in session to get better insight”. After enough doubts are raised during session, the relevant passages are presented to the rest of to congregation for study along with a possible hermetic for study. After enough doubts are raised within the denomination, a plan is made to “cautiously move forward with sensitivity to people who have not yet seen the light”. Things drift further and further from that point in.

  9. pjsandstrom says:

    Father, It would be a worthwhile and useful ‘good work’ to check out the situation of this Chalcedonian Orthodox Church of Alexandria. The names of the Bishops (and Patriarch) mentioned are not either the Catholic Copts nor the Greek Alexandrians nor the Coptic Church itself. I wonder if it is not a ‘fractional Church’ similar to those which appear from time to time in the West (and even among the Orthodox) where the ‘titles’ are very grandiose but the ‘faithful’ are almost non-existant — as are the links of Communion with any of the ‘classical Apostolic Churches’.

  10. stuartal79 says:

    On both occasions that Pope Francis discussed this commission, he clearly said his understanding of deaconesses is that their roles were limited to serving women in respect to baptism, anointing of the sick and domestic violence. He also said early deaconesses did not receive the same the same ordination as men. Furthermore, on the first occasion that he discussed the commission, he gave an explanation on why women can not preach. If I were ever in a debate about the subject of ordaining women to the diaconate, I would rely on the words of Pope Francis to demonstrate why it can not happen.

    Even the German bishops, the majority of whom are loyal Kasperites, are against ordaining women to the diaconate. Although, they might be in favor a ministry of deaconesses that are NOT ordained :

  11. un-ionized says:

    The former Methodist model of the deaconess was probably pretty close to the ancient system.

  12. LDP says:

    Thanks, Fr, for the update on the Orthodox front: very interesting and reassuring for Catholics and Orthodox alike no doubt.

    Also, to echo ‘Supertradmum’, it does indeed seem that great divergences of opinion exist amongst the Orthodox in these matters. Orthodox of the Russian tradition seem to be more conservative than those of the Greek. Kallistos Ware of course belongs to the latter.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    I feel like this whole topic is taking up far too much time. I am no theologian. If anything, I consider myself an “armchair scholar” at best. Based on my research, the word “ordain” and “ordination” were used for EVERYTHING once upon a time. Prior to Blessed Paul VI’s reforms, men were not only ordained to the diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate (Sacrament of Holy Orders), but they were also “ordained” subdeacons, acolytes, lectors, exorcists, and even porters or door keepers!

    Blessed Paul VI decided to clean up the language confusion and reserve the words “ordain” and “ordination” to those receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders in its three degrees, and to use the word “institute” and “institution” for acolytes (subdeacons) and lectors. Much neater if you ask me.

    Woman who were “ordained” deaconesses were “ordained” in the same way that those in the minor orders were “ordained”. It was a sacramental, not a Sacrament. If the office of deaconess existed today, it would be an instituted ministry, not an ordained ministry.

    Just my two cents!

  14. Nan says:

    @Supertradmum, I’ve also been told that of course Jesus had to be a man, couldn’t have been other at that time. But that doesn’t explain all the pagan Priestesses at that time. The only ones I’m aware of are the Vestal Virgins; Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth. And the women priest people actually cite the vestal virgins as an example of why women can be priests; pagan virgins who minded the hearth.

  15. John Nolan says:

    If Pope Francis were minded to send an encouraging signal he could amend, motu proprio, Ministeria Quaedam and open the ministries of Lector and Acolyte to women. In 1972 women were not allowed in the sanctuary; now in most places they are. [Ministeria quaedam was superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Besides, that’s a terrible idea.]

    He has shown no inclination to do so. So although these ministries are normally seen as transitional (possibly contrary to Paul VI’s intentions) they serve as a useful ‘buffer zone’ for the diaconate.

  16. pjsandstrom says:

    Thank you very much for your clarifying and reassuring information. I hope there is ‘follow up’ information to appear in some near future. I know that the Greek Orthodox have kept a form of ‘deaconesses’ — the mother of the Duke of Edinburgh was one. In the Roman/Latin Church there is the ‘consecration of virgins’ which seems — at least in the pre-Vatican II Pontifical — to keep some ‘relics’ of this ‘deaconess’ ministry in the Church — especially (though not exclusively) among the cloistered monastic orders.

  17. Geoffrey says:

    “Ministeria quaedam was superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. ”

    On a practical level, what does this mean? That it would be that much harder to be changed? I believe the Holy Father has already tinkered with the Code of Canon Law…

  18. hwriggles4 says:

    These meetings may just be a “let’s look busy” situation that won’t go much of anywhere – most of us who work secular jobs can relate to a “hurry up and wait” or “look busy and walk in the other direction.”

    Okay, first, too many Catholics who attend weekly Mass think the Church is some kind of a democracy. I’ve also had Catholic friends and family members who attend Mass and are active in some parish activities, but also say, “I don’t care about the politics of the Church”, and there are even some publications with the word “Catholic” in them that have articles from both clergy and paid employees who work for dioceses, schools, etc. who say “congregations don’t listen to their priests and bishops anyway, so what’s the point?”

    Second, quite a few Catholics and mainstream media outlets think that if the laity keeps pushing the Vatican for “women’s ordination”, Vatican officials will get tired of hearing the same arguments and eventually say OK. Sorry mainstream media, sorry U.S. Catholic, sorry Fishwrap, sorry certain diocesan newspapers, sorry Father Anything Goes, sorry Sister Social Justice in the Polyester Pantsuit, that’s not how the Church works.

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