Fulfilling a promise he made in May, Pope Francis established a commission to study the possibility of women serving as deacons.
In the Catholic Church, a deacon is an ordained minister who (most often) assists a priest in performing various liturgical or ministerial functions. The key distinction is that permanent deacons may be married and yet can still perform the sacraments of baptism and matrimony. The diaconate is currently restricted to men, though some within the Catholic Church have lobbied aggressively to allow women deacons, citing scriptural evidence. For example, St. Paul refers to a female deacon, St. Phoebe, in the sixteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans.
The pontiff appointed six men and six women to a panel chaired by a thirteenth member, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, an official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a powerful Vatican department. (RELATED: Pope Francis Taps Liberal For Key Vatican Post)
One of the six women appointed to the panel, Phyllis Zagano, writes extensively in support of ordaining female deacons. Zagano is a senior research associate at Hofstra University. Sister Mary Malone, another appointee to the commission, writes positively about female deacons. Malone is rector of the Pontifical University of St. Anthony (Antonianum) in Rome.
Francis is hostile to the press response in the wake of his announcement, emphasizing the exploratory nature of the proposal reiterating that he has not endorsed any outcome.“They said: ‘The Church opens the door to deaconesses.’ Really? I am a bit angry because this is not telling the truth of things,” he said.
The International Theological Commission, which advises the CDF, conducted a similar inquiry on female deacons in 2002, concluding that biblical deaconesses had a separate ministry from ordained deacons in the early Church.
Other members of the commission include Sister Nuria Calduch-Benages, Michelina Tenace, Francesca Cocchini, Marianne Schlosser, Fr. Bernard Pottier, S.J., Fr. Aimable Musoni, Msgr. Piero Coda, Fr. Santiago Madrigal Terrazas, S.J., Fr. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., and Fr. Karl-Heinz Menke.
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