Commission Will Study Historical Role of Female Deacons

By Briana Vannozzi

Pope Francis promised a group of nuns he’d look into the role of women within the Catholic Church, specifically their capacity to serve as deacons. Fast forward a few months later and he’s making good on his word. The Vatican announcing a new commission of seven men and six women, charged with studying the historical role of female deacons.

“The very fact that the discussion is being held in and of itself is world-changing,” said Hofstra University Professor Phyllis Zagano.

Zagano is one of just two Americans tapped to be on the commission, which is made up of priests, nuns and academics.

“It demonstrates that the Holy Father may indeed be looking for a way to include women in what he called for — a more incisive presence of women in the church,” she said.

The diaconate role has been open only to men for at least the last 800 years. Deacons rank just below priests in the hierarchy of the church, but can perform many of the same functions, like officiating at weddings and baptisms.

“A major step towards explaining to the church and to the world at large that the church is serious about its teaching about women, that all people are made in the image and likeness of God,” Zagano said.

“So we have this commission and what will this commission do? Most likely nothing in my lifetime,” said Susan Schessler.

Ordained Catholic womenpriests like Schessler, who have pushed to raise the stature of females in the church, are skeptical. Especially as the commission’s role and requirement for making recommendations are, at this point, vague.

“Personally I believe that it’s to placate the nuns who asked for the commission, and to … give them the commission and then not have to address any deeper issue,” Schessler said.

The creation of this commission isn’t new. In the past there have been three groups appointed to study the historical role of female deacons. Those groups took several years and in the end made little to no recommendations to the church.

“There is no scriptural reason for women not being ordained and to look at the scriptures itself, Paul’s letters to Romans to see that there were women, to me that’s it. It says it right there,” Schessler said. “It’s right in front of your face so what more do you need?”

Many hopefuls are left with more questions than answers. The Vatican has yet to set a timeline for the commission to meet or clarified perhaps the biggest missing piece — if the group will study the history or the future of female Catholics.