And so it begins. Pope Francis has appointed 13 persons — 6 women and 7 men — to a group called “Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women”. Here’s the story at CruxNow.com: Pope taps pro-women deacon advocates to new commission. And the list of members of the Commission is here.
Very early indications that the Commission might decide to favor ordaining deaconesses:
* the inclusion of 6 women
* the inclusion of Phyllis Zagano, a strong advocate of ordaining women deacons
* the use of the phrase “the Diaconate of Women” in the name of the Commission. It speaks as if there were already such a thing as “the” diaconate of women.
* And the appointment of the #2 person at the CDF as head of the Commission, which guarantees that their conclusions and advice will have weight. The Pope does not intend to use the Commission to sideline the controversy.
This type of Commission is merely advisory. They have no authority to decide any question of discipline or doctrine. And their deliberations could drag on for many months. But I suggest that Pope Francis will not permit any delay. So here is what I think will happen — possibly! — as a theological speculation!
+ the Commission will complete a document by Nov 2016, give or take a month
+ the document will not entirely decide the question
+ the document will say that women have not been previously ordained, but with some equivocation
+ the document will opine that establishing the historical fact of ordained women is unnecessary, since the diaconate, per se, was not explicitly established by Christ, but by His Church.
+ the document will opine that women deacons are substantially different from the idea of women priests, since deacons only administer two Sacraments, the same two which can be administered by laypersons (men or women) in extraordinary cases.
+ the document will refute the objection that women cannot be deacons because of the Pauline restriction on women’s roles in the Church, citing the limited role of deacons, primarily a role of service, and the need for expanding the roles of women in the Church
+ It is possible that the Commission may be split, and that therefore the document will merely provide two points of view, for and against, and leaving it to the Pope to decide the question.
Again, the above comments are highly speculative. We must wait and see what the Commission says. More importantly, we must wait and see what Pope Francis says. He is not obligated to agree with the Commission. If the Commission says “women must never be ordained”, Pope Francis can nevertheless decide to ordain women deacons. And vice versa.
However, I believe that the Commission will issue a document mildly favoring women deacons, and the Pope will then write a brief papal document teaching that women can be ordained as deacons and instituting the discipline needed to begin ordaining women deacons. And I think all this will happen rather quickly.
And then the great conservative Schism will begin, apparently led by Cardinal Sarah.
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