Thursday, August 4, 2016

Roman Catholics Consider Women as Deacons

Pope Francis has a great public relations department. He is routinely hailed as a "progressive pope" moving the Roman Catholic Church into the modern world. But the thing is, aside from making a number of progressive-sounding statements, he so far has done nothing to actually reform the policies of the church.

While Francis' public statements are a big improvement over those of his recent predecessors, in the end talk is cheap. I've been waiting for years now to see if he makes any actual changes to church doctrine, rather than internal political moves and savvy image management. And according to this article, a change might finally be on the way.

Pope Francis has set up a commission to study the role of women deacons in early Christianity, the Vatican said on Tuesday, a move that might lead to changes in the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church.

Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers, and as in the priesthood, must be men. They may not celebrate Mass, but they may preach, teach in the name of the Church, baptize and conduct wake and funeral services.

Scholars debate the precise role of women deacons in the early Church. Some say they were ordained to minister only to other women, such as at immersion rites at baptism. Others believe they were on a par with male deacons. The Church did away with female deacons in later centuries.

A Vatican statement said the pope decided to set up the commission, made of six men and six women members under a president who is a bishop, “after intense prayer and mature reflection.”

Allowing women to serve as deacons in the church would be a genuinely positive change. Allowing women to serve as priests would be better, of course, since spirituality is not limited by gender, but this would be a good first step towards gender equality. But we will need to wait and see what comes of it, if anything.

If the commission concludes that no changes to existing doctrine is necessary, we can safely conclude that this is likely another round of progressive window dressing. On the other hand, if the policy really does change, it would be a legitimately progressive step for both Francis and the church as a whole.

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