Pope Francis at UISG General Assembly in Rome
The news has already gone around the world, and been hailed with delight by women, that Pope Francis is to establish a Commission to look into role of women deacons in the early Church.
The UISG (International Union of Superiors General) are meeting in Rome this week. It is the 50th anniversary of the organisation’s foundation. Honouring a promise previously made to the President, Sr. Carmen Sammut OLA, Pope Francis came to meet them. In a closed door meeting he had a question and answer session with some 900 leaders of Religious Orders and Congregations of Women. Pope Francis led an in-depth discussion about the role of women in the Church, intimating his willingness to set up a commission to study the possibility of reinstating female deacons, something that has made headlines around the world.
Philipa Hitchens reported on Vatican Radio:
During the hour and a half long conversation about the mission and ministry of women in religious life, the Pope responded to several sensitive questions, including one about the history of female deacons. He said understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear and agreed it would be useful to set up a commission to study the question.
Up to the 5th century, the Diaconate flourished in the western Church, but in the following centuries it experienced a slow decline, surviving only as an intermediate stage for candidates preparing for priestly ordination. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Church restored the role of permanent deacon, which is open to single and married men. Many experts believe that women should also be able to serve in this role, since there is ample evidence of female deacons in the first centuries, including one named Phoebe who is cited by St Paul in his letter to the Romans.
Pope Francis reiterated that he wants to see an increase in the number of women in decision-making positions in the Church, saying women’s perspectives are very important for both the elaboration and the carrying out of such decisions. The integration of women into the life of the Church has been “very weak”, he said, adding that “we must go forward.”
Asked about the possibility of women preaching the homilies during Mass, the Pope said it’s important to distinguish between other types of liturgies, where the sermon can be preached by consecrated or lay women, and the Mass, where the homily is connected to the role of the priest serving “in persona Christi.”
Questioned about the prospect of changes to Canon Law which would facilitate the reform process being undertaken by many women’s congregations, the Pope said such changes could be possible, providing they were the result of a process of discernment by the competent authorities.
Finally, Pope Francis spoke about the vital work of the sisters who care for the poor and marginalized. He said this is a vocation of service to the Church and must never be confused with servitude, which is sometimes still asked of them. They should not fear being labelled as ‘activists’, in their service to the needy, he said, but they should also find time for rest and for listening to older or sick members of their communities who are a precious source of wisdom and memory.
Source: Vatican Radio