Vatican confirms third study group is looking at issue of ‘female diaconate’ – LifeSite

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — It was revealed today that a papally-appointed study group examining the issue of the “female diaconate” is comprised of members of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Fielding questions after a Synod on Synodality press conference, Cardinal Mario Grech noted that Pope Francis has tasked the CDF to study the theme of “female deacons.” Responding to a question about “female deacons,” in light of the freshly released working document for the October Synod meetings, Grech stated that Francis has asked the CDF to study the theme of “female deacons” and that of ministry generally.

Grech noted that the CDF study group was looking at “the theme of ministers and speaking of ministers it also includes the theme of female diaconate.”

For those closely keeping abreast the Vatican’s news cycle, this will actually be only a partial surprise. Back in February, Francis tasked members of the Roman Curia to form study groups on key synod themes in cooperation with the General Secretariat of the Synod. The study questions were drawn from the workings of the Synod on Synodality’s October 2023 meeting and the subsequent synthesis report, which pushed “female deacons.”

In mid-March, the Synod leadership announced the themes of the various study groups. Joining Grech, who is secretary general of the General Secretariat of the Synod, was Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich who is relator general of the Synod.

READ: New Synod documents reveal discussion themes for study groups formed by Pope Francis  

Among the 10 themes was one pertaining to the general examination of “ministry” in the Church, including the “female diaconate.” The fifth study theme – on “theological and canonistic questions around specific ministerial forms” – includes the subject of the role women in the Church and “a growth in the pastoral responsibilities entrusted to them in all areas of the life and mission of the Church.” 

It is this study question that will encompass the “possible access of women to the diaconate,” drawing on the October 2023 Synthesis Report and the Vatican’s 2016 and 2020 commissions on “female deacons.”

Grech’s revelation today dealt with who exactly was studying this question of “female deacons,” namely the CDF. In a subsequent note issued to the Vatican press corps, the Holy See outlined that Monsignor Armando Matteo was coordinating the CDF’s study group on the themes, due to his role as secretary for the doctrinal section of the CDF. 

The note read:

The in-depth study of the issues in question – in particular the question of the necessary participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church – has been entrusted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the coordination of the Secretary for the Doctrinal Section, Msgr. Armando Matteo, and in dialogue with the Secretariat General of the Synod. The Dicastery has begun its study according to the procedures established in its own Regulations, with a view to the publication of a special Document. 

Notably, Mgr. Matteo’s group was the only one of the 10 study groups that did not give a list of its members, prompting questions about how widely the issue of “female deacons” is to be discussed inside the walls of the CDF palazzo.

Certain erroneous rumors have emerged on social media suggesting that Grech claimed Francis had tasked the CDF to study the possibility of “women priests.” This correspondent has contacted the Synod office and Grech himself, requesting them to respond to the rumors, and this report will be updated upon receipt of a response.

Papal confusion and vocal lobbyists

Francis has previously stated how “holy orders are reserved for men,” and added that he did not support the argument that the implementation of female ordinands could perhaps bolster Church attendance.

Nevertheless, he has opened the door to confusion on the issue in the past by establishing two commissions to discuss the topic of “female deacons,” despite Catholic teaching on the topic being clear and unchanging. Matteo’s study group marks the third official group tasked with looking at the “female diaconate.” 

The first such commission was a 12-member body to study the issue of “women deacons” convened in August 2016, which included leading advocate of “ordaining” women to the diaconate, Phyllis Zagano, and ex-CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer as its president. The second was set up in 2020, in light of the 2019 Amazon Synod, but neither has published their findings.  

Indeed, just as key members of the Synod have voiced their own support for “female deacons” – such as Cardinals Grech, Blase Cupich, Robert McElroy – Francis has also been described as being personally open to the idea.

“We already know that the Pope is very much in favor of the female diaconate, but it is still something we are trying to understand how to put into practice,” stated Sister Linda Pocher, after she coordinated a closed-door advisory meeting for the Pope and his cardinal advisors in February. 

Catholic teaching

The Catholic Church has clearly pronounced the impossibility of them. The diaconate, as part of the sacrament of Holy Orders, is not possible to be opened to women.

READ: Pope appoints female deacon advocates to Synod as October meetings confirmed

In 2002, the Vatican’s International Theological Commission wrote after much study that:

  1. The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church — as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised — were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons;
  2. The unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, in the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and the priests on the one hand and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium

As LifeSite columnist Dr. Maike Hickson has already noted at OnePeterFive, “female deacons were not sacramentally ordained, were excluded from any role in the liturgy, and thus cannot be compared with a sacramentally ordained female deacon as Cardinal (Christophe) Schönborn and others propose.”

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II taught, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

“It is certainly without doubt, however, that this definitive decision from Pope John Paul II is indeed a dogma of the Faith of the Catholic Church and that this was of course the case already before this Pope defined this truth as contained in Revelation in the year 1994,” declared former CDF prefect Cardinal Gerhard Müller in 2019.

He further noted how “the impossibility that a woman validly receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders in each of the three degrees [deacon, priest, bishop] is a truth contained in Revelation and it is thus infallibly confirmed by the Church’s Magisterium and presented as to be believed.”

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