On women deacons: “It will await the ministry of discernment…”

The issue of ordaining women as deacons popped up on John Allen’s radar screen today.  From NCR:

Today’s Vatican news bulletin announced that the web site of the International Theological Commission, the principal advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has been “renewed, reorganized and updated,” principally by providing versions in various languages of the 25 documents the commission has published since 1969.

Although these documents do not carry any official weight, since they are merely advisory for the CDF, they nevertheless signal both the subjects in which the Vatican’s top doctrinal authorities are interested, and provide some indication of the thinking circulating in the Vatican on these topics.

The value of these documents is underlined by the fact that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is also the commission’s president, and generally he authorizes the publication of its conclusions.

A 2002 document on the diaconate may be of special interest, since it’s the only official Vatican text to explicitly take up the question of whether women may be ordained as deacons. While not closing off the possibility, the document appeared to take a somewhat negative position on the question.

Alas, there’s still no official English version of the text, which is made available on the updated web site only in French, Spanish and Italian. Here’s an unofficial translation, from the Italian version, of the document’s concluding paragraph on women deacons.

“Regarding the ordination of women to the diaconate, it’s useful to note two important indications that emerge from what has been exposed to this point: 1) the “deaconesses” mentioned in the tradition of the early church, based on what is suggested by their rite of institution and the functions they exercised, are not purely and simply comparable to deacons; 2) the unity of the sacrament of orders, despite the clear distinction between the ministries of the bishop and of priests on the one hand, and the diaconal ministry on the other, is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, above all in the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and in the post-conciliar teaching of the magisterium. In light of the elements placed in evidence by the present historical-theological research, it will await the ministry of discernment which the Lord has established in his church to pronounce with authority on the question.”


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