The Holy Father had an audience at the Vatican with members of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), and elaborated on his earlier comments about ordaining women as deacons:
The pontiff repeated his earlier remarks that the 12 members of the commission had been unable to come to agreement about the role of women deacons in the early centuries of Christianity.
“They came to a certain point,” said the pope. “Everyone agreed. Then, each had his or her own idea.”
Referring to the leader of the UISG, Maltese Sr. Carmen Sammut, Francis then added: “So I delivered to the president today, officially, the result of the little that they were all able to agree on.”
Francis had first spoken about the deacons commission in response to a question from NCR during an in-flight press conference May 7. The pope had said that while the commission had stopped working as a group, they would continue their studies in the area individually.
In his May 10 audience with 850 UISG members, in Rome for the group’s triennial assembly, the pontiff gave a bit more detail. Some on the commission, he said, thought the church “must go forward” and reinstitute an order of women deacons. Others, he said, “say we must stop here.”
“We must study this,” said Francis. “I cannot make a sacramental decree without a theological, historical foundation.”
Reiterating that the commission members are now expected to continue their studies individually, the pope added: “We will go ahead. After some time, I may call the members of the commission to see what they have found.”
After hearing the pope’s initial remarks about the women deacons commission, one sister told Francis that women like her were seeking to serve the church on an equal setting with men. She asked why the question of whether women could serve as deacons rested on historical practice.
The pontiff responded that the church develops its teachings “in fidelity with revelation.” He said the nature of revelation is “continual movement to clarify itself.”
“The way of understanding the faith today, after Vatican II, is different than the way of understanding the faith before Vatican II,” said Francis. “Because there was a development of understanding.”
The awareness of faith, the pope said, “grows with the years.”
“It is in continual growth,” he said. “Not change. It grows. It gets wider with time. It is understood better.”
“If I see that this, what we think now, is in connection with revelation, good,” said Francis. “But if it is a strange thing that is not according to revelation … it doesn’t work.”
“In the case of the diaconate, we have to see what was there at the beginning of revelation,” said the pope. “If there was something, let it grow, let it live. If there was not something … it doesn’t work.”
“We cannot go beyond revelation and dogmatic expressions,” he said. “We are Catholics. If someone wants to make another church, they are free to do so.”