The question of women deacons seems to have been pushed into a kind of Catholic never never land. The pope has said “No” but has done so in a way that sort of kind of maybe leaves the door ajar.
Members of the commission he has set up are to go home and continue their studies. I guess this means the folks pushing for change will continue to sift through every ancient liturgy they can find until they can say, “Aha! Look here! In the fifth century in the Anatolian Auto cephalic Community of Nestorians a woman deacon (yes the word could be translated “maidservant”) was ordained to be “servant at the table” so she clearly had a liturgical role…”
Anyway, the pope told a gathering of religious sisters that he didn’t have the authority to change the revelation. He explained his position in terms of the development of doctrine.
National Catholic Reporter reports on his comments here.
It seems that he believes women deacons would be a rupture with the tradition. So, explaining the theological basis for not moving forward with women deacons he said,
“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.”
The Pope is being very cautious on this one. He realizes that he does not have the authority to break with the revelation. On the other hand, he allows for proper development of doctrine. I think he is also avoiding the kind of definitive statement that JP2 made about women priests because he does not want to tie the hands of his successors on this issue.
However, the history of the discussions on women priests indicates that the more study is done on an issue like this, the more clarity is achieved, and when that happens a definitive statement IS more likely to take place. Therefore all the detailed research and homework done by the likes of Phyllis Zagano may very possibly help the church to finally make the definitive statement against women deacons. The irony being that those who engaged on the research to promote their agenda of change will actually have contributed to the definitive statement against the change.
If this happens, it will be a salutary lesson to all those who wish to embark on some sort of campaign to change the Catholic faith to keep it up to date. Change for this reason will always fail. Development yes. Change? No.
It needs to be asserted and repeated and stressed and repeated again that the pressure for women deacons is not primarily an issue of “equal rights” for women. It is not a noble desire of women to serve the church more fruitfully and faithfully. Women already serve the church magnificently and have done so for centuries. It is not a sincere attempt to bring the church to a fullness of ministry by restoring a valuable, ancient tradition that has been lost. It is none of these things.
It is one plank in a radical, feminist platform. The radical feminist platform is clear. One only needs to dip into the writings of Phyllis Zagano or any of the feminist theologians to discover what they think.
The feminist theologians don’t like the Blessed Virgin Mary. She’s too submissive for them. They like Mary Magdalene instead–who they have portrayed as a strong, independent proto feminist. They don’t like the classic formulation of the complementarity of man and woman. They want the language of equal rights campaigners. They dislike the distinctions of human sexuality and prefer the androgyny of a “single nature anthropology”. The ultimate object of their campaign is the re-imaging of God himself. The Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is hopelessly patriarchal and evil. It must go.
Make no mistake. This is the theology behind the push for women deacons, and while it is encouraging to hear the pope’s cautious words, one would wish for a clearer analysis and firmer repudiation of the noxious and un-Catholic theology that is woven through the campaign for women’s ordination.
The pope has spoken about the development of doctrine and his incapacity to change what is not in keeping with the revelation. That’s good, but if anything is a radical rupture from the revelation it is feminist theology, for they would dispose completely with the concept of God as Father, and if anything is integral to Our Lord’s own revelation of God it is that he commands us to call God “Our Father who art in heaven.” The Blessed Virgin Mary is “too submissive” to a male deity? Her “let it be to me according to your word” is the very kernel of her gift of grace and her identity–not only to women, but to all of the baptized.
The Holy Father should not only be questioning the historical precedent of women deacons and whether it is a radical change from the revelation.
He should also be exposing feminist theology for being a radical re-writing of the Catholic faith.