Pope Francis has created a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the
Catholic church, following up on a promise made last May in what could be an historic move towards ending
the global institution’s practice of an all-male clergy.
The pontiff has appointed an equal number of male and female experts as members of the commission, which
will be led by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, a Jesuit who serves as the second-in-command of the
Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.
The Vatican said in a release announcing the commission Tuesday that the pope had decided to create the group
after intense prayer and mature reflection? and wanted it particularly to study the history of the female
diaconate ?in the earliest times of the church.?
The formal name given to the group is “Study Commission on the Women?s Diaconate.”? The commission?s
members include experts in patristic theology, ecclesiology, and spirituality.
Among noted names are: Franciscan Sr. Mary Melone, who heads Rome?s Pontifical University Antonianum,
and Phyllis Zagano, a senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in New York who is also an
Included in the group are six faculty members of pontifical universities, four members of the Vatican?s
International Theological Commission, and one member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.
Among the members are six priests, four laywomen, and two women religious.?
As reported first by NCR , Francis promised to create the commission during a meeting at the Vatican in May
with some 900 leaders of the world?s congregations of Catholic women religious, who were in Rome for the
triennial meeting of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG).
During a question and answer session with the pontiff May 12, the women told Francis that women had served
as deacons in the early church and asked: “Why not construct an official commission that might study the
“I am in agreement,” the pontiff replied. “I will speak to do something like this.”
Later, during a press conference with journalists in June , the pope said he had asked both Cardinal Gerhard
Muller, head of the doctrinal congregation, and Sr. Carmen Sammut, the UISG president, to make a list of
people he might consider for the group.
Francis’ openness to studying the possibility of women serving as deacons could represent an historic shift for
the global Catholic church, which does not ordain women as clergy.
Pope John Paul II said in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “the Church has no authority
whatsoever” to ordain woman as priests, citing Jesus’ choosing of only men to serve as his twelve apostles.
Many church historians have said however that there is abundant evidence that women served as deacons in the
early centuries of the church. The apostle Paul mentions such a woman, Phoebe, in his letter to the Romans.
In the modern day, the Catholic church reinstituted the role of the permanent deacon following the reforms of
the landmark 1962-65 Second Vatican Council. The role is generally open to married men who have reached the
age of 35.
Such men are ordained, similar to priests, but can only conduct certain ministries in the church.
While they cannot celebrate the Mass, they frequently lead prayer services, offer the sacrament of baptism, and
even manage parishes as pastoral administrators in the absence of priests.
The full list of members of the new commission:
Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, secretary of the Vatican?s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
serving as president;
Holy Family Sr. Nuria Calduch-Benages, member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission;
Francesca Cocchini, faculty member at Rome?s La Sapienza University and the Patristic Institute
Msgr. Piero Coda, president of Rome?s Sophia University Institute and member of the International
Augustinian Fr. Robert Dodaro, president of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum;
Jesuit Fr. Santiago Madrigal, ecclesiologist at Madrid?s Pontifical University Comillas;
Franciscan Sr. Mary Melone, the first female president of Rome?s Pontifical University Antonianum;
Fr. Karl-Heinz Menke, emeritus professor of dogmatic theology at Germany?s University of Bonn and
member of the International Theological Commission;
Salesian Fr. Aimable Musoni, ecclesiologist at Rome?s Salesian Pontifical University;
Jesuit Fr. Bernard Pottier, faculty member at Brussels? Institute D’etudes Théologiques and member of
the International Theological Commission;
Marianne Schlosser, theologian at the University of Vienna and member of the International Theological
Michelina Tenace, theologian at Rome?s Pontifical Gregorian University;
Phyllis Zagano, senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in New York.
Joshua J. McElwee | Aug. 2, 2016. NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com . Follow
him on Twitter: @joshjmac .]