Pope Francis Backs Female Diaconate and Expands Rights for All Baptized Individuals

— Pope Francis advocates for a female diaconate and extended rights for all baptized individuals, triggering theological discussions on celibacy and women’s roles within the Catholic Church. This shift may redefine the Church’s future.

By Quadri Adejumo

In a groundbreaking revelation, an Italian theologian discloses Pope Francis’s support for a female diaconate and his intent to extend specific rights to all baptized individuals, previously exclusive to bishops, priests, and religious figures. This significant development was deliberated in a gathering of the Council of Cardinals, or ‘C9,’ which counsels Pope Francis on Church governance and reform.

A Plea for Change: Women’s Voices Echo in the Vatican

Simultaneously, a collective of 26 Italian women penned a heartfelt letter to Pope Francis, professing their love for priests and advocating for the abolition of the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirement. Their emotional appeal emphasizes the “soul-destroying” nature of their suffering and stresses the potential benefits for the entire Church if the celibacy rule were to be relaxed.

Tradition vs. Progression: A Delicate Balance

Notably, Pope Francis has previously articulated his inclination towards preserving celibacy, citing tradition and the positive experiences of the past. However, suggestions have emerged, proposing the replacement of the celibacy law with an alternative discipline. Yet, the Church maintains a lengthy history of skepticism towards amending its rules concerning women.

Uncharted Territory: Expanding Roles and Rights

The current discourse surrounding the expansion of rights to all baptized individuals, irrespective of their religious roles, signifies a monumental shift in the Church’s perspective. If realized, this transformation could potentially reshape the landscape of the Catholic Church. Consequently, theological discussions and debates are intensifying, as the potential implications of these changes continue to unfold.

As the conversation surrounding celibacy and the role of women in the Catholic Church forges ahead, the world watches with bated breath. The decisions made today could redefine the Church’s future, signifying a critical juncture in its storied history.

Pope Francis, in his pursuit of a more inclusive and progressive Church, faces the challenge of balancing tradition with innovation. The potential implementation of a female diaconate and the extension of rights to all baptized individuals are testaments to the Church’s evolving stance.

In this intricate tapestry of motives, histories, and potential futures, the voices of the 26 Italian women serve as a poignant reminder of the human element at the heart of these debates. As the Church navigates uncharted waters, the stories of struggle, ambition, and sheer human will continue to shape its transformative journey.

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Feminist theologians express frustration, hopes for October’s synodal assembly

— The four presenters at a February 29th presentation at Santa Clara University include advocates of radical feminism, women deacons and priests, abortion, and “LGBTQ” concerns.

Synod on Synodality delegates seated at discussion tables inside Paul VI Hall at the Vatican in October 2023


Doubling down on the call from Pope Francis at the opening of the Synod of Bishops last Fall to resist “doctrinal rigidity,” four feminist theologians were invited to the Markey Center at Santa Clara University on February 29th to participate in their own conversation, titled “Women Speak on the Synod: a Conversation on Ministry, History, Culture and Practice”.

Committed to discussing—yet again—the possibility of an expanded role for women in ministry in the Church, the theologians gave presentations to a sparsely attended gathering of fewer than 20 individuals, emphasizing Pope Francis’s invitation to “embrace a vision of the Church that is open and welcoming to all.” All four of the presenters at the Santa Clara Synod were indeed “open and welcoming” to many ideas—including some that are counter to the teachings of the Church.

The first presenter, Elyse Rabey, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Theology at Santa Clara University, set the stage by providing what she described as the history of synodality in the Church, stating that “Pope Francis is reviving an ancient form of governance and reimagining it at the same time…making it quite new.” Lauding the fact that Pope Francis invited lay women and laymen to have full voice and vote in these meetings, Rabey reminded the audience that Pope Francis has stressed that synodality is about more than synods. Rather, synodality is about a “Church that is always reforming.”

Rabey, whose curriculum vita states that she has published “on the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic Church”, has also published on “also published on intersex embodiment and theology of creation in Theology and Sexuality and on Marian symbols and kyriarchal ideology in Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s book Congress of Wo/Men: Religion, Gender, and Kyriarchal Power.” Fiorenza is a noted radical feminist theologian who has argued that St. Paul was misogynistic, supported the ordination of women to the priesthood, and worked to change the Church’s teaching on abortion.

The second presenter, Rachel Bundang, PhD, expressed her disappointment with the Synod: “I expected more from the process…I felt left behind…as a working theologian, educator and minister. I hoped it would feel more personal. But the process was exclusionary, opaque, and disappointing. I feel left behind…it has left me at a distance.” Sharing her sadness that a neighboring parish was “phasing out female altar servers,” Bundang, who describes herself on the Catholic Women Preach website as a “feminist ethicist,” “preaches” regularly at her home parish in the Bay Area.

Part of the explanation for the disappointment expressed in various ways by the four theologians is that their expectations for change through the Synod were so high. Believing that the Synod would move the Church to change her teachings on women’s role in ordained ministry, on reproductive rights, and “GLBTQ” issues, it is not surprising that these women would be disappointed with the outcome of the Synod so far. Each of these women had their own goals for the Synod and all seemed to be disappointed that these goals were not met.

For example, the third speaker, Elsie Miranda, D. Min, describes herself as a Cuban-American Practical theologian whose academic interests lie at the intersection of Catholic Ethics, Pastoral Formation for Ministry, and Liberative Theologies, particularly among U.S. Hispanic/Latinx and LGBTQ Catholic communities. Miranda is affiliated with New Ways Ministry, the Catholic LGBTQ outreach ministry that the late Pope Benedict XVI described as holding positions “regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully covey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church.” Founded in 1977, by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, who were both the subject of a notification by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999, New Ways Ministry appears to have found new acceptance under the current papal regime. On October 17th, Pope Francis received Gramick at his residence in Rome, in a meeting that was described by James Martin, SJ, as a “significant step forward in the church’s outreach to LGBTQ Catholics.”

Beyond support for views contrary to Church teachings on GLBTQ issues, Miranda has spoken out in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion. Railing against the Dobbs decision in an essay published recently, Miranda made the preposterous claim that “the implications of denying women access to medical procedures that would terminate a pregnancy in the case of rape or incest or in order to save a mother’s life in the case of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage are inconsistent with a right to life ethic.”

Miranda is not alone on the Santa Clara panel in her views supporting access to abortion. She was joined by self-described “womanist” theologian C. Vanessa White, who told the audience that she “has spent two-thirds of my life engaged in ministry in the Church.” Like Miranda, White has been a public supporter of “reproductive justice” for women. One of several signers of the Faith in Public Life open statement on “reclaiming public debate about abortion and reproductive justice,” White has played an important role in the conversations leading up to the Vatican Synod.

Chosen to participate in the Continental Stage of the Synod by Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich—despite her public support for abortion—White also participated in the theologians’ section of the Synod through the Catholic Theological Society of America. White, who currently serves as an Associate Professor of Spirituality and Ministry at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and Director of the Certificate in Black Theology and Ministry, has also supported New Ways Ministry’s public statements on GLBTQ rights within the Church by signing an LGBTQ non-discrimination statement which decried Catholic Church’s opposition to the Equality Act—an Act that would force Catholic institutions to adhere to government mandates on non-discrimination against LGBTQ teachers, priests, and other employees in Church-related schools and parishes.

While the feminist panel lamented the lack of progress in the Church in implementing their desired outcomes surrounding women in ministry, “reproductive rights,” and LGBTQ issues, all were looking forward to the upcoming Synod in October, 2024, claiming that their voices will finally be heard and validated.

Whether that is true remains to be seen. On one hand, their views are quite common in numerous Catholic colleges and universities across the country. On the other hand, those views are quite consistent with those expressed in Germany via the “Synodal Way,” which has been publicly rebuked by Pope Francis. But they are certainly representative of the ongoing, progressive lobbying for dramatic change in the Church, which will continue to exert influence on the Synod on Synodality assembly, meeting in Rome in October.

Complete Article HERE!

Belgian bishops could back women deacons and ending priestly celibacy in a Church more ‘present in the digital world’

David Nas (right) pictured during a ceremony for the ordination to the priesthood of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, at the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilique nationale du Sacre-Coeur – Nationale Basiliek van het Heilig-Hart) in Brussels, Belgium, 3 February 2024. Newly ordained priest Nas, 32, is married and has three children; he is a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church.

By Elise Ann Allen

In the lead up to this year’s closing session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, Belgian bishops have reportedly opened a national discussion on allowing women deacons and ending the requirement of priestly celibacy.

According to Belgian Catholic news site Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ conference ahead of the October 2-27 synod happening later in the year have sent a letter to all dioceses proposing, among other things, an openness to the women’s diaconate and an end to mandatory priestly celibacy.

The draft text, apparently sent to various diocesan discussion groups and councils throughout Belgium, makes three basic points, the first of which is that “a synodal missionary church requires open dialogue with the world around us”.

The Church, it says, cannot limit itself “to a one-way street” when it comes to sharing the Gospel with the world.

In a second point, the bishops ask that the Synod of Bishops “define our Church tradition(s) as dynamic and in constant development”.

They also asked for encouragement in pursuing “concrete form to the decentralisation” of certain topics of discussion in the Church, “allowing us to work together in unity with more legitimate diversity”.

“We ask for a concretisation of the ‘accountability’ of the bishops in a synodal church,” they said.

The bishops then apparently call for a deeper reflection on the role of women in the Church, proposing that the decision regarding women deacons be left up to individual dioceses or national or continental bishops’ conferences.

Asking for “the green light to take certain steps per bishops’ conference or continental bishops’ meetings”, the bishops said that by doing this, “the giving of increasing pastoral responsibility to women and the ordination of women to the diaconate need not be universally obligatory or prohibited”.

They also weighed in on the longstanding debate over priestly celibacy, saying: “There have long been strong questions about the obligation of celibacy for priests and deacons who become widowed.”

In this regard, they said there is a need to “rediscover the symbolic-sacramental nature of the ordained ministry”.

They said the relationship between priestly ordination and absolute authority in decision-making requires new clarification and asked that both priests and deacons involve more laypeople in the decision-making process, working “within teams in which lay people also have their place and task”.

Regarding the controversial debate over ordaining viri probati, or tested married men of proven faith and virtue, to the priesthood – one of the major proposals of the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon that Pope Francis chose not to act on – the bishops also weighed in, signalling an openness to the proposition.

“The priestly ordination of viri probati should not be universally obligatory or prohibited,” the bishops said in their memo.

They also stressed the need to prioritise communication with young people and to invest more resources in how to spread the Gospel in and through the digital world.

To this end, they suggested that a mechanism local bishops’ conferences and continental assemblies be established, “so that every local church has the necessary opportunities to be present in the digital world”.

Going forward, according to Kerknet, the Belgian bishops’ letter containing the proposals will be submitted for discussion in the country’s various dioceses. The results of this discussion must be gathered and submitted to the bishops by 7 April 2024, and will then be sent to the Synod of Bishops office in Rome.

A theological committee within the Belgian bishops’ conference will also explore the issues addressed in the letter, delving further into questions surrounding Church tradition and the various offices and ministries in the Church.

A multi-year process formally opened by Pope Francis in October 2021, the Synod of Bishops on Synodality is based on a global consultation process that has unfolded at the local, continental and universal levels, and is set to close with this year’s second Rome gathering, scheduled for Oct. 2-27.

Aimed at making the Catholic Church a more collaborative, welcoming and inclusive place for all of its members, the synod has been controversial due to the hot-button topics being discussed, including women’s priestly ordination, the female diaconate, the married priesthood, and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.

Issues related to women, specifically women’s ordination to the priesthood and the diaconate, and LGBTQ+ issues have so far been the most divisive and contentious, with synod participants sparring far more than they agree.

The Belgian bishops have previously pushed for more liberal reform in the Church, openly going against the Vatican at times, amid a country considered one of the most secular in the whole of Europe.

While Pope Francis has welcomed discussion on women deacons and the ordination of viri probati throughout his nearly 11-year papacy, and has had repeated occasions to take action, he has yet to make a move on either, and has not indicated what decision he will make, if any, at the close of this year’s synod process.

Complete Article HERE!

The overwhelming case to restore women to ordained ministry alongside men as their equals

A fresco believed to show a woman priest in the early church, in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, Italy.

by Miriam Duignan

“We are still hopeful, but not particularly optimistic.” This was the response of the campaign group, Catholic Women’s Ordination, to the first synodal meeting in Rome.

During the synodal process, Church leadership heard Catholics everywhere express a strong desire to see women recognised for their vocations to ministry and for the priestly work they do in parishes everywhere. In so many of our churches, it is women preparing families for baptisms, marriages and funerals and, in the absence of a male priest, they conduct Communion services on a Sunday. Women are chaplains in hospitals where they care for the sick and the dying, but must call for a male priest to administer the last rites or hear confession. This glaring and illogical injustice can no longer be ignored.

And yet, the topic of women priests was banned at the Synod. Instead, after one month of discussions and constant edits, the summary document’s paragraph on the female diaconate (a question that was allowed) was a watered down, vague statement about the need for further study. If yet another study were to be taken up, this would be the third go-around in seven years to examine the case to restore the women’s diaconate. We have to ask, how much longer can this possibly take?

The vocation to be a deacon is undoubtedly a valid calling for those who do not want the responsibility of running a parish or holding other roles of responsibility in the leadership of the Church. CWO is hopeful that this ministry will soon be opened up for women who feel called to serve as a deacon, the way Catholic men can now. But a Deacon cannot celebrate mass or consecrate the Eucharist, the central sacrament of Catholicism, the heart of church life and of which parishes are in desperate need. The lack of priests has reached a critical stage and most clergy are now exhausted and overworked. The Church hierarchy is excluding a group of willing and able women workers who have the skills and experience to officiate today.

Our ambivalence about the possibility of women deacons also stems from the fear it would entail “bolting us on” to  current hierarchical structures in a way that limits the vocations of women and continues to render them as inferior to men. The post-synodal signs point to the desire of the Church hierarchy to create a lay ministry of women deacons that strictly rules out ordination. This would mean women won’t be sacramentally recognised as having a commitment to a life of ministry. CWO is concerned women would therefore not qualify to receive the same training as male deacons and would lack formal confirmation of a permanent role within parishes. We suspect that female lay deacons’ ability to preside at baptisms, weddings and funerals would always be subject to the goodwill and whims of local priests and bishops.

This continued restriction of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to men only (“permanent” deacons included) is a blatant discrimination that has no basis in tradition or theology. There is overwhelming evidence that women were sacramentally ordained as deacons in the early church. To allow this tradition to be denied would be to pander to the prejudicial desire to ensure that no woman will ever be recognised as the peer of a man.

We often hear that the body of evidence proving women were deacons means this is the only ministry women can claim to hold. But this is mistaken. Christ instituted an equal baptism for women and men, indicating openness to all sacraments including ordination. And at the Last Supper, women were present when Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” When Jesus sent out his apostles and disciples, he blessed them – men and women – with his authority for their mission. Whatever men did in the early Church, women did too, as equals and not subordinates. It was only in the fourth century that we first see a separate hierarchical rank of ordained male priests when the Roman culture of excluding women from leadership roles took hold. And so, for as long as priesthood exists as a role and a requirement to run parishes, administer all sacraments and participate in decision-making about how the Catholic Church is run and what it teaches, women can and must be among their number.

We welcome Synod discussions about tackling what Pope Francis calls “the scourge of clericalism”. But those opposed to any ministry for women are increasingly using this term to position women’s vocations in a negative light. To associate women’s genuine call to ministry with abuse of power and suggest that their ministry would be corrupt before it even starts, is a judgment never levelled at men who claim a vocation to priesthood. Those who claim concern about clericalism should note that this affliction often arises when priests believe they are a superior caste of men, because no woman can ever be their peer. And so, the most effective way to diminish clericalism and start to reform the priesthood would be to restore women to ministry alongside men as their equals.

CWO envisages flourishing,  inclusive, active Eucharistic communities, where women will be ordained to sacramental and pastoral care. We are confident that the Synod’s lack of meaningful commitments to act on equality will galvanise Catholics to demand their local dioceses have further listening sessions. This would increase the pressure on the Vatican to not only give the illusion of inclusion with vague references to study women but actively to include women in the leadership structure of the church. Our hierarchy needs to act now because the very future of our church is at stake. Any further delay only exacerbates the pastoral crises that leave the dying neglected, the vulnerable with no support, and parishes adrift. These communities are desperate for priestly service and leadership – the very care that women are already offering and are ready to give more fully.

Pope, cardinals continue discussion of role of women in the Church

Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals continue their discussion of women’s role in the church at the Vatican Feb. 5, 2024.

By Cindy Wooden

With the help of a woman Anglican bishop, a Salesian sister and a consecrated virgin, Pope Francis and his international Council of Cardinals devoted the first morning of their February meeting “to deepening their reflection, begun last December, on the role of women in the church,” the Vatican press office said.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said Feb. 5 the pope and cardinals heard from Bishop Jo Bailey Wells, deputy secretary-general of the Anglican Communion; Salesian Sister Linda Pocher, a professor of Christology and Mariology at Rome’s Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium,” and Giuliva Di Berardino, a consecrated virgin and liturgist from the Diocese of Verona, Italy.

The pope and council were to continue meeting the afternoon of Feb. 5 and all day Feb. 6, focusing on other themes, Bruni said.

The Vatican has not shared details about the discussions on the role of women in the church nor the texts of presentations made at the meeting.

Cardinal Gérald C. Lacroix of Québec was present at the meeting; in Jan. 30 video message said he would “temporarily withdraw from activities in my diocese” after he was accused in a civil lawsuit of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl on two occasions in the 1980s. He has denied the allegations.

The Vatican press office did not comment on the cardinal’s participation in the council meeting.

In addition to Cardinal Lacroix, those at the February meeting included Cardinals Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; Seán P. O’Malley of Boston; Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, Congo; Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state; Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India; Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia, Brazil; Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the commission governing Vatican City State; and Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg.

Complete Article HERE!