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Pope Francis Establishes New Commission to Study Women Deacons

Vatican City (CNA)—The Vatican announced April 8 that Pope Francis has created a new commission to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church, after some members of the 2019 Amazon synod requested the pope re-establish a 2016 commission on the subject.

Among the 10 theologians making up the new study commission are two permanent deacons, three priests, and five lay women. They hail from Europe and the United States.

Pope Francis first created a 12-member commission in 2016 to examine the historic question of the role of deaconesses in the early Church.

In May last year, he said that the commission had not reached any consensus which would soon lead to a plan of action, but would continue its study.

Speaking aboard the papal plane returning from North Macedonia and Bulgaria, the pope said “for the female diaconate, there is a way to imagine it with a different view from the male diaconate,” but added that “fundamentally, there is no certainty that it was an ordination with the same form, in the same purpose as male ordination.”

“Some say there is doubt, let’s go ahead and study,” he said in May 2019.

The institution of the new commission also follows the discussion of the female diaconate during the 2019 Amazon synod.

At the end of the October 6-27 meeting, synod members recommended to Pope Francis that women be considered for certain ministries in the Church, including the permanent diaconate, which is an order within the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Pope Francis said in his closing remarks for the Amazon synod October 26 that he would re-open the 2016 commission, possibly adding new members, based on the synod’s request.

But in his apostolic exhortation on the Amazon, published February 12, Pope Francis called for women in the South American region to be included in new forms of service in the Church, but not within the ordained ministries of the permanent diaconate or priesthood.

Francis wrote in Querida Amazonia that when considering the role of women in the Church, “we do not limit ourselves to a functional approach.”

The subject of women deacons has previously been studied by the Church, including in a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission (ITC), an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

In the document, the ITC concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had neither a “liturgical function,” nor a sacramental one. It also maintained that even in the 4th century “the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns.”

According to the April 8 Vatican announcement, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, the archbishop of L’Aquila, Italy, has been named president of the study commission. Father Denis Dupont-Fauville, a CDF official, was named secretary.

One of the two US-based members is James Keating, a permanent deacon and the director of theological formation at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF) based at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

A theologian, he leads the IPF’s retreats for seminary faculty and seminary formators. Keating is also the author of several books and articles on holy orders and the diaconate.

The second American member of the commission is Dominic Cerrato, a permanent deacon and director of diaconal formation in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois.

In the past Cerrato has taught theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he established the Distance Learning Masters in Theology program. In 2014, he published a book on the theology of the diaconate based on the personalist thought of Pope St. John Paul II.

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