VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis told journalists on Sunday that he was somewhat angered when reports emerged that the Church was allegedly paving the way for the ordination of women to the diaconate, since no such change is in the works.
“The first to be surprised by this news was me,” the Pope said June 26 during an in-flight press briefing en route to Rome following his three-day visit to Armenia.
“They said: ‘The Church opens the door to deaconesses.’ Really? I am a bit angry, because this is not telling the truth of things.”
His remarks were in reference to some reports following a question-and-answer session with women religious, in which he said he would like to form a commission to study the diaconate and the role of deaconesses in the early Church.
The reports of the May 12 audience with the International Union of Superiors General centered on one question asked by a sister about why the Church does not include women in the permanent diaconate. The sister had referred to an ancient tradition in the Church in which there were female deacons and suggested that a commission be established to study the possibility.
When asked about it again during his flight, the Pope jested that one Argentine president had said, “When you want something not to be resolved, make a commission.”
“We had heard that in the first centuries there were deaconesses,” he continued. “One could study this, and one could make a commission. Nothing more has been requested.”
Reports quickly circulated following the May 12 event that Pope Francis was paving the way for the ordination of women deacons, and potentially even women priests. Holy See Press Office director Father Federico Lombardi clarified in a May 13 statement that the Pope had no such intention.
During the June 26 in-flight presser, Francis reiterated the remarks made during the audience with women religious. He referred back to a Syrian theologian who had told him that there were women in the early Church who assisted bishops when dealing with other women, for the sake of modesty.
For instance, women would assist with baptisms of other women since it was the practice to fully immerse the candidate during baptism. The Pope also cited an instance in which a bishop was approached by a woman who claimed her husband had beaten her; he called in a woman to assess the bruises on the body.
Francis acknowledged that the subject of women deacons has already been studied by the Church, including a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The document, which gave a thorough historical context of the role of the deaconess in the ancient Church, overwhelmingly concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons and had neither a liturgical nor a sacramental function.
During his in-flight press conference, Pope Francis went on to express his appreciation for women in the Church, saying they should be listened to before decisions are made. Indeed, he would often ask women for advice because “they saw things in another light,” and their solutions were “very fruitful.”
“Woman’s thought is important,” he said. Noting how women think differently from men, he said, “One cannot make a good decision without listening to women.”
“The Church is a woman. It is la Chiesa, who is not a spinster; she is a woman married to the Son of God — she is the spouse of Jesus Christ.”