Preliminary report on women deacons completed

 The debate on the possibility of ordaining women as deacons is 'still open' according to a new report just completed by the The International Theological Commission. The issue will now need to be settled by the magisterium rather than by theologians. The 30-member strong Commission met in Rome last week, under the direction of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to debate the issue. Their discussion was commissioned by the Congregation eight years ago, and will now form the basis of a new document on the diaconate, to be issued by the Congregation. The exact nature of the diaconate, and the possibility of opening that ministry to women, have been the subjects of active discussion at the Vatican for several years. In 1998, when he introduced a new directory for the ministry and life of permanent deacons, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, said the Vatican wished to avoid any "confusion on the idea of the diaconate." He told reporters such confusion could arise from premature discussion of the ordination of female deacons. At the same time, Cardinal Jose Savaira Martins, who was then secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, said: "While 'deaconesses' indubitably did exist in the early days of the Church, they were not ordained in the same way that priests were; they simply received a blessing, which was not a sacrament." Three years later, in September 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger joined with Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, in publishing a 'notification' to warn against 'initiatives which are designed, in any manner, to prepare female candidates for ordination to the diaconate.' The document explained that any such initiatives, undertaken while the question is still unsettled, would encourage false expectations that could eventually cause severe disappointment. Mgr Ronald Minnerath, a French member of the International Theological Commission, cautioned against any misinterpretation of the Commission's report. The group had not suggested that women might be ordained as deacons, he told Rome news agency I Media; rather the report had "not closed the door" to that possibility. The diaconate is one of the three forms of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church, along with the priesthood and episcopate. The service of deacons has traditionally focused on catechesis, participation in the liturgy, and service to the poor. A candidate for the priesthood passes through a period of service as a 'transitional deacon,' but the Second Vatican Council also revived the role of the "permanent deacon," who is not expected to be ordained as a priest. There are now more that 27,000 permanent deacons in the Catholic Church, of whom nearly 18,000 serve in the United States. source: CWN/BBC

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