Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research responds to Pope Francis
Two days ago now, on May 7 Pope Francis revealed that, after almost three years of study, his own experts could not agree on whether women were ordained as deacons in the same way that men were in the early church. That lack of unanimity is likely to be used by Pope Francis to continue the current practice of excluding women from the diaconate.
Yet the findings of that papal commission fly in the face of well-known historical evidence. Not only was the rite for ordaining women to the diaconate identical to that used for men: it also included all the markers exclusive to what was later termed the “sacrament of Holy Orders”.
And if it was done in the past, why not now?
Ironically, one of the manuscripts preserving two such ordination rites to the diaconate, identical for men and women respectively, is held in the Vatican library itself. Perhaps the Pope could examine these for himself?
This evidence has long been known. In August 2015 the Wijngaards Institute summarised decades of academic research into women deacons and sent it to Pope Francis for his considerations.
As we wrote back then: ‘The rationale which subverted female deacons in the Middle Ages was the phobia concerning menstruation and the conceit that women are innately inferior to men.’ There should be no tolerance in our church for the upholding of a ban based on ancient prejudice and misogyny. It does not reflect the truth of our tradition, history or theology.
We renew our call on Pope Francis to re-establish the ordained diaconate for women as a matter of justice, Christian ecumenism, as well as faithfulness to the wisdom of our ancestors in the Christian faith.
We also call for the immediate release of the latest commission’s report, so that its conclusions, as well as the evidence they are based on, can be publicly evaluated.