Synod organizer says Vatican doctrine office is studying women deacons

Synod on Synodality Delegates to the Synod on Synodality meet in the final days of the synod, Oct. 25, 2023. | Credit: Vatican Media

Synod organizers revealed Tuesday that Pope Francis has asked the Vatican’s doctrine office to study women’s participation and leadership in the Catholic Church, including the possibility of women deacons, with the view of publishing a document on the subject.

At a Vatican press conference on July 9, Cardinal Mario Grech said the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) is studying “the women’s diaconate” within the context of its in-depth study of ministries in coordination with the General Secretariat of the Synod. 

While the female diaconate is off the table for discussion at the second Synod on Synodality assembly in October, according to the working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, published today, the topic will be included in the Vatican’s study on women’s leadership.

“The Holy Father has notified the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to study issues, including also the issue of ministries. And speaking of ministries there is also the theme of the women’s diaconate,” Grech said.

“The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith will study this theme — not only the theme of diaconate — but the theme of ministries,” he added. The cardinal did not make any mention of the possibility of women being ordained to the priesthood.

After Grech’s comments at the press conference, the Vatican confirmed that the DDF has already begun to study “theological and canonical questions around specific ministerial forms.” 

The in-depth study led by Monsignor Armando Matteo will focus particularly on the “the question of the necessary participation of women in the life and leadership of the Church” with a view of “publishing a specific document” on the topic.

The DDF study is one of 10 study groups on Synod of Synodality themes announced by Pope Francis earlier this year. The Vatican published the names of the members of each study group today, as well as a description of the DDF group, which is referred to as “Group Five.”

Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of women becoming deacons or clergy in a recent interview with “60 Minutes” to which the pope replied with a firm “no.”

Ministry of listening and accompaniment

At the Vatican press conference, synod organizers also highlighted the proposal for a new “ministry of listening and accompaniment,” which will be up for discussion in the Synod on Synodality’s final assembly in October.

The Instrumentum Laboris, or guiding document for the second session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, called the proposed ministry a reminder that “listening and accompaniment is an ecclesial service.”

“It seems appropriate to create a recognized and properly instituted ministry of listening and accompaniment, which would make this characteristic feature of a synodal Church an enduring and tangible reality,” the Instrumentum Laboris states.

“An ‘open door’ of the community is needed, allowing people to enter without feeling threatened or judged.”

When asked at the press conference whether the proposal of a new ministry of listening and accompaniment might be a step toward more “bureaucratization” of the Church, Grech underlined that the purpose of the ministry would be to “educate the community” to make progress in its service of listening and accompaniment.

The secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops added that all Catholics are invited to proclaim the Word and to be catechists, but this does not make the existence of ministries of readers and catechists within the Church a “bureaucratization.”

Grech also announced that the Secretariat of the Synod will soon publish a “theological aid” to supplement the Instrumental Laboris, which will provide theological and canonical analyses on the Instrumentum Laboris to help the synod participants to “recognize and understand the roots and implications of what is contained therein.” 

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‘Maturation in the synodal journey’

During the press conference, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, the relator general of the Synod on Synodality, said the reports submitted to synod organizers by bishops’ conferences around the world show that the multiyear synod process “has been and still is a time of grace that is already bearing numerous fruits in the life of the Church.”

“From Kenya to Ireland, from Korea to Brazil, reports underline this renewed dynamism that listening offered and received is bringing to communities,” he said.

Hollerich pointed to how he has observed a difference between the reports the General Secretariat received from bishops’ conferences at the beginning of the Synod on Synodality to the reports submitted this year by 108 bishops’ conferences.

“If the first ones emphasized more the resistance and opposition to the synodal process; these reports emphasize more the weariness and fatigue of a path of conversion that is not immediate,” he said.

The cardinal added that he views this as evidence of “a maturation in the synodal journey,” noting that many bishops’ conferences identified fruits from their local synod experience.

The Oct. 2–27 gathering of the Synod on Synodality will mark the end of the discernment phase of the Church’s synodal process, which Pope Francis opened in 2021.

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Participants in the fall meeting, including Catholic bishops, priests, religious, and laypeople from around the world, will prepare and vote on the Synod on Synodality’s advisory final document, which will then be given to the pope, who decides the Church’s next steps and if he wishes to adopt the text as a papal document or to write his own.

The third phase of the synod — after “the consultation of the people of God” and “the discernment of the pastors” — will be “implementation,” according to organizers.

“The synod is already changing our way of being and living the Church regardless of the October assembly,” Hollerich said.

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