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No Basis for Women as Deacons, Panel Says

October 19, 2002|From Times Wire Services

VATICAN CITY — An authoritative panel of advisors to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has found no historical or theological basis for the ordination of women as deacons.

The Rev. Georges Cottier, secretary of the International Theological Commission, said in a statement that the panel determined that there is no exact precedent for female deacons, and the office of deacon is closely linked to the priesthood, from which women are excluded.

Cottier made clear, however, that the commission's conclusions are only advisory.

"It is now within the competence of the Magisterium [the Roman Catholic Church's teaching authority] to pronounce authoritatively on the issue in the light of the elements that the historical-theological research of the International Theological Commission has been permitted to put in evidence," Cottier's statement said.

Cottier, a Dominican who is theologian to the papal household, said the panel undertook more than five years of research into the question of female deacons at the request of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The 30 members of the commission, presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the congregation, approved the findings at a meeting in late September.

Cottier said the most important conclusion to emerge from the study was that the deaconesses of the early church could not be compared to deacons. "Both the rite of institution and the explicit function of the deaconesses distinguished them from ordained deacons," he said.

According to church history, the deaconesses of the early church, who often were widows, helped converts, assisted in baptisms, read the Scriptures to the community and distributed Communion to other deaconesses when a priest was not available. They were instituted with a liturgical rite, but the Council of Nicaea stated in 325 that they were laity and not ordained.

The Second Vatican Council, in the early 1960s, encouraged the church to reestablish the status of deacons as part of the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church after centuries of considering the position only a stage leading to priesthood.

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