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19 Jul 2024 5:51
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  •   Home > News > International

    Women should receive 'fuller recognition' in the Catholic Church, Vatican says

    The document will inform bishops at their October summit, where the role of women in the Church is on the agenda.

    The global Catholic Church is split on whether to allow women to serve as deacons, a Vatican document showed on Tuesday.

    Catholic women do the lion's share of the church's work in schools and hospitals and tend to take the lead in passing down the faith to future generations. 

    But they have long complained of a second-class status in an institution that reserves the priesthood for men.

    Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers. As in the priesthood, they must be men in today's Catholic Church. 

    Women deacons existed in early Christianity, but it is unclear what role they had.

    Current-day deacons may not celebrate Mass — but they may preach, run a parish, teach in the name of the church, baptise, and conduct weddings, wakes and funeral services.

    "While some local churches call for women to be admitted to the diaconal ministry, others reiterate their opposition," the Vatican document said.

    Known as "Instrumentum laboris", the document was written by the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith and presented after consultations with national bishops' conferences and Catholic institutions and associations from around the world.

    The Vatican announced the details of the doctrinal document shortly after its news conference — led by four men — on the preparatory work for their October summit known as the synod.

    Church reform underway

    The working document will inform discussions at the synod, which represents the second phase of a church reform process that began three years ago.

    Pope Francis initially called the first synod as part of his overall efforts to make the church a more welcoming place for marginalised groups, and one where ordinary people would have a greater say. 

    The process, and the two-year canvassing of rank-and-file Catholics that preceded it, sparked both hopes and fears that real change was afoot.

    The first synod was held in 2023, using a working document that specifically noted the calls for a greater welcome for "LGBTQ+ Catholics" and others who have long felt excluded by the church.

    However, synod delegates made no mention of homosexuality in their final summarising text.

    They merely said people who felt marginalised because of their marital situation, "identity and sexuality, ask to be listened to and accompanied, and their dignity defended".

    A few weeks after the synod ended, the pope unilaterally approved letting priests offer blessings to same-sex couples.

    He also named several women to high-ranking jobs in the Vatican and encouraged debate on other ways women's voices can be heard. 

    That has included the synod process in which women have had the right to vote on specific proposals — a right previously given only to men.

    Vatican offers 'fuller recognition' of women, but not as deacons

    The October summit will be the second synod and is expected to be the last.

    While appointing women deacons will not be on the synod's agenda, the attending bishops will discuss the possibility of giving women a greater role in the male-dominated Church.

    The Vatican document stressed the need to "give fuller recognition" to women in the church, saying that "by virtue of baptism, they enjoy full equality".

    The document recommended "theological reflection" on the possibility of appointing women deacons, "on an appropriate timescale and in the appropriate ways".

    During his 11-year pontificate, the pope has appointed two commissions to study whether women could be ordained deacons. 

    In an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes programme recorded in April and aired in May, he responded with a flat "no" when asked if he was open to women deacons.

    But he added that women were often playing deacon-like roles, without formally having that title. 

    "Women are of great service as women, not as ministers," he said at the time.

    Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, was asked about the pope's remarks on women deacons during a press conference.

    "As of now, it is a 'no', but at the same time the Holy Father has said that the theological reflection and study must continue," he said.

    "For me this is not a contradiction."

    Move criticised as 'crumbs' for Catholic women

    A group pressing for women's ordination told Associated Press the Vatican document represented "crumbs" for women, noting that ordained men would once again be making decisions about women's roles in the church.

    Women's Ordination Conference, which advocates for ordaining women priests, said the relegation of the issue of women deacons to the doctrine office was hardly the mark of a church looking to involve women more.

    "The urgency to affirm women's full and equal place in the church cannot be swept away, relegated to a shadowy commission, or entrusted into the hands of ordained men at the Vatican," the group said in a statement.

    'Study groups' suggesting more inclusivity

    The document released on Tuesday also called for more inclusivity in the church, while acknowledging calls for greater transparency and accountability of church leaders and greater involvement of lay Catholics in church affairs — including in response to sex abuse, financial scandals and pastoral matters.

    It was announced in a list of the members of 10 "study groups" looking into some of the thorniest and legally complicated issues that have arisen in the reform process to date, including the role of women and LGBTQ+ Catholics in the life of the church.

    One study group is looking at particularly controversial issues, including the welcome of LGBTQ+ people in the church.

    "A need emerges in all continents concerning people who, for different reasons, are or feel excluded or on the margins of the ecclesial community or who struggle to find full recognition of their dignity and gifts within it," Tuesday's document said.

    Priestly celibacy — another contentious area for potential reform — was not mentioned, while the document said African bishops are studying "the theological and pastoral implications of polygamy for the church in Africa".

    Cardinal Grech said the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) would report on these issues at the October meeting.

    The study groups are working with Vatican offices and will continue their analyses beyond the October meeting, suggesting outcomes this year won't necessarily be complete.



    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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