ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' new commission tasked with investigating the possibility of creating women deacons has been weighted in favor of maintaining the status on women's ordination, Church Militant has reliably learned.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, the Vatican announced the Holy Father's decision "to establish a new study commission on the female diaconate," headed by Cdl. Giuseppe Petrocchi, archbishop of L'Aquila.
The timing and raison d'être of the commission were immediately questioned.
"To appoint a committee of inquiry on an issue where truth is settled is to cave in to revolutionaries. Imagine Pope Pius XII appointing a team of theologians to inquire whether Jesus had in fact ever walked the earth," Dr. John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism told Church Militant.
"It's a settled fact of history that women 'deacons' served one purpose only: to help prepare women for baptism when that practice entailed stripping naked. Modernists are weaponizing that innocent practice, hoping to wedge women into the sacramental diaconate, which entails ordination, so they can then get them into the priesthood," Dr. Zmirak said.
Among the 10 theologians on the commission are two permanent deacons, three priests and five laywomen — all holding professorships at theological faculties. At least seven of the members hold to the Church's traditional position on reserving sacramental ordination to the diaconate and priesthood exclusively for men.
One of the most prominent scholars on the commission who has categorically concluded that women cannot be ordained deacons is Fr. Manfred Hauke, professor of patristics and dogmatics at the Theological Faculty of Lugano, Switzerland.
"Allowing women to be deacons would create great confusion for the faithful," Fr. Hauke maintains. "You would have to explain to people the difference between male and female deacons." Moreover, calling women deacons would be "ambiguous" since they would not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Hauke has authored two definitive works on the ordained ministry. "The question of women's diaconate can only be clarified if the specific profile of the sacramental
diaconate has been worked out beforehand," he observes in Der Diakonat: Geschichte und Theologie (The Diaconate: History and Theology).
His doctoral thesis, published in popular format as "Women in the Priesthood: A Systematic Analysis in the Light of the Order of Creation and Redemption," conclusively rules out the possibility of women's ordination.
Hauke also exposes the covert agenda of people who advocate for women deacons — they "ultimately want women in the priesthood."
The two American deacons, Dominic Cerrato and James Keating, both hold conservative views on women in the diaconate. In an academic work, In the Person of Christ: A Theology of the Diaconate Based on the Personalist Thought of Pope John Paul II, Professor Cerrato assumes "the reservation of ordination exclusively to men."
He criticizes "certain women religious, particularly those with more radical feminist leanings, who view the diaconate as just another form of male-dominated clericalism."
Dr. Keating of Creighton University also adopts a traditional position on the ordained ministry. "Today seminarians are no longer taught that they are the 'same as everyone' or 'one of the boys,'" he says, lamenting "the promotion of priests as competent professionals akin to social workers and psychologists" in the 1960s.
Lambasting the era of "rebellion and experiment," Keating adopts Sr. Sarah Butler's research on restricting ordination to men, arguing that the male priest "is married in Christ to Christ's own Bride, the Church."
"Jim will do great" on the commission, a Catholic academic and friend of Dr. Keating told Church Militant. A source also confirmed Keating's position on ring-fencing the diaconate for men.
Speaking to Church Militant, a former colleague of Dr. Caroline Farey, described her as "a faithful Catholic academic" and "very sound."
"Pope Benedict XVI appointed her an advisor to the Synod on the New Evangelization. Caroline was one of the leading academics at Maryvale College, and was one of the co-founders of the School of the Annunciation," the colleague said.
Dr. Catherine Brown Tkacz, visiting professor of theology at the Ukrainian Catholic University, rebuts the feminist claim that Jesus was culturally conditioned and so chose only men as his inner circle of disciples. "The very fact that Jesus and the early Church gave such impressive emphasis to the spiritual equality of the sexes highlights the fact that Our Lord's selection of men and only men for the 12 was His free choice, not a culturally conditioned mistake that has to be corrected now," she argues.
"Those who currently want women to be ordained to the priesthood tend to refer to the New Testament references to deaconesses as if they proved the existence of an established clerical order. That is anachronistic," she maintains.
"The evidence suggests that the female diaconate arose when there was a need to preserve women's modesty during nude baptism and ceased when the norm became infant baptism," she points out in a lecture. However, "given that deaconesses never had the full sacramental duties of male deacons, their past existence does not indicate that women today could be ordained to the diaconate, let alone to the priesthood," she concludes.
Professor Barbara Hallensleben, who teaches dogmatic theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, views the "feminine vocation" starting from the idea of the priesthood of all the baptized and in the sacrament of marriage — not in Holy Orders.
Noted French biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier and the first laywoman to receive the Ratzinger prize in 2014, addresses women's diakonia as "service" but does not seem to advocate women's ordination to the diaconate. While calling for greater participation of women in positions of power, she affirms a "baptismal priesthood" and rules out female priests.
However, two appointees from Italy seem to lean in a more liberal direction. Dr. Angelo Lameri, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Lateran University, has suggested that "priests" should be called "ministers" — as are Protestant pastors. "The participation of the whole assembly gathered for the eucharistic celebration is expressed in a ministeriality," he says.
Lameri, appointed by Pope Francis in 2013 as Consultor of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, has also expressed discomfort with "a somewhat 'clerical' mind of the priest, who says 'I am enough, I am enough.'" The cleric holds a more liberal position on whether people who commit suicide should be given a Catholic funeral.
Dr. Rosalba Manes, professor of biblical theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, argues in favor of Phoebe as "deacon of the church of Cenchrea" explaining that "the use of the term diákonos suggests that the ministry of Phoebe does not only concern the sphere of charity, but that it also includes preaching and evangelization." However, in her exegesis, she does not push for sacramental ordination for women deacons.
Fr. Santiago del Cura Elena, professor on the Theological Faculty of Northern Spain, was part of the International Theological Commission's investigation on women deacons (1992–1997). His commission concluded that the deaconesses mentioned in ancient Church Tradition "were not purely and simply equivalent to [sacramentally ordained] deacons" and the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon were indivisibly united.
Significantly, Francis has not appointed a single strident feminist activist or women's ordination campaigner the way he did when appointing Phyllis Zagano, senior research associate at Hofstra University, to his first Study Commission on the Women's Diaconate in 2016.
"Until a vested woman is standing next to the pope at the altar in St. Peter's, nothing the Church says about the dignity of women will be heard inside or outside the Church," Zagano insists, arguing that the proposition "that women cannot image Christ, cannot be icons of Christ" is "nearly heretical" as well as "dangerous and malicious."
In May 2019, Francis said the 2016 commission had not produced a "definitive response" due to a lack of consensus regarding the role of female deacons in early Christianity. It is more likely that the composition of the new commission will produce a consensus.