Saturday, August 6, 2016
LET THIS BE CLEAR: IT'S ABOUT DEACONESSES NOT DEACONS
Thus one of the participants on the commission to discuss deaconesses, not deacons, makes things crystal clear in an interview:
Die Welt: What, precisely, is the mandate of the new commission on deaconesses?
Menke: This is not yet fixed in writing. I presume that the pope will want to have examined whether the reintroduction of a ministry [Beauftragung] tied to the title “deaconess” could serve the mission of the Church and, not least, the stronger incorporation of women. Although many outsiders wrongly assume so, it does not in any case concern the admission of women to the sacrament of orders (the sacrament of ordination is meant – Ed.). For the Second Vatican Council definitively declared whether the deacon receives the sacrament of orders. The sacrament of orders is received not only by bishop and priest, but also by the deacon. Thus, since there is only one single sacrament of orders (in three levels, i.e. deacon, priest, bishop), the admission of females to sacramental diaconate, bestowed by ordination, would mean their admission also to priestly and episcopal ordination. …
Die Welt: What role did deaconesses play in the early church?
Menke: The office of deaconess represents, in historical retrospect, a very complex phenomenon which is marked by great geographical and temporal differences. In the eastern church there are deaconesses to this day. Meanwhile, the historical sources have been sifted through exhaustively and show clearly: at no time and in no place did the deaconess have a part in the office bestowed by ordination. What is witnessed throughout is the express exclusion from any sort of liturgical service at the altar, public exercise of the ministry of proclamation, and solemn celebration of baptism. In the early church, deaconesses fulfilled charitable services, and administrative ones in part also, similar to today in the Catholic church’s active [karitativ] religious orders: nursing, service to the poor, care for people, etc.
Die Welt: In your view, should we reintroduce a female diaconate?
Karl Heinz Menke: Of course one can consider whether the institutionalization of women’s participation in the form of an office similar to the early church or the eastern church would make sense. But in this it cannot be a matter of officializing or clericalizing whatever can be done in the church. One should take note that, at least in the West, the institution of deaconess was taken over by active [karitativ tätig] women’s orders. The justified call for more participation of women in the church would hardly be met, if at all, by admitting them to an exclusively serving function. Women who were called deaconesses but were not equal to deacons would more likely feel discriminated against than valued more highly. …
Die Welt: Francis said that it should not be difficult to answer the question of deaconesses quickly, for this is an area discussed intensively since the 80s. When will your commission offer its results?
Menke: I know nothing of such a statement by the pope. As a rule, every comparable commission works for three to five years…