What Pope Francis said on studying deaconesses

Catholic News Agency

Vatican City, May 12, 2016 / 10:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday Pope Francis said he would be open to the idea of forming a commission to study the historical context of deaconesses, as well as the possibility of women serving as deaconesses today.

Read here: “What Should I Know About Pope Francis and Women Deacons” by Catholic Answers

He spoke to some 800 members of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), who are meeting in Rome May 9-13 for their Plenary Assembly, which focuses largely on the role of women in the Church, and obstacles hindering it.

He briefly touched on the temptations of both feminism and clericalism, as well as the question of the presence of women in the permanent diaconate of the Church, saying it would be “useful to establish a commission to study” the topic.

Part of the Church’s sacrament of Holy Orders, the diaconate is currently only open to men.

However, in the lengthy May 12 question-and-answer session with the plenary participants, one of the religious sisters asked the Pope “Why not construct an official commission that might study the question” of reinstating deaconesses in the Church.

Read here: Full text of Pope’s Q & A at Meeting With International Union of Superiors General by ZENIT

In response, Francis said he had spoken some time ago with “a good, wise professor” who had studied the topic of female deacons in the early centuries of the church, and noted that their role was primarily linked to assisting the bishop in full-body immersions of women for baptism.

The Pope said that the exact role female deacons played in the early Church is still unclear to him, and recalled asking the professor “What were these female deacons? Did they have ordination or no?”

He said the precise answer “was a bit obscure,” and questioned aloud the possibility of forming an official commission to study the question.

“I believe yes. It would do good for the Church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this,” he said, adding later that “it seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”

CNA asked the Vatican for confirmation of the Pope’s remarks, but did not receive a response by deadline.

While Pope Francis has suggested a new commission could be helpful in studying the question further, the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released a document on the diaconate in 2002 in which they addressed the question of whether women might be also be eligible.

Read here: “From the Diakonia of Christ to the Diakonia of the Apostles” by the International Theological Commission (2002)

The document overwhelmingly concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had no liturgical or sacramental function.

It reflected what the professor to whom Pope Francis had spoken said, referring to the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles from around 380, which stressed that deaconesses had “no liturgical function,” but rather devoted themselves “to their function in the community which was service to the women.”

The deaconess, the document read, “does not bless, and she does not fulfill any of the things that priests and deacons do, but she looks after the doors and attends the priests during the baptism of women, for the sake of decency.”

While deaconesses were able to carry out the anointing of women in baptism for decency’s sake and to visit sick women in their homes, “they were forbidden to confer baptism themselves, or to play a part in the Eucharistic offering.”

Even in the fourth century, the document read, “the way of life of deaconesses was very similar to that of nuns.”

While history proves that the ministry of female deacons did indeed exist, the text noted that it was “developed unevenly” in the different parts of the Church, and that affirmed that it is clear “that this ministry was not perceived as simply the feminine equivalent of the masculine diaconate.”

Divided into seven chapters and a conclusion, the document’s second to last paragraph addresses the question of the ordination of women to the diaconate today.

While the general tone was that the question needed further study, the document offered two points of reflection for future consideration.

First, it mentioned that the deaconesses referred to in the ancient Church, “as evidenced by the rite of institution and the functions they exercised – were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.”

Secondly, it asserted that “the unity of the sacrament of Holy Orders…is strongly underlined by ecclesial tradition, especially in the teaching of the Magisterium,” and stressed the “clear distinction” between the ministry of priests and bishops versus that of deacons.

The document concluded with no clear indication either way, but instead simply stated that the question “pertains to the ministry of discernment which the Lord established in his Church to pronounce authoritatively on this question.”

COMING UP: Father Jan Mucha remembered for his ‘joy and simplicity’

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When Father Marek Ciesla was 11 years old, he encountered a priest in his hometown in northern Poland who was visiting his parish on mission.

“I was impressed,” said Father Ciesla. “A couple of my friends and I were talking about how energetic, how wonderful this priest was. I think in this way he inspired us a little bit to follow the call to the priesthood.”

The priest was Father Jan Mucha, and little did Father Ciesla know that decades later and an ocean away, he would reunite with the man that inspired him and his friend to pursue the priesthood.

In 2010 when Father Mucha was retiring from his role as pastor of St. Joseph Polish Catholic Church in Denver, Father Ciesla was sent from Poland to the Archdiocese of Denver to take his place.

The priests spent two days together, and Father Ciesla was struck by the familiarity of Father Mucha.

“For some reason, the way he was talking and the words he was using, something rang a bell,” he said. “I asked him if he remembers visiting my parish. And he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I had it on my list. I remember.’”

Father Ciesla was amazed that the man he was there to replace was the same one who had impacted his life all those years ago.

“God works in mysterious ways,” said Father Ciesla. “I never thought I would meet him again.”

Father Mucha passed away March 21 after serving the archdiocese for 40 years. He was 88 years old.

Father Mucha was born March 16, 1930 in Gron, Poland to parents Kazimierz and Aniela Mucha. He was one of five children. Father Mucha attended high school in Kraków and went on to study philosophy and theology at a seminary in Tarnów.

Father Mucha was ordained December 19, 1954 in Tarnów by Auxiliary Bishop Karol Pękala. He served at St. Theresa Parish in Lublin, Sacred Heart Parish in Florynka and as a Latin teacher at Sacred Heart Novice House in Mszana Dolna.

He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Denver on April 20, 1978. Before he was granted retirement status in August of 2010, he served at St. Joseph Polish for nearly 40 years.

“Father Mucha was dedicated to his people and there was a joy about him,” said Msgr. Bernard Schmitz, who had known Father Mucha since his own ordination in 1974 and more recently within his former role as Vicar for Clergy.

“I admired his joy and simplicity,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He seemed to have no guile and what you saw is what you got. He was very proud of his Polish heritage and was unafraid to be Polish.”

Father Mucha’s move to the United States came about after he visited St. Joseph Polish while on vacation. The pastor at the time was sick, and parishioners asked Father Mucha to stay.

After receiving approval from his superiors in Poland and the archbishop in Denver, Father Mucha did stay, and ended up serving the parish for nearly four decades.

“He was happy to serve here,” said Father Ciesla. “All the time, he was a man of faith. He kept his eye on Jesus.”

Msgr. Schmitz believes Father Mucha’s faithfulness and tenacity as a priest will leave a lasting impression on those he served.

“He was dedicated to the priesthood and didn’t want to retire until he was sure his people would be well taken care of,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “He could come across as tough, but really he was a compassionate person [with] a heart open to the Lord’s work.”