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Women Deacons Still Possible

Three Vatican congregations recently decided that courses that "directly or indirectly" prepare women for ordination as Catholic deacons must be discontinued. The prefects of the congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship and the Sacraments and the Clergy signed the notification which was apparently directed at three year courses in Germany and Austria. The courses prepare women for ordination as deacons and eventually, as priests.

However, Germany's Cardinal Karl Lehmann said that the ban did not mean a final decision had been reached and affirmed that women deacons in the Roman Church are still a possibility.

Some commentators thought it odd that the Vatican congregations decided to speak now when the International Theological Commission, which has been studying the issue for years, has not yet completed its work. Others see the notification as a curial response to recent public calls to open the diaconate to women by Women's Ordination Worldwide.

Dutch theologian John Wijngaards, in a September 29 letter to the British Catholic journal The Tablet, believes the Vatican decree "reveals how far Roman leaders are removed from the reality of our Church.They do not seem to know that even the Orthodox churches are moving towards reinstalling the sacramental ordination of women deacons." Wijngaards cited two recent Orthodox conferences which recommended that church leaders "discern prayerfully" the possibility of women deacons. He also notes that the historical research has established without any doubt that "during the first nine centuries of church history, women received an ordination that was identical to the ordination given to their male colleagues." (For extensive scholarly documentation go to www.womenpriests.org).

Meanwhile in Austria, the training of women for the ordained diaconate will continue, according to Ingrid Thurner, chairwoman of the "We Are Church" reform movement which organized the courses.

For more information and resources concerning women's ordination, refer to our Women in Church Leadership project.


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