Deaconesses: from myth to reality?
"I commend you Phoebe, our sister, who is the deaconess of the Church of Cenchrea ..." (Rom 16: 1). This passage from St Paul is put forward by many progressives, feminists at the head, to demand the extension of the male diaconate to women. At the synod on the family in 2014, Bishop Paul-André Durocher proposed a "process that could eventually give women access to the permanent diaconate." And no later than May 12, the heads of the IUGS, the International Union of General Superiors, meeting in Rome in plenary, asked the Pope the following question: "In the Church there is service Of the permanent diaconate, but it is open only to men, married or not. What prevents the Church from including women among permanent deacons, just as it was in the early Church? "
What were these deaconesses? Canon Jacques Forget (1852-1933), Belgian theologian and orientalist, professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, summarized the question in a very detailed article in the Dictionnaire de theologie catholique. The existence of deaconesses is well established. After St. Paul, Pliny the younger, Roman governor of the province of Bithynia, wrote about the year III in Trajan that he subjected to torture two Christian deaconesses.
They were virgins or widows, officially entrusted with the function of assisting the clergy. Two texts, the Didascalia (third century) and the Apostolic Constitutions (end of the 4th century) tell us about the missions entrusted to the deaconesses, in the Latin and Greek churches: caring for the poor and the sick of their sex; Be present during a particular conversation with a bishop, a priest or a deacon; Helping women prepare for baptism by instilling in them the elements of doctrine; Take the necessary physical findings in the event of legal proceedings; To keep the door by which the women were to enter the church, by securing order in the female assembly; And finally, to assist the bishop in the administration of the baptism of women, the baptism of adults taking place by immersion.
Saint Epiphanius (310-403), Bishop of Salamis on the island of Cyprus, adds: "The deaconesses are destined to safeguard the decency which is imposed on the female sex (...) It is necessary to discover the bodies of other women, so that these nudities may not be exposed to the eyes of the men who perform holy ceremonies. "(Haer.
However, the postulants were made deaconesses by an imposition of the hands or "ordination", according to the Apostolic Constitutions which specify the way and the formula!
Canon Forget reassures us: "Just as the ministry of the deaconesses had nothing sacerdotal, so their ordination was nothing sacramental. Never, in the texts, the rite of their initiation is presented neither as divinely established nor, a fortiori, as possessing a sanctifying virtue, an instrumental causality to produce grace and imprint an indelible character. The Church, by early restraint and eventually suppressing the order and office of the deaconesses, has clearly shown that she considered them to be an ecclesiastical creation, essentially modifiable according to circumstances. The deaconesses disappeared in the West from the sixth century, especially with the suppression of baptism by immersion in the Latin Church.
"The deaconesses mentioned in the tradition of the ancient Church can not be assimilated purely and simply to deacons," concluded in 2003 the international theological commission led by Pope John Paul II.
However, at the request of the superiors of the UISG, Pope Francis set up a committee on 2 August to study the question of the permanent female diaconate in the Church.
After the synod on the family, a new Pandora's box is opened. A patented modernist with the Pope's ear, Cardinal Walter Kasper said in La Repubblica as early as May 13: "I think there is going to be a fierce debate now. On this subject, the Church is divided into two, "the claim of women-priests being not far off.