Saturday, January 14, 2017
News from the East. . . .
In the Coptic Church, the female diaconate has seen to the needs of its members and dependents along with male deacons, however, the deaconesses have no liturgical function in the Coptic Church. In the Armenian Church, all female deaconesses are nuns.
All of this, of course, gives larger context for the initiative of Pope Francis for Rome to study the issue of deaconesses, albeit within the larger perspective that such diaconal status could not lead to ordaining women to the priesthood. Pope John Paul II spoke definitively on ordination but he did not declare anything definitive regarding women and diaconal ordination/consecration. This group appointed by Pope Francis began meeting only November 25.
Clearly the problems lie in the seemingly "separate but equal" status of the female diaconate which will hardly solve the issue for those in favor of the full opening of the priestly and episcopal offices to women nor will the parallel tracks necessarily console those who believe that any move in this direction can prevent the ultimate outcome of a change from male only to female ordination. In addition, the histories of Eastern Christianity and Western (Latin) Christianity are distinctly different and there is little to support an ordained female diaconate in the West during that early period. Finally there is the issue of "clericalizing" the laity -- one which seems to be a concern of Pope Francis. Diaconal or mercy service may not be helped at all by institutionalizing this in a formal diaconate for women. Especially in the West, though certainly in somewhat of a decline today, the role of the non-cloistered nun has been the focus of the the service that might be associated with the female diaconate.