On August 2, 2016, Pope Francis instituted a commission to study the history of the female diaconate, for the purpose of its possible restoration.
ONE CANNOT SIMPLY RESORT TO THE PAST
by Giancarlo Pani, S.J.
[…] On Pentecost of 1994, Pope John Paul II summarized, in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” the outcome of a series of previous magisterial statements (including “Inter Insigniores”), concluding that Jesus has chosen only men for the priestly ministry. Therefore “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women. This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The statement was a clear word for those who maintained that the refusal of priestly ordination for women could be discussed. Nonetheless, […] some time later, following the problems raised not so much by the doctrine as by the force with which it was presented, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented with a question: can “ordinatio sacerdotalis” be “considered as belonging to the deposit of the faith?” The answer was “affirmative,” and the doctrine was described as “infallibiliter proposita,” meaning that “it must be held always, everywhere, and by all the faithful.”
Difficulties with the answer’s reception have created “tensions” in relations between magisterium and theology over the connected problems. These are pertinent to the fundamental theology on infallibility. It is the first time in history that the congregation explicitly appealed to the constitution “Lumen Gentium” no. 25, which proclaims the infallibility of a doctrine that is taught as definitively binding by the bishops dispersed throughout the world but in communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter.
Moreover, the question touches upon the theology of the sacraments, because it concerns the subject of the sacrament of Orders, which traditionally is indeed man, but this does not take into account the developments that the presence of woman in the family and in society has undergone in the 21st century. This is a matter of ecclesial dignity, responsibility, and participation.
The historical fact of the exclusion of woman from the priesthood because of the “impedimentum sexus” is undeniable. Nevertheless, already in 1948, and therefore well ahead of the disputes of the 1960’s, Fr. Congar pointed out that “the absence of a fact is not a decisive criterion for concluding prudently in every case that the Church cannot do it and will never do it.”