Latest News News Analysis

Overlooked: Pope dampens expectations of women deacons

The Vatican reflected in a woman's sunglasses during a Papal address (Getty Images)

What happened?

Pope Francis has disappointed campaigners for women deacons, saying that the commission he appointed to study the subject was inconclusive.

Speaking on the papal flight from North Macedonia, Francis said there was “some agreement” among members of the commission, but not enough to reach a final conclusion.

Why was it under-reported?

Although the Pope’s comments seemed to draw a line under the question – he told the leaders of women’s religious orders a few days later that “We cannot go beyond revelation and dogmatic expressions” – Francis’s words were not entirely conclusive. He said more “study” is needed.

He explained that “I cannot make a sacramental decree without a theological, historical foundation,” leaving it an open question whether such a foundation might turn out to exist. The media may be waiting for something which sounds more final.

What will happen next?

The 12 members of the commission will return to their books, and “after some time”, the Pope said, he “may call [them] to see what they have found”.

The key distinction is between the deaconess as an administrative role – helping with the practicalities of baptism, for instance – and ordained ministry. The Vatican’s International Theological Commission has previously studied the subject, and found no evidence that women had been ordained deacons in anything resembling sacramental ordination.