[More Vatican steps towards women’s ordination?]
BY MAIKE HICKSON ON JUNE 6, 2016 @ 1PETER5
On 31 May 2015, the official website of the German bishops, katholisch.de, reported an interesting and revealing press event, at which a German theologian and the managing director of the International Diaconate Center (Internationales Diakoniezentrum, Rottenburg, Germany), Dr. Stefan Sander, has promoted the idea of women deacons. He is currently in Rome, said katholisch.de, because of “an international meeting.” Additionally, katholisch.de stated: “On Saturday [4 June], he [Sander] will – together with other experts – be received by Pope Francis [in a papal audience].”
The German branch of Vatican Radio, Radio Vatikan, published on 29 May its own report on an interview with Dr. Sander which is entitled: “The Church Needs Women as Deaconesses.”
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I quote here from both above-mentioned reports, as published by katholisch.de and by Radio Vatikan. It is very probable that his timely concurrent presence in Rome is also, in some way, connected to this larger women’s campaign, because Sander now claims, according to katholisch.de, that “there is no dogmatic stipulation that would exclude women from the diaconate.” As Sander told Radio Vatikan: “A diaconal Church needs the deacon, and a diaconal Church needs the women!” He continues, by saying: “In my view, this Church also needs women as deaconesses.” It is here not yet clear, but soon will be, whether he is promoting the idea of sacramental orders for women deaconesses, as opposed to the distinctly non-sacramental role some believe certain women played in previous eras of the Church.
According to Radio Vatikan, Sander calls it a “great surprise that Pope Francis put this topic [of female deacons] up for further discussion and study. However, says Sander, it is not yet clear “how he [Francis] understands the women diaconate.” He adds: “Whether there shall be rather a blessing or whether there can be a sacramental office for women.” Here, Sander himself is now explicitly in favor of a sacramental diaconate for women, although he is skeptical that it would be easily or at all achieved, as Radio Vatikan reports.
What Sander now sees to be necessary, according to katholisch.de, is to have “both offices, each with its own special charism, just as the Second Vatican Council had made it [this dual office] possible. In this way – in opposition to what the current Prefect for the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, said in a study of the year 2004 – one does not necessarily need to constrain the diaconate to the role of being a ‘helper of the priestly ministry.’” The German also adds that deacons should not too closely imitate priests.
Sander sees, rather, the deacon and the priest as “two arms” of the bishop, and he proposes to “let them both exist next to one another,” more autonomously, and without organizing them hierarchically. As katholisch.de comments: “With it, he [Sander] put into question the current Catholic practice according to which the ordination of deacons is also [often] administered as a first step toward the priestly ordination.”
The German theologian Sander then also refers to the Early Church and its establishment of the diaconate, which purportedly shows that new offices (even sacramental ones?) can be established “out of a sense of urgency.” Without further distinctions, Sander abstractly speaks of the deacons altogether as “messengers of Jesus Christ.”
During the papal audience which then took place on 4 June, the president of the International Diaconate Center himself, Professor Klaus Kiessling, also made an explicit reference in his speech in support of women deacons, just as Dr. Sander had done a few days earlier. As the Austrian Catholic website, kath.net, reports:
He [Kiessling] stressed especially his institute’s theological research concerning deaconry and the diaconate. According to Kiessling, it [this research] is at the same time also about the respect for the dignity of those women who ask to be admitted to this office.
We are witnessing here, it seems, a further equivocal addition to the already spreading confusion within the Catholic Church under the current pontificate. And once more, much of the confusion is being promoted by German theologians.