By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis reaffirmed the impossibility of women becoming priests, or even modern Church deacons, in an interview for a book released Tuesday in Italy.
The question of whether some women in the early Church were “deaconesses” or another kind of collaborator with the bishops is “not irrelevant, because holy orders is reserved for men,” the pope said.
The pope’s answers to questions about women’s roles in the Church were included in a book published in June in Spanish as “El Pastor: Desafíos, razones y reflexiones sobre su pontificado.”
The book, whose title means in English “The Shepherd: Struggles, Reasons, and Thoughts on His Papacy,” was released in Italian on Oct. 24. The Italian edition is titled “Non Sei Solo: Sfide, Risposte, Speranze,” or “You Are Not Alone: Challenges, Answers, Hopes.”
About the possibility of women deacons, Francis pointed out that the diaconate “is the first degree of holy orders in the Catholic Church, followed by the priesthood and finally the episcopate.”
He said he formed commissions in 2016 and 2020 to study the question further, after a study in the 1980s by the International Theological Commission established that the role of deaconesses in the early Church “was comparable to the benedictions of abbesses.”
In response to a question about why he is “against female priesthood,” Francis told Argentine journalist Sergio Rubin and Italian journalist Francesca Ambrogetti, the authors of the book, that it is “a theological problem.”
“I think we would undermine the essence of the Church if we considered only the priestly ministry, that is, the ministerial way,” he said, pointing out that women mirror Jesus’ bride the Church.
“The fact that the woman does not access ministerial life is not a deprivation, because her place is much more important,” he said. “I think we err in our catechesis in explaining these things, and ultimately we fall back on an administrative criterion that does not work in the long run.”
“On the other hand, with respect to the charism of women, I want to say very clearly that from my personal experience, they have a great ecclesial intuition,” he said.
Asked about women’s ordination bringing “more people closer to the Church” and optional priestly celibacy helping with priest shortages, Pope Francis said he does not share these views.
“Lutherans ordain women, but still few people go to church,” he said. “Their priests can marry, but despite that they can’t grow the number of ministers. The problem is cultural. We should not be naive and think that programmatic changes will bring us the solution.”
“Mere ecclesiastical reforms do not serve to solve underlying issues. Rather, paradigmatic changes are what is needed,” he added, pointing to his 2019 letter to German Catholics for further considerations on the issue.