Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. A few years back, Pope Francis set up a commission to study the feasibility of permitting women to become permanent deacons. Has that commission made a recommendation to the pope, and where does the matter lie now? (Personally, I think that women deacons are long overdue, and this pope could make history by opening the door.) (Albany, New York)

A. You are correct that in 2016, Pope Francis, with the encouragement of the International Union of Superiors General of religious orders of women, created a commission to study the historical facts about women referred to as deaconesses in the New Testament and the role of women deacons in the early church. That group reached varying points of view and came to no definitive conclusion as to whether women had ever been ordained sacramentally.

Speaking with journalists on the papal plane returning to Rome from Bulgaria in May 2019, Pope Francis indicated the issue would need further study. In April 2020, Pope Francis established a new “Study Commission on the Female Diaconate,” prompted in part by the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, which had suggested that the question of women deacons be revisited, given the shortage of priests in the region.

(Deacons perform many of the functions of priests — including presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals — though they are not permitted to celebrate Mass or hear confessions.) This new commission does not appear to be limited to an examination of the early church, as was the 2016 study group.

Q. A few months back, you answered a question about whether to stand or kneel when receiving Communion. You said the decision is left to national conferences of bishops and that in the United States, the suggested posture is standing, although those who prefer to kneel may do so. You added that your own pastoral inclination is to say, “Why should it matter?”

Well, my view is that it matters more than your own little brain can obviously comprehend. You are receiving the body and blood, soul and divinity of your Creator — the King of Kings and Prince of Peace. You are in the wrong business, Father. You have no supernatural faith and should step away from the priesthood and find another profession if you think this way. Even worse, you are helping to spread disrespect for almighty God. You are a sad, sad man — if you are even worthy of that title. (City and state withheld)

A. I run this letter to illustrate how strongly some Catholics can feel about their beliefs and their choice of devotional practices. (It also shows that thick skin might be an asset when writing a column of this sort!)

It may help to keep in mind what Pope Francis said at a weekly audience in March 2018. He said that Catholics receiving the Eucharist should do so with reverence, whether standing or kneeling. The pope explained that the preferred posture for reception is left to the bishops of a country but noted that the essential thing is that one’s mind and heart should be directed to the Lord.

“After Communion,” Pope Francis suggested, “silence, silent prayer helps us treasure in our hearts the gift which we have received. To slightly extend that moment of silence, speaking to Jesus in our hearts, helps us a great deal, as does singing a psalm or hymn of praise.

“Each time we receive Communion,” the pope said, “we resemble Jesus more,” stripping away our selfishness.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.