Q. Our current priest always looks exhausted. He is attempting to pastor three parishes that were merged into one. Our parish has no deacons. With the shortage of priests and deacons, will the church ever allow women to become deacons? (southern Indiana)
A. This same issue, in fact, is currently being studied by the church. In April 2020, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had created a new commission to study the question of a female diaconate in the Catholic Church. This followed the suggestion by the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, which had recommended that women be considered for certain ministries in the church, including the permanent diaconate.
An earlier study on the same topic had been commissioned by Pope Francis in August 2013, soon after his election as pontiff. At a 2016 meeting with the women’s International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis told the sisters that his understanding at that point was that women described as deaconesses in the New Testament were not ordained, as permanent deacons are, but were commissioned to assist with baptism by immersion of other women.
In 2019, aboard a papal flight with journalists, Pope Francis told reporters that the first commission he had appointed to study the topic had not reached a unanimous conclusion. “What is fundamental is that there was no certainty that there was an ordination with the same form and the same aim as the ordination of men,” the pope told reporters on that May 7, 2019, flight from Macedonia to Rome.
In 2002, the same topic had been studied by the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had cast some doubt as to whether female deacons in the early church had a liturgical or sacramental function.
So the creation in 2020 of this new commission has given new hope to some that the ordination of women deacons could someday happen.
Q. I have always seen on television the reverence shown to the pope, including people kissing his hand. I am wondering whether the pope ever kisses anyone else’s hand. My understanding is that the Holy Father never does this. (Kansas)
A. The pope does, in fact, sometimes kiss people’s hands. I can remember in 2014 a much-publicized visit of Pope Francis to Jerusalem.
At Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust, the pope laid a wreath of flowers and then kissed the hands of six Shoah survivors in a sign of humility and honor, as he heard their stories of loved ones killed by the Nazis during World War II.
More recently, in May 2021, following a general audience with the faithful at the Vatican, Pope Francis kissed the numbered tattoo of a survivor from the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
He leaned over 80-year-old Lidia Maksymowicz and kissed the tattooed “70072” on her elderly arm, then gave her a warm embrace then blessed her head. Maksymowicz, a Polish citizen who was deported to Auschwitz from her native Belarus at the age of 3, was among the children who were experimented upon by Josef Mengele, the Nazi physician known as “the Angel of Death.”
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.
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