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Despite Pope’s Clear ‘No’ on CBS, Promoters of Women Deacons Hold out Hope

Phyllis Zagano, a Religion News Service columnist and senior research associate at Hofstra University who served on the first commission on women deacons, expressed concern about the comment’s impact on the synod in an email. “Surely Pope Francis did not intend to shut down several decades of study and ignore the import of Spirit-led discernment, which he has been so keen to emphasize as the modus operandi of the Catholic Church,” she wrote.

Casey Stanton, co-director of the advocacy group Discerning Deacons, also read the pope’s comments as at odds with the synod. “Our church is in the middle of this three-year consultative process that he initiated to try to help transform the culture of the church from kind of unilateral, top-down decision-making towards listening and co-responsibility,” she said.

“If his mind is already made up, then what does that mean for the unfolding process?” Stanton asked.

But advocates for women deacons do not consider the conversation over. Bruce, who in February was appointed as a consultant to the Vatican’s General Secretariat of the Synod, agrees.

Bruce said that instead of “shutting down the conversation” of women deacons, the pope may be instead “naming a moment.”

“His response to me strikes as one that honors the current form and structure of the church,” Bruce said, adding, “I have a deep appreciation for Pope Francis’ willingness to engage in open conversation and communication.”

Bruce said the synod cannot be pinned on “one moment or one person,” but that it is an “ongoing project of discernment.”

Deacon Federico Guillermo “Memo” Rodriguez, a facilitator of diaconate formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said he already sees women doing diaconal work. Catholic women’s desire to serve as ordained deacons “is not different from what men experience and discern themselves,” he said.

Rodriguez, who is affiliated with Discerning Deacons, pointed out that the permanent diaconate — as opposed to the short-term status that is a step before becoming a priest — was only reinstated a little more than 50 years ago. “That’s virtually yesterday in church times, so the church is still rediscovering” who deacons are, he said.

Advocates for women deacons often point to St. Phoebe, mentioned in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, as biblical proof of female deacons in the early church.

Stanton speculated that the pope might be resisting the cause of women deacons as part of his fight against clericalism, the term for the idea that ordained clergy are superior to the laity, which Francis has called a “scourge on the church.”