A little while before Christmas one of our friars, a brother and canon lawyer (JCD with a four-pointed biretta to boot!) sent me an article about Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Omnium in mentem in which he made some changes to canon law regarding the nature of deacons.
Our undertanding of ordination is that there is one sacrament of Holy Orders that is expressed in the deaconate (deacons), presbyterate (priests) and episcopate (bishops). Deacons are either permanent or transitional. Transitional deacons are those who are preparing for ordination as priests. You must be a deacon before you become a priest. In a similar way, bishops are ordained, in most cases from among priests. Funny enough, today is the feast of Fabian the Martyr who was a layman elected Bishop of Rome! But that’s the exception. Thus, there has been among some, a sense of a progression of degrees of ordination from deacon to bishop.
The changes made by the Pope clarify that the difference between the ordination between a deacon on one hand and priests and bishops on the other is not one of “degree”, but in the “kind”. Priests and bishops are ordained to act in the “person of Christ”. In contrast, B16’s moto proprio states that deacons are ordained for service to the Church.
I was grateful for this friar sending me this article that reminded me that friar-priests share in a unique vocation in the church. What I did not realize was the implication of such a clarification by the Holy Father. The Jan 9th edition of The Tablet from the UK has an interesing article that raises the idea that perhaps Pope Benedict is laying the foundation for the ordination of women to the diaconate!
If diaconal ordination does not require for the person to act in the person of Christ, then the candidate for deaconate does not need to image Christ. This has been a key reason why the Church does not ordain women; they do not fully image the person of Christ. [Don’t shoot the messenger here!]
However, if diaconal ordination is different in kind from that of the priest/bishop then there might be a possibility of women being ordained. This would be consistent with the practices of some of the Orthodox Churches. Knowing Pope Benedict’s interest in rapprochement with the Orthodox, it would make sense of the Roman Church to open the door for the same type of ordination of women deacons.
B16 is a very complex person and we haven’t finished being surprised by him.
[I tried to link to the article in the Tablet, but you need to subscribe to see it. Here’s the link to the Tablet site in case you want to subscribe. It is certainly worth while]