Last week, I received some wondering emails when a couple of gentle commenters discussed the office of “deaconess” in the early Church.
As far as I know, the magisterium has not made any definitive statement about the possibility of ordaining women to the diaconate. In fact, the 1976 CDF document deliberately passed over the issue, saying “it is a question which must be taken up fully by direct study of the texts, without preconceived ideas.” Since then, the Vatican commissioned a group of theologians to study the question, and the theologians recommended against any change in current practice. One commenter, Father Gabriel, acknowledged most of this in his comment. Father Gabriel is most concerned about how we understand the office of deaconess in the ancient Church — and it is a problem, since the office of deaconess has continued in some (separated) eastern churches since ancient times, and was recently restored by the Greek Orthodox Church. The question remains: what is the character of the office? Were deaconesses really performing the same role as the male deacons who were counted among the clergy? I tend to think not, but the ancient sources themselves are unclear.
Those who’d like to learn more about the discussion should read Father A.G. Martimort’s book Deaconesses: An Historical Study, which is published by Ignatius Press. It’s the most thorough treatment of the subject. There are two sober and balanced critiques of the “pro-ordination” position here and here.