On May 12, 2016, at a meeting of the International Union of the Superiors General of Women’s Religious Orders, one sister asked Pope Francis why women were excluded from decision-making processes in the Church and from preaching at Eucharistic celebrations. In asking, she cited his words, “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions of the life of the Church and Society.”
In reply, Francis mentioned the presence of women deacons in the ancient Church: “it seems that the role of the deaconesses was to help with the baptism of women, with their immersion […] and they also anointed female bodies.”
In addition, they had another task: “when there was a judgment to be made on a marriage because a husband had beaten his wife, and had gone to the bishop to report it, deaconesses were responsible for inspecting the bruises on the woman’s body resulting from her husband’s blows, and then informing the bishop.”
The pope continued: “I would like to constitute an official commission to study the question: I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point; I agree, and I will speak [to the Congregation] in order to do something of this nature.”
Three months later, on August 2, the pope honored that commitment and instituted a commission to study the theme of women’s diaconate, especially from a historical perspective. The commission has already begun its work. While awaiting the commission’s conclusions, here are some historical reflections.