Vatican to Draft Document on Women’s Roles in Catholic Church

The Vatican has announced that its doctrinal office will draft a document addressing women in leadership roles within the Catholic Church. This initiative aims to respond to long-standing calls for women to have a more influential role in church affairs. The document will be prepared by the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith as part of Pope Francis’ broader church reform efforts, which are now entering a significant phase with an upcoming synod of bishops in October.

Limited details were shared following a Vatican press conference, leaving no opportunity for journalists to seek further clarification. Advocacy groups for women’s ordination have criticized the initiative as insufficient, pointing out that decisions regarding women’s roles continue to be made by ordained men. The announcement came alongside the release of members of 10 “study groups” tasked with examining challenging issues in the reform process, such as the roles of women and LGBTQ+ Catholics. Pope Francis initiated the synod over three years ago to create a more inclusive church and to give ordinary Catholics a greater voice, a process that has ignited both hope and apprehension about potential changes.

Women play a critical role in the Catholic Church, particularly in education and healthcare, and in passing down the faith. Despite this, they have long faced a second-class status in an institution that restricts priesthood to men. While Pope Francis has reiterated the ban on women priests, he has appointed several women to high-ranking Vatican positions and has encouraged discussions on other ways to amplify women’s voices. This includes granting women the right to vote on specific synod proposals, a privilege previously reserved for men.

During his tenure, Pope Francis has formed two commissions to explore the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. Deacons, though not priests, can perform many similar functions, such as presiding over weddings, baptisms, and funerals. However, the results of these commissions have not been disclosed, and in a recent interview, Pope Francis stated that women could not be ordained as deacons. The Women’s Ordination Conference, which supports the ordination of women as priests, dismissed the delegation of the issue of women deacons to the doctrinal office as a sign that the church is not seriously considering greater involvement of women.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, will prepare an “appropriate document” addressing theological and canonical questions raised during the synod’s first phase. Another study group will focus on controversial issues, including the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in the church. These groups will collaborate with Vatican offices and continue their work beyond the October meeting, indicating that conclusive outcomes may not be immediate. Following the 2023 synod session, the final text did not address homosexuality, despite earlier calls for greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ Catholics. However, Pope Francis later approved priests offering blessings to same-sex couples, addressing one of the key demands from LGBTQ+ Catholics.

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