Pope accused of ‘kicking can down a timeless road’ on female deacons

Priests’ group says it appears ‘men are more worthy than women’ in eye of offical church

Pope Francis is photographed  during a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters.

Pope Francis is photographed during a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday. Photograph: Yara Nardi/Reuters.


Irish Catholic priests have described as “a major disappointment” comments by Pope Francis indicating the church has no current plans to ordain women deacons.

“His kicking the can down a timeless road, is a major disappointment,” the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said in a statement. “We had come to expect reactions like this from previous popes, but we thought Francis was different, and consequently our disappointment is greater.”

The pope said last week that the commission he set up in 2016 to look at the history of women deacons in the early church had been unable to agree and had yet to give a “definitive response”.

Historical documents evaluated by the commission giving the formulas for ordination of women deacons showed they “are not the same as for men’s diaconal ordination,” he said, adding that this was “fundamental”.

The pope was speaking to media on the flight back to Rome after a three-day visit to Bulgaria and North Macedonia.

In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul wrote that “the church has no authority whatsoever” to ordain woman. In October 1995, then Dean of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, said Ordinatio Sacerdotalis had been “set forth infallibly”.

‘Minimalist step’

The ACP said “the equality of women is critical for the credibility and the future of the church. Introducing women deacons is such a minimalist step that if he cannot move on that, there is little or no prospect of any real movement towards equality”.

The comments of the pope sent “all the wrong messages about women to women and men. It confirms that women are not good enough, and that in the eyes of the ‘official’ church men are more worthy than women.”

The pope’s comments confirmed that “the official institutional church is a men’s church” and “that to be a full member of the church, exercising all the privileges, you have to be a man,” the ACP said.

It said the comments confirmed “that the church is a structure built by men for men”, that it “continues to be a clerical hierarchical patriarchy” and “that injustice is built into the heart of the church.”

The group said it was “an enormous blow to reforming the church and bringing it into the 21st century”.