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On Monday, Pope Francis announced that he has amended the Code of Canon Law, the official Catholic doctrine to formally allow women to give readings from the bible during mass.
Pope Francis said he made the change in order to recognize the “precious contribution” Catholic women make to the Catholic community.
While some have praised Pope Francis’s decision as a step in the right direction, some have taken issue with the papal decree that also seems to go out of its way to make a distinction between “ordained” ministries (like the priesthood and the diaconate) and other types of priesthoods that are open to both men and women.
It seems that Catholic equality activists are divided into two camps: those who believe that the decree will “open a door” towards women being ordained priests, and those who think the ordinance explicitly shuts down the possibility.
“This is the first codification of allowing women inside the sanctuary,” said historian Phyllis Zagano to AP News. “That’s a very big deal.” Zagano believes that the decree is a step towards female ordination because “you can’t be ordained as deacons unless you’re installed as lectors or acolytes [first].”
Critics are also saying that the ordinance is simply an empty gesture to appease Catholic women who want more leadership roles within the church.
“There is nothing new in the decree — it effectively recognizes the roles that many women have been doing for decades, only now they will be controlled by a bishop,” Lucetta Scaraffia, former editor of the Vatican’s women magazine “Donne”, said to “The New York Times”.
“It seems as though the pope is conceding something to women, but it is something that they’ve had for decades, while denying what they have requested, the diaconate,” she continued.
Indeed, the act of allowing women to read from the bible during mass is already widely practice in Catholic Churches across the world.
When Pope Francis amended the Canon Law to “officially” allow it, he was simply adding greater legitimacy to a practice that was already in place in many ministries across the developed world.
The Argentinian pope explained his decision in a letter, saying that the newly-formally ordained practice would “allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood.”
But what “womanhood” is remains up to interpretation. And it definitely isn’t the same as what was when the Roman Catholic Church was first established in 313 A.D.
It is also worth noting that some religious historians believe that women held leadership roles like deacon (ordained minister) in the early history of the Catholic Church.
In fact, since he’s been in office, Pope Francis has created two separate commissions to further investigate the role of women during the early Catholic Church. If it is found that women were, indeed, sometimes ordained as deacons, that fact could give a precedence to women becoming ordained ministers in the current era.
But until then, Pope Francis has made it clear that he has no plans to change canon law to include women in the priesthood or diaconate.
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