National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 28, 2003

Belgian bishop asks Vatican to consider female deacons

A Belgian bishop has asked the Vatican to consider ordaining female deacons as a way of giving women “real responsibility” in the Catholic church.

Bishop Roger Vangheluwe of Bruges, currently in Rome for his ad limina visit to Pope John Paul II, made the recommendation based on consultations in his diocese on the issue of women in the church. Since October 2002, the bishop said, he has collected some 500 reactions, with 86 percent of them favorable to women deacons.

In an exclusive Nov. 20 interview, Vangheluwe told NCR that he supports women deacons for two reasons.

First, Vangheluwe said, is the pastoral desire to incorporate women more fully into the life of the church. Second is a theological need to focus the diaconate more on service.

“At the Last Supper, Jesus said, ‘Do this in memory of me’ twice,” Vangheluwe said. “The first was with the bread and wine, which became the sacrament of the Eucharist. The second was with the washing of the feet. We have forgotten somewhat about the second.”

In his diocese, Vangheluwe said, he has 80 deacons, who function as “little priests,” absorbed in liturgical roles. He would like to emphasize the service dimension, and said there is no reason a woman can’t play that role.

Vangheluwe said some Vatican officials with whom he has spoken this week have been cool to his proposal, but others have encouraged him, saying, “You have to go on.”

“I am not a rebel,” Vangheluwe said. “The pope has said no to women priests, and I agree. But for the moment [the diaconate] is a free question in the church, and all I am saying is that I want more study on this question.”

In 2002, the International Theological Commission, a Vatican advisory body, published a document that did not close the door to women deacons, but leaned heavily against it. Vangheluwe said the document is “not the last word.”

“As bishops, we have to say what we think,” Vangheluwe said.

-- John L. Allen Jr.

National Catholic Reporter, November 28, 2003

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