sisters could be of greater service to
the church in various parts of the world
were they able to "go a step further"
and be ordained as deacons, says the
leader of the global network of some
500,000 Catholic women religious.
"Very often in different parts of the
world we are doing most of the work that
needs to be done," said Sr. Carmen
Sammut, president of the International
Union of Superiors General (UISG). "We
are living very much in the periphery .
. . and priests are very rare in some of
the places," said Sammut, speaking in a
GSR/NCR interview Friday. "There are
services that we can give to the church,
especially to the peripheral church
where we are, which would be opened if
we were women deacons."
Sammut, whose organization comprises
about 1,900 leaders of the world's
congregations of Catholic sisters and
nuns, was answering a question in
response to news that Pope Francis will
be creating a commission to study the
possibility of women serving as deacons
in the Catholic church.
Her group had asked Francis to consider
creation of such a commission in an
audience between about 900 of their
members and the pontiff at the Vatican
on May 12. As first reported in NCR, the
pope welcomed the proposal, saying he
was aware that historical scholarship
suggests women served as deacons in the
early centuries of the church. "I
accept," said Francis, adding: "It seems
useful to me to have a commission that
would clarify this well."
Sammut said that in many places of the
world Catholic sisters are "already
doing quite a bit of
what a deacon should be doing"
but that there are certain
services they cannot provide
because they are not members of
the church's clergy, such as
serving as ministers in marriage
ceremonies or for baptizing
children. The women's religious
leader said ordination as
deacons would "enable more
"Some people have thought that
what we want is an honorific
title," she said. "It is not. I
don't think we are looking for
Sisters are often "the ones who
are leading the prayer, or they
are also preparing laity to the
lead the prayer," said Sammut.
"They are the ones who are
called when somebody is very
sick, to listen to the person."
"Very often, we are the ones to
whom people come to tell us what
they are living," she said. "All
this is happening already." "Of
course, we don't call ourselves
deacons because we are not,"
Sammut continued. "But I don't
think it would change very much.
It would only enable, maybe, the
person to go a step further with
Deacons are ordained members of
the Catholic clergy who can
conduct certain ministries in
the church. Unlike priests, they
cannot celebrate the Mass or
hear confessions. Currently, the
role is generally open to
married men who are 35 or older.
Many church historians have
said, however, that there is
abundant evidence that women
served as deacons in the early
centuries of the church. The
apostle Paul mentions such a
woman, Phoebe, in his letter to