The infallible teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Letter of Pope Saint John Paul II on priestly ordination is that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. The teaching specifies priestly ordination, and ordination to the priesthood. This clearly leaves open the question of whether women can be ordained deacons.
There is no past magisterial infallible teaching on the ordination of female deacons. No Pope decided the question under Papal Infallibility. No Ecumenical Council decided the question under Conciliar Infallibility. And the ordinary universal Magisterium certainly has no teaching by the successive Popes and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world. So it is an open question.
Canon Law limited the diaconate to baptized men, but Canon Law can be changed by the Roman Pontiff. The other references in Church documents to male deacons refer to the current practice, that only men are currently ordained as deacons.
Some persons argue that if women cannot be priests, then they cannot be deacons. For the Sacrament of Holy Orders is one Sacrament. However, Bishops exercise the magisterium, and priests do not. And the Roman Pontiff must be ordained to the episcopal degree, or else he is not a valid Pope; he cannot be merely ordained as priest and not bishop. So there are substantial differences between the Degrees of Orders.
Moreover, any such argument is not definitive. A theological argument by us poor fallen sinners is subject to error and to correction by the Magisterium. I will certainly accept whatever the Magisterium decides on this and any other question of faith or morals. But when someone offers a theological argument, without any definitive magisterial teaching, the question is open as to whether the Church has the authority to ordain women as deacons.
Therefore, Pope Francis can (and in my opinion probably will) teach that the Church has the authority to ordain women as deacons. Then he can change Canon Law, and order that every diocese train and ordain women as deacons.
Pope Francis is accepted by the body of Bishops as the Roman Pontiff, and the Church is indefectible. Therefore, he must be the valid Pope. The indefectibility of the Church, which is a work of the Holy Spirit, prevent the body of Bishops from following a false or invalid Pope.
Pope Francis cannot teach grave error under the Magisterium, neither under the infallible, nor under the non-infallible Magisterium. For each Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith, just as the First Vatican Council infallibly defined. Pope Francis also cannot cease to be the valid true Pope by teaching grave error, or committing a grave failure of faith, for his faith is never failing. Therefore, if Pope Francis teaches that the Church can ordain women deacons, that teaching is certainly true.
If Pope Francis exercises Papal Infallibility to teach this doctrine, the teaching cannot be nullified by the following erroneous argument:
1. the ordination of women is a heresy
2. Pope Francis has taught that women can be ordained
3. Therefore, Pope Francis has taught and committed heresy
4. every manifest heretic loses membership in the Church
5. and every manifest heretic also loses authority in the Church
6. therefore, Pope Francis, a manifest heretic, has lost his authority as Roman Pontiff
7. And therefore also, the teaching of Pope Francis on women’s ordination does not fall under Papal Infallibility because he lost his authority and role as Roman Pontiff by that heretical teaching.
The above is a false argument. Papal Infallibility is a gift to the Church for the purpose of assuring the faithful that certain teachings of the Church are absolutely true. These infallible truths, by Papal Infallibility, Conciliar Infallibility, and the ordinary universal Magisterium assist the faithful in their path of salvation. It would be a useless gift if the teaching of a Pope or Council, meeting all the conditions for an infallible teaching, could nevertheless be heresy. In such a system, the heresy cannot be said to invalidate the Pope or Council, for the every infallible teaching would be suspect. No infallible teaching could be trusted to be infallible, since, it could always be heresy and therefore said to be not infallible by the invalidation of the authority that issued the teaching.
1. the ordination of women is not a heresy, as the Magisterium has never taught that women cannot be ordained as deacons
2. Pope Francis has the authority of Christ when he teaches, especially infallibly
3. no Pope can teach or commit heresy, as each Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith
6. false, as premises 1 and 3 are false
7. false, as the conclusion is based on false premises, and also no valid Pope can lose his authority, except by death or resignation.
It is like the claim that a bowl is unbreakable. But when the bowl falls and shatters into a thousand pieces, the explanation is that the bowl, being broken, is no longer a bowl, and so it is no longer an unbreakable bowl.
Similarly, when a Roman Pontiff is known to be valid, because he is accepted by the body of Bishops as the Roman Pontiff, he cannot lose his validity by teaching or committing heresy. The First Vatican Council infallibly taught that every Pope has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. This charism prevents the Pope from teaching heresy in a teaching that otherwise would be infallible.
How would you know what to believe, if any Pope or Council’s infallible teaching could actually be a heresy that makes the Pope or Council invalid? The very purpose of infallible teachings is to have some truths that are known with certitude to be true without first having to judge the content of the teaching. If the teaching meets the conditions for infallibility, then it is certainly true. One cannot judge an infallible teaching of the Church, decide that it is heresy because it conflicts with the understanding of a group of fallen sinners (sinners who oppose the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops), and then nullify that teaching by accusing the Church of teaching heresy. All infallible teachings are of the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot be heresy.
Can Women Be Ordained as Priests?
It is an infallible teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women as priests. However, once Christ returns, He could possibly give the Church that authority. So until Christ returns, hundreds of years from now, the Church cannot ordain women as priests or bishops.
Can a woman be a valid Pope?
No. Every valid Pope must be a validly ordained Bishop. Women cannot be Bishops, so they cannot be Popes. A Bishop is a kind of priest, and a Pope is a kind of Bishop and a kind of priest. Therefore, a woman cannot be a valid Roman Pontiff. Was there a Pope Joan? If there was, she was an invalid pope, i.e. an antipope. No woman can be a valid Pope.
The Historical Argument
Some argue that women have never been ordained as deacons, since historical cases of deaconesses were non-ordained women, and therefore women cannot be ordained deacons. But this is not decisive. Since there is no irreformable teaching on ordained female deacons, the Magisterium can decide the question.
Others argue that women were ordained deacons, historically. But this can never be proven with the certitude of an infallible teaching, since it is an evaluation of historical evidence — which having been reviewed many times by many experts — is considered at best unclear.
So the Church cannot base Her decision to ordain or not to ordain women deacons on the historical case. Ultimately, it does not matter. There were ordained deaconesses. Prove it with absolute certitude. There were not ordained deaconesses. So what? The Church may still have the authority.
Thus, whatever the Magisterium decides is the answer to the question. And our response must be faith.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.