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Top nun pushes for greater role for Catholic women

Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the International Union of Superiors General, speaking in Rome on May 13, 2016. Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Catholic sisters globally would be better-equipped to carry out their work if they could become deacons, the head of a global network of nuns has said, an important marker in the sharp debate over women deacons that Pope Francis opened last week.

“We are already doing so many things that resemble what a deacon would do, although it would help us to do a bit more service if we were ordained deacons,” Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the International Union of Superiors General, or UISG, told RNS.

Francis put a spring in the step of women religious on Thursday (May 12) when, in talking with Sammut and hundreds of UISG delegates, he agreed to set up a commission to examine whether women should be ordained as deacons — something that arguably hasn’t been done since the early years of Christianity.

“I would like to constitute an official commission to study the question: I think it will be good for the church to clarify this point, I agree, and I will speak so as to do something of this type,” the pope told the conference of sisters gathered in Rome to discuss key issues affecting their work.


RELATED STORY: Pope Francis: Let’s study idea of ordaining women as deacons


In the days since the pope made those comments, the Vatican has tried to downplay expectations for the inquiry.

“The pope did not say he intends to introduce the ordination of female deacons and even less did he talk about the ordination of women as priests,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the chief Vatican spokesman, said Friday.

The role of the deacon was created, as recounted in the New Testament, by the Apostles so that they could deploy ministers specifically dedicated to doing charitable works and thus free themselves to focus on preaching.

In the Catholic tradition, the role of deacon was eventually subsumed into the priesthood and hierarchy, until the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s revived the diaconate as an ordained order open to “mature” men over 35, who can be married.

But many say that order should include women — who have never been ordained at any level in the Catholic Church — because women deacons are mentioned in early church sources. They also say ordaining women as deacons would not necessarily lead to overturning the ban on women priests.

It’s not clear whether anything will come of a papal commission on deaconesses, or whether Francis would support an opening.

He has called for creativity in ministry but he has also warned against “clericalizing” women and lay people by proposing ordination of some sort as the answer for every problem.

As pundits continue to debate whether Francis’ decision will bear fruit, Sammut pushed for greater-than-usual diversity on any commission — even as she acknowledged that the Holy See is slow to change its ways.

The new body, the Maltese nun said in an interview Friday, should include both sexes and have a global perspective.

“Sometimes decisions are made here in Rome and it’s not only that they’re only men — no women — but also the other cultures are not very much included,” Sammut said.

The UISG, she said, also aims to have more say in what goes on within the decision-making ranks of the Catholic Church, including challenging the way leadership is tied to being a cleric and therefore excluding women.

“It’s not just a question of feminism, it’s a question of our being baptized, that gives us the duty and the right to be part of the decision-making processes,” said Sammut.


RELATED STORY: 3 ways Pope Francis’ opening on women deacons can change Catholicism


Women religious have felt empowered under the papacy of Francis, which the UISG head said has allowed them to “walk with more courage” in what can often be a dangerous job.

In March, four nuns in Yemen were killed in an attack on a Catholic nursing home, which was targeted by Islamist gunmen. The UISG meeting included prayers for the victims and for other nuns who have been raped or forced to leave their countries for violent conflicts or other reasons.

“We have a lot of sisters who are passing through a very hard time because the world has become a very hard place in which to live,” Sammut said.

But she also said women religious did not want to abandon their communities during times of crisis:

“If you have been living in a country which is now at war, you don’t want to leave the people just because you have the possibility to leave, while they have to continue living there.”

The weeklong Rome meeting included testimony from UISG members living in countries hit by conflict, including Iraq and Syria, while other topics addressed included human trafficking and the U.N. goal for gender equality and female empowerment.

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Rosie Scammell

76 Comments

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  • So many nuns are wacky feminists who are dying out along with their orders that they have destroyed.

  • According to this superior, she says women can better work and serve the Church as deacons. After they get that, they will say the same thing to become priests, after they get that they will say the same thing to become cardinals and bishops and finally, yes, a woman pope.
    Do they care that Jesus didn’t ordain women, but He ordained men and His Will is better for us.
    Deacons and priests are called by God through vocation. God calls women to be nuns and sisters to serve Him and His people and others to the married life or single life.
    A priest is married to the Church, the Bride of Christ, can a woman be married to the Bride of Christ the Catholic Church?
    Women religious have been serving the Church and mankind for 2000 years and doing a very good job of it. They have a very respected and honored place in the Church.
    This is an artifice of Satan to destroy the priesthood.
    But, it’s the dissident prelates in the Church who want women to be deacons and priests.

  • If they feel the need to be ordained to fulfill their vocation as religious sisters, they have lost their identity. I pray they do not lose their vocation.

  • Just like Eve, in the Garden of Eden, these feminist nuns have succumbed to the desire to be like God.

  • Dear Sister,

    We’re fine not being Episcopalian, but feel free to jump ship anytime.

    Hugs ‘n kisses,

    Actual Catholics

  • To Sister Carmen Sammut: No way, no how can nuns become deacons. For these radical nuns, it really has nothing to do with additional benefits of becoming a deacon. It has everything to do with trying to get one step closer to women becoming priests. It won’t happen.

  • “It’s not JUST a question of feminism, it’s a question of our being baptized, that gives us the DUTY AND THE RIGHT to be part of the decision-making processes,”???
    May our Lord grant them the humility and obedience to model our Blessed Mother. God’s Will…NOT OURS…be done. FIAT!!!

  • Mary Mags, Apostle to the apostles. Paul’s co-preachers.

    BTW, Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with women in any post.

    Now are y’all going to attack me? Call me names? Make claims about my motivation? Theology? Faith? That would be much easier than actual discussion. (And so very Christian of you. [snark])

  • The Blessed Mother was not a deaconess. Although the early church refers to deaconesses there is no evidence that these women were ordained. Ordination at any level is reserved for men and then only those men who are called by Christ. We are all called to serve the Lord but in different ways.

  • BTW, Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with women in any post.

    If you can show us where Jesus ordained any women as deacons, perhaps you would have a point.

    People who think women can be “ordained” in any capacity do not possess the Catholic Faith. It is contrary to the sacramental system of the Church, and the Church alone gets to define her own sacramental system, not some hapless nun.

  • If some hapless boys* in dresses reached the conclusion that the “sacramental system” included ordainin women you’d approve?

    *hapless boys – the ones who created the “sacramental system” you revere.

  • No women religious have not been around for 2000 yrs, more like 1500 yrs. Consecrated virgins have been around for 2000 yrs. As far as female deacons, they lose sight that there was a deference between deaconesses and what they did and what they are asking for. not the same.

  • The deaconesses received a blessing not ordination. They were choisen from among the consecrated virgins and consecrated widows. The deaconesses died out because the need for them died out.

  • If some “hapless boys in dresses reached the conclusion that the sacramental system included ordainin (sic) women,” that would merely mean that those “hapless boys” were heretics.

    It is not possible for the Church to “ordain women.” It has never happened and never will happen.

    It will never happen among the Orthodox either, as they have the same sacramental system.

    The only people who think it is possible are heretics.

    There are Three Persons who created the sacramental system of the Catholic Church, and we usually refer to those Three Persons as the Holy Trinity.

    And because the Holy Trinity is the Creator of the sacramental system of the Catholic Church, I see no reason not to revere it. Those who reject it will have to live with their choice in the next life, which quickly approaches for all of us.

    You’d do yourself a favor to read what a woman had to say about the sufferings of hell: Saint Faustina.

  • Well, you say more than I know. Let’s pray she be his fruend, as you are, and I’m trying.

  • Ha! It’s Gandalf. Sometimes I have to fight balrogs. but I think you belong to the fellowhip.

  • Remember,
    Pope Francis convened a synod on the family that set everybody aflutter. Turned out to be a teaching moment for those not familiar with our church, as well as exposing those within who are not so aligned with Christs teaching. How about everybody take a deep breath and let Christs Vicar do his thing. He may hold the keys, but Christ has the steering wheel. I say we all relax and go out to love someone back into the church today.

  • If Jesus had wanted a woman to preach and be ordained, He would have chosen the most perfect of women to lead other women and that would have been His Blessed Mother.
    Mary stayed on after Christ’s death and resurrection to help the infant Church with prayer, wisdom, counsel and intercession and by her excellent example in following the teachings of Christ.
    It can be said that Mary then, was the first woman disciple, a position that was unique and stood alone. Not to lead other women to being disciples, but one who was chosen by Her Son to be there for the other disciples in supporting them in His place after He left this world, not to be one of them.

  • Love is what stirs us to defend the truth Tziggy. If Jesus wants us to sit back and enjoy the ride without caring who’s driving the car, then we just may all crash if that driver is drunk.

  • I’m all about defending truth when its attacked. I would submit to you it’s not being attacked, its being questioned. I also agree with the majority in this comm box, that women should not be deacons. However, my overarching loyalty will be with the barque of Peter and right now the captain is at work. Lets let him do his work. Truth can be defended without ugly comments. I see a number of them here, and might I remind everyone ugly comments do not attract. As an aside bluesuede, ask yourself: What would I do if Pope Francis departs from ‘My’ version of truth? Hmmmm. Sounds like a question Martin Luther should have pondered a little longer before nailing his theses to a door! Christ promised the gates of hell would not prevail. Trust.

  • I say, “Why Not!”
    I see more and more little girls and teen girls as Altar Servers and more women at “Sunday Pay-Day” paying the faithful of in the Holy Eucharist (because almost everyone receives their pay from God in their hands); I mean they are Eucharistic Ministers. So we can see girls and women doing everything else, can’t they just do the hand signals over the bread too?

  • She can’t even show witness by wearing a religious habit and she wants to be a priestess? Not ever gonna happen honey. Talk to Jesus about your wanna be a man mental problems.

  • Hahahaha! Are you talking to me?! That’s more hilarious than you’ll ever know. I’m not a nun and have never been a nun. I’m not even Roman Catholic.

    You are very ignorant and have no argument to make if all you can say is “f off.” Hahahaha!

  • Funny, I haven’t heard any of the “progressive” nuns talking about becoming saints recently. I think sainthood would be far more personally ambitious and necessary to serve the Church in the age we are in. Female roles in the anglican community have done nothing to halt the mass exodus. The next twenty years are going to change the face of catholicism in the West. The writing’s on the wall for the dissenting clergy and religious.

  • She just wants to use this as an opportunity to have women priestesses. It’s a power thing with feminists so they can impose their heresies on the rest of us. The Anglican church did this and is dying. We will not.

  • the American sisters have been hijack by the feminist movement- being almost 160,000 nuns in the 60 now down to 60,000….so whatever they did didn’t work….the give up theirs schools – hospitals etc to jump on a bus….

  • I do trust is the words of Jesus Christ.
    Yes, the gates of Hell will not prevail. Prevail means won’t continue or overcome, so that tells us that we will be battered about by the forces of evil, while barque of the CC remains undefeated even to the end of time.
    We know that the devil wages war on the followers of Christ and that it is coming from outside and within the Church in high places, in such a way as to fool even the elect if that were possible, right now, and it’s getting worse.

    We keep the faith, we watch and pray so that we don’t fall into the temptation to become an inclusive, relativistic, Protestant Church that’s lost its holy, apostolic, universal character.

  • Where is the evidence of your cause and effect claims? Various denominations have been declining for many years, including the RCC in America.

  • You too are making many claims sans any supporting evidence. If you want to convince others to agree with you, you need a much more compelling argument.

  • The evidence is right in front of you. The ECUSA and others have declined rapidly, much more so then other faiths. Catholicism world wide is growing. In addition the parishes/congregations that are orthodox are the ones that show vitality and have vocations. Once they gained power in the Episcopal church suddenly the tent wasn’t so big and those who disagreed with the feminists were driven out. We prefer that YOU leave OUR Church. Go join the Anglicans.

  • Calling St. Mary Magdalen “Mary Mags” is disrespectful and arrogant. Ever hear of reverence?

  • You’re not here to express your opinion about this article. You simply want to spew your hatred for the Catholic Church’s teachings. Your are nothing but a troll.

    I ask other commenters to ignore this troll. Logical explanations done respectfully to her are a waste of time. She’s not interested in hearing the truth or in civil debate (“hapless boys in dresses”). She only wants to broadcast her bigotry and feminist-induced hatred for the male Catholic priesthood. Ignore her and she’ll go away.

  • Where in scripture do you find that St. Mary Magdalene was an apostle to the apostles?

  • I’m sorry but I’m absolutely sure you misunderstood me. I was quoting the first sentence from the article. I placed question marks after it because of my astonishment at the lack of humility the sisters are showing. I absolutely know that our Holy Mother was not a deaconess and completely agree that ordination is for men only.

  • If a woman preaches, I’ll walk out.

    Someone one another site said that, “When men hear women talking, it sounds like a bunch of hens cackling.” The priesthood is already suffering from vocations because it’s tooo FEMININE. Bring back the masculinity of Christ to the priesthood.

  • Scripture says women are to be silent at church. Non-Catholucs can bring up verses they think contradict their views, but it doesn’t change that verse. Besides, the Catholic Church predates Scripture, though it can’t contradict it, which has many layers of understanding only it has authority to exegete.

  • I think that’s what bluesuede meant, and is right about this being a typical liberal trick. I think this nun, like Obama’s pet that pushed for the fascist Obamacare, has practically left the church a long time ago.

  • One of the things no one has said, in antiquity the consecrated deaconesses where drawn from among the consecrated virgins and consecrated widows who where at least 60 yo then it was dropped to 40. Only a very few cloister religious nuns (not sisters) still retain the consecration of a virgin for religious nun. So if the order of deaconesses where restored, sorry but she would not be elgible.

  • Its the Benedictine and Cartusian nuns that still retain the rite of consecration of virgins for nuns. The rite has been restored for woman living in the world. And no married woman or those who have been married can never be consecrated virgins. I a consecrated virgin living in the world. I have no interest in deaconesses except maybe in contries where there is many Islamic woman. I guess deaconesses could go into their homes and try to evangelize them. But then again any woman could do that.

  • Also the deaconesses where fulling their role in a time when there where not active religious woman. Now we have religious woman who take care of the poor, elderly and orphans.

  • If that’s what she really cares about. She could be an infiltrator who got in when standards were dropped after Vatican 2. .

  • Hmmm…. I’d be more interested in hearing what “top nun” Mother Angelica had to say on the matter.

  • I think the model of the Anglican Deaconess may well be part of the new Anglican Ordinariate, which preserves the Anglican patrimony within the Roman Rite.
    An Anglican Deaconess was not ordained, but was a widow over the age of 50 who with the approval of her pastor made temporary and renewable promises yearly to be a cheerful servant bringing the love of Christ wherever needed in a particular parish. They usually wore a light blue habit and short veil, and were often amused to be mistaken for a Catholic nun.
    A deaconess was an officially-approved, self-supporting volunteer (usually living on her own pension) and a sort of Christian social worker, visiting the sick and poor; serving as sacristans, occasionally parish secretaries, teaching Sunday school, comforting the bereaved, sitting at the bedsides of the dying who had no families. They never preached in the pulpit or presided at any liturgy. When not working actively, the deaconess could be found in the church praying for the good of all.

  • I think he means the Gospels– which were not written down for several decades after Pentecost. Sacred Tradition in the Church also pre-dates the Gospels, which is why the Protestant “sola scriptura” method of salvation doesn’t work.

  • I think the model of the Anglican Deaconess may well be replicated in the new Anglican Ordinariate, which preserves the Anglican patrimony within the Roman Rite.
    An Anglican Deaconess was essentially an approved lay “sister of charity” in her own parish, under an annually renewed promise (not a vow) of chastity and obedience to the Church. They never preached or conducted liturgy.
    It is important to recall that there are three degrees of priesthood: 1) diaconate, 2) presbyteriate, 3) episcopate. The Anglican “Church” forgot this when they decided women could become “priests”– because logically, if a woman can “be” a priest, then she can “be” a bishop.
    Those who push for “deaconesses” ( and not the humble Anglican sort) know this is the thin end of the wedge for ordaining priestesses; then, (logically) bishopesses, and (inevitably) popesses.
    The male priest is a living symbol of Christ, Bridegroom of the Church.
    A female priest would be a living (& lying) symbol that Christ is lesbian. 🙁

  • Trying to tell a devoted nun that she’s not a REEL Catholic… that’s rich.

  • if you can show us where Jesus ordained any women as deacons

    Did he ever ordain any men as deacons?

  • Sister Carmen Sammut, I salute you and all the Sisters with courage to speak simple truth to power. And even your mild-mannered speaking is so threatening to so many who comment here.

  • “Devoted”? Hardly. “Self-serving” is more like it. This woman has a long, long history of pushing for female ordination in the Catholic Church. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

  • Jesus Christ was “a gluttonous, philandering, wife-abusing drunkard”? I must have missed that Gospel…

  • God built into humankind an attraction to goodness. Confidence, holiness and manliness are powerful attractions in the Church when a priest is allowed to perform his sacred duties.

  • And she still remains a sister in good standing with her order and with the Catholic Church.

  • The answer is no, the implication being, of course, that we should not have any deacons at all, in which case the good nun should quit clamoring for it.

    The apostles, however, did ordain deacons.

    It would be interesting to see how sister proposes that “female deacons” could fulfill Saint Paul’s admonition to Saint Timothy found at 1 Timothy 3:12.

    “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife who rule well their children and their own houses.”

  • As a young Catholic women it’s very sad to read the comments filled with anger and hate directed towards feminists and nuns. Change is good, we want to be included in our church.

  • Yes, those who want to “preserve the patrimony” are certainly welcome in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church where the maleness of God/Jesus is an extremely important belief underlying many doctrines.

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