The German Synod and Deaconesses

September 23, 2020
Convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Waldbreitbach

While the question of the female diaconate has recently resurfaced, a formation cycle is now being offered across the Rhine to women wishing to become “deaconesses,” with the blessing of a Church of Germany lost in the mists of its “synodal mess.”

At the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of Waldbreitbach (Rhineland-Palatinate), an astonishing cycle of courses has just appeared, called “formation for the exercise of the diaconate for women.”

As the name suggests, this is a module for “deaconesses,” which aims to prepare women for a ministerial function that until now has never been approved by the Roman Church, but which the Church in Germany has made the pet subject of its synod mess.

“As a historian, I know that processes of renewal and change take time in the Church,” acknowledges the director of the community network behind this course, the German, Frau Irmentraud Kobusch.

In an interview with on September 10, 2020, Frau Kobush declares with aplomb: “I cannot say when, but I am firmly convinced that the efforts made to open the diaconate to women will eventually bear fruit.” In other words, the Church is wrong, but it will eventually recognize it.

Scheduled to last three years, the training should start shortly: “there are already sixteen women in the starting blocks,” rejoices Irmentraud Kobusch, who adds that the new module should allow candidates “to acquire skills they will be able to use in many functions in the Church.”

Cardinal Rainer Woelki, in a September 17 interview with KNA, reported that “the question of the ordination of women is a discussion that will lead to nothing. Indeed, this question was decided by the highest magisterial authority: Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI; and Pope Francis has also repeatedly pointed out that the matter has been decided by the magisterial authority... The discussion is taking place outside the teaching of the Church.”

The new president of the episcopal conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing was quick to say in turn that he considered “the diaconate of women to be very legitimate.”

What no doubt fuels false hope is Francis's surprising decision to set up a commission to study the female diaconate on April 8. Even though the previous commission had concluded in the negative, and he said he was opposed to it.

We must remember the teaching of the Church: the impossibility of ordaining women—whether to the priesthood or to the diaconate—belongs to the substance of the sacrament of Holy Orders. In other words, the Church has no power to change this fact.