Women play an important role in the life of the church especially in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
Filipinos welcome the announcement by Pope Francis to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic Church.
"I personally welcome the news," said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, a member of the Commission on Vocations of the Philippine bishops' conference.
Bishop Alminaza said Pope Francis' action "shows his openness and sincerity in dialoguing and his genuine interest to discover and put to good use the feminine genius."
"We genuinely seek meaningful, creative, and faithful collaboration and participation of women in our ecclesial community," said the prelate.
Pope Francis on May 12 accepted a proposal made by superiors of women's orders to set up a group to study the role of New Testament deaconesses and the possibility of women serving as deacons.
The Vatican, however, later clarified that the pontiff "did not say he intends to introduce a diaconal ordination for women."
Bishop Alminaza said the gesture of the pope "reveals his honest search for better integration of women in the life of the church."
"The call and challenge for a church of inclusion should not remain empty words," said the Filipino bishop.
Other Philippine church leaders welcomed the news with caution.
"Let us wait for the study to be done," Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila.
Father Edwin Gariguez of the social action secretariat of the Philippine bishops' conference refused to comment, saying that they have instruction from the bishops not to talk to the media about issues that are "doctrinal in nature."
Maria Soccoro Villafania, one of the lay "auditors" during the Vatican Synod on the Family last year, said there is a need to seriously study the issue.
"First, I need to find out what deacons are already empowered to do. Second, I need to know what qualifications are needed for women to become deacons," Villafania said.
Bishop Pedro Arigo of Palawan urged the faithful to wait for the result of the study that will be done by theologians.
"I think Jesus would not mind having women deacons if there's an actual pastoral need," said the prelate.
Bishop Roberto Mallari of San Jose in Nueva Ecija province, head of the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education, the commission should study the "acceptability" of women deacons.
Bishop Alminaza said there is really a need for more "in-depth study" of the issue. He said Pope Francis only wanted to clarify "what were deaconesses."
"Were they ordained or not? What was the role of deaconesses in those times?" said Bishop Alminaza.
"We should not jump ahead of the study," he said.
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