Cardinal Ravasi on women deacons: It’s possible

In a February 24 interview with Stephanie Stahlhofen, of KNA, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, prefect of the Pontifical Council on Culture, was asked what options he sees for women in the church, in the future.

He responded:

I think a diaconate for women would be possible. But of course it has to be discussed, the historical tradition is very complex. In general, I think, constantly fixing on the women’s priesthood is clerical. Why do not we start talking about other, very important functions of women in the church? For example, the leadership of a parish, from a structural point of view. Or the field of catechesis, volunteering, finance, architectural planning, design. Why not [put these things] into the hands of women? There could also be a stronger presence of women in the Vatican authorities, even at higher levels. 

Cardinal Ravasi has established an all-female advisory council for the work of Pontifical Council on Culture. It consists of 35 women from all walks of life and includes members from a variety of religious traditions. They review everything the Council does, offer critical advice, and help to select participants in the various meetings the council holds. The interview discussed this initiative, which is currently unique in the Vatican. The Cardinal hopes it can offer a model to other Pontifical Councils.

You can read the whole interview at, the internet portal of the Catholic Church in Germany.


  1. On the delightful Italian blog devoted to the Carthusians, Cartusialover, I found a copy of a fascinating portrait of a very young Carthusian nun wearing an elegant stole and maniple and holding what appears to be a liturgical volume.

    I’m always amused by coincidences and found it interesting to find this pic right after reading the learned Cardinal Ravasi’s remarks.

  2. Carthusian nuns in stole and maniple (maniple is worn on different arm than clergy also) are a privilege granted on the day of her profession, jubilee and death as a sign of her consecrated virginity. They do not denote ordination to the deaconate.

    1. Probably because of this:

      Can. 351 §1. The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration.

      1. Some cardinals have chosen not to be ordained to the episcopate. Albert Vanhoye and Avery Dulles are two who come to mind.

      2. True, both received papal dispensations from episcopal ordinations (as did the late Blessed Henry Newman), but they were both still priests. The 1917 Code ended the always very exceptional existence of lay cardinals, ostensibly to curb nepotism (the last non-presbyter cardinal died in 1899, as a clerical deacon). There haven’t been any women cardinals since at least the 11th century.

      3. If it is possible to receive a dispensation from episcopal ordination, and if, in the recent past, dispensations from presbyteral ordination were granted, it ought not to cause a problem to continue to allow the practice.

      4. But it should be noted that all so-called “lay” cardinals had still received ordination to clerical status (back in the day, the subdiaconate, that is, which is no longer a major order (or something of a Janus-like boundary between clerical and lay state, if one prefers) or an order as such, but once was sorta kinda, to put it in technical terms….). So the issue would be tangled with the canonical issues of the clerical state. Not necessarily just a matter of simple dispensation.

    2. Yes, but that’s only been part of Canon Law since 1917. It could be undone at the stroke of a pen.

      1. True, but then again previous so-called lay cardinals were still actually clerics, so it’s not just that item but tangled in other things. I would opine it’s still not doctrinal, but I am not Pope by day, night nor streaming video.

        That said, I don’t think this type of reform has been seriously on this Pope’s radar, despite occasional offhand remarks that may have been about it. We’re 6 years into this pontificate and curial reorganization is still pending. Not a peep about other structural changes that could be well within doctrinal bounds, either.

        We may hope, but probably should not expect.

  3. “or something of a Janus-like boundary between clerical and lay state, if one prefers”
    Kinda like a deacon is treated today.

  4. The 1917 Code of Canon Law stipulated that cardinals had to be priests. In 1962, several months before the opening of the Council, John XXIII in order to give a more secure footing to cardinal deacons in the Council decreed that all cardinal deacons should be ordained bishops. On 19 April 1962, the pope ordained several cardinal deacons, all members of the Curia, to the episcopate. The new bishops were mostly over 80, the oldest, Cardinal Francesco Morano, was two months short of 90. This decision of John XXIII was incorporated into the 1983 Code. As has been said above, a priest who is named a cardinal may ask to be dispensed from ordination as a bishop.

    Cardinal Newman was not dispensed from being ordained a bishop. In 1879 he was not required to be. He did receive a dispensation that allowed him to continue living in Birmingham rather than in Rome.

    None of this is meant to enter into pros and cons, but simply to set the record straight.

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