Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, seems to have set off another round of speculation from a seemingly unprepared and off the cuff remark. Female deacons - or is it deaconesses? There is an eloquent analysis of this at One Peter5 and in many other places. You can read the actual transcript here.
Two things strike me immediately.
1. Already, whatever may or may not happen about any commission, there is an interchangeable use of the word "deacon" and "deaconess" - even in the transcript of the question and answer the Pope gave. Surely the two are not he same - not that it would matter, I suspect, should that particular false trail be set out upon.
2. Pope Francis also went on to say:
I will tell you something that comes after, because I saw that there is a general question. Consecrated women must go to the consultations, the assemblies of the Congregation for Religious: this is for certain. Consecrated women must go into the consultations on the many problems that are presented. Another thing: better inclusion. At the moment, concrete things do not come to mind, but again, as I said before: to seek the opinion of consecrated women, because women see things with an originality different than that of men, and this is enriching: both in discussions, and in decision-making, as well as in concrete reality.
All this is good. Why should not women - consecrated and otherwise - be more involved? I was at a Conference just recently where most of the clergy might have been considered generally traditionally minded (though they might style themselves simply orthodox) where two of the four speakers were highly able committed Catholic lay women working in challenging areas. As far as I could see, they had the respect of everyone present and gave excellent presentations, the content of which I certainly took to heart.
Just because they were talking to a room full of men didn't mean that they had to become men themselves. Pope Francis says above that women - consecrated and otherwise - should be more involved but why must they become ordained to do so? Can women not advise, lead and innovate without without cross-dressing in a cassock? Surely we should aim, as the Pope seems to say, at enabling women to be included without them having to give up their own particular beautiful and noble calling - as women, as nuns or Religious. Can we not work to improve in this area without trying to make the only role in the Church that is worth anything is to be a cleric? We would characterise a man dressed in a nun's habit as "cross dressing", might not the same be applied to a woman dressed in a roman collar?
It appears to me that the same gender dismorphia that is taking a grip in our western world's media at the moment is the same spirit at work here. Is it not possible to acknowledge that men and women are different and can play - fruitfully and equitably - different roles in life and in the Church? Is it not possible to work for equality between men and women, without having to do away with all differences between them? Is the new ideal that we all to become hermaphrodites?
Can it really be that the answer to inequality is for a woman to be more like a man, as Professor Higgins believed? Is a woman becoming more like a man really the best the modern woman can hope for?