[I updated the post on 8/5/16. Updates are in brackets.]

Today the Vatican announced the members of the commission to study the history of women deacons. There are twelve: six men and six women. I looked around the web to assemble a few preliminary notes concerning who is on the committee. The information shared here is a sketch of a few items that caught my eye, and some observations, not an in-depth analysis. The facts are subject to correction too, of course.

Overall, my impression is that this is a very interesting and diverse group of people. I wish I could be a fly on the wall for their meetings!

Let’s start with the women. Phyllis Zagano who teaches at Hofstra University in New York, is well known here in the United States as a scholar who has written and published extensively on the topic of women deacons. Most recently she edited an anthology published by Liturgical Press entitled Women Deacons?: Essays with Answers. She will be a strong advocate for reading the history objectively in favor of women deacons.

Sister Núria Calduch-Benages teaches at the Gregorian University in Rome and is a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. She is Catalan. “The Bible is my passion” she says. From her writings on line it seems she has pastoral interests as well as impressive scholarly chops as a biblical scholar and philologist. Her area of special expertise is the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. I could not find anything she has written about deacons, but she is eloquent on women in the Church. Check out this video (“The Role of Women in the Church Is a Pending Issue”) about ten frames down on the link (in Catalan; no subtitles, sorry) for a taste. [You can also get to it direct, here.]

Francesca Cocchini, an Italian, is a Professor at the University La Sapienza and at the Patristic Institute (the Augustinianum), in Rome. She is immersed in research on Origen and the Alexandrian tradition, but has also published books on the reception of the Pauline epistles and on Augustine. She has been associated with Sofia Cavaletti and the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I enjoyed reading a brief article by her on the Sisters of Sion website (a religious community of women committed to Jewish-Christian dialogue) concerning “Some Aspects of the Typological Method Which Are Valid Today.” 

Sister Mary Melone, SFA, also an Italian, is an expert in the life and thought of St. Anthony of Padua. She is rector of the Pontifical University Antonianum, an institution of the Friars Minor, in Rome — the first woman to head a Pontifical University. Journalist Inés San Martín, writing in Crux, observed that although she has not openly advocated for women in the diaconate, she “has long spoken of the role of women in the Church, saying it’s unfair to dismiss the request for the diaconate because it might lead to female priesthood.” An article in Rome Reports at the time of her appointment as rector, said:

Although she believes in the important role that women can develop within the Church, she rejects the definition of a specific feminine theology and distrusts gender quotas, both in and out of the Church. She is convinced that whoever really deserves it, will move forward.

She also spoke about the debate over whether women can enter the priesthood. The question isn’t open now, she believes, but she respects those who are struggling to reconsider it.

Marianne Schlosser is Professor of Spiritual Theology at the University of Vienna and a member of the International Theological Commission. She has written about Bonaventure and Catherine of Siena. She has also written about Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, and has a recent volume on the theology of prayer. You can find a compendium of her formidable published work here

Michelina Tenace, an Italian, is Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. She is an expert on Vladimir Solovyov, and teaches theological anthropology and the Christian East. She speaks on a wide range of subjects and is the author of a number of books, which you can find here.

And now, the men:

Rev. Msgr. Piero Coda, is Dean of the University Institute Sophia, Loppiano (near Florence), and he a member of the International Theological Commission. The Institute is a work of the Focolare movement. Coda has written about Chiara Lubich and he writes about the Trinity.

Rev. Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., an American, is dean of the Patristic Institute Augustinianum, in Rome. He is Professor of Patrology and an expert on Augustine. He is also known for his book on marriage: Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. 

Rev. Karl-Heinz Menke, is Emeritus Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Bonn and member of the International Theological Commission. He specializes in the nineteenth century and writes about Christology.

Rev. Santiago Madrigal Terrazas, SJ, is professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical University Comillas, in Madrid. He specializes in ecclesiology, especially the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council, reflected in the theological works of Rahner, Congar, De Lubac, and Ratzinger. He is also an authority on Ignatian spirituality.

Rev. Aimable Musoni, SDB, is professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome. (I believe he is Rwandan, although I could not confirm this.) [This has been confirmed.] He is an expert on the canonization process, and a consultor for the Congregation for Saints. You can see on line a paper he wrote on consecrated life in Africa: “Consecrated Life in Africa: Prophecy of Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace.”

Rev. Bernard Pottier SJ, born in Liège Belgium, is professor at the Institut d’Etudes Théologiques in Brussels, and a member of the International Theological Commission. His published work is in the fields of philosophy and psychology, and he also has an expertise in patristics (Gregory of Nyssa). 

[The commission will be presided over by the Mallorcan bishop and Jesuit Lluís Ladaria Ferrer, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.]

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis joked that you start a commission to study an issue when you don't want to do anything about it. But this lineup doesn't sound like a rubber-stamp sort of commission to me. Certainly the women have strong personalities and points of view, as well as a considerable wealth of scholarly expertise among them. This alone -- the fact that half of the commission is female -- makes this effort an outstanding exercise for the Vatican. Although I am sure there will be differences of opinion, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. Stay tuned!

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Pastoral Guide to Pope Francis’s Desiderio Desideravi (Liturgical Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal.

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