What we can fairly call the synod from hell is soon to infest the holy Church of Rome.  If we take the two meetings on the family as one synod, and pass over the damp squib of the synod on youthful collegiality, or collegial youth, or whatever it was, we might also call this one the synod of doom bis.  Cardinal Pell famously struck his fist on the table during the first synod, and, pointing at Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, shouted: “You must stop manipulating this synod!” Baldisseri, however, is still the General-Secretary for the Synod of Bishops.  Will he try to manipulate this next one? At time of writing, His Most Reverend and Eminent Lordship Cardinal Pell was not available for comment.

What are the most likely outcomes?  Ambiguity was the chosen method last time.  It will be rather hard to destroy clerical celibacy in this way, since a man is either married or he isn’t, and either ordained or not.  However, the matter of female deacons is more susceptible of this method.  It is easy to imagine a final document which recommends some kind of new ‘female ministry’, described in such a way that it will be easy, and perhaps most natural, to present it as a woman’s diaconate, but which will not straightforwardly say that women are to receive diaconal orders (an ontological impossibility), and which will therefore leave scope for ‘conservative’ commentators to say, ‘Relax, nothing essential has changed’.

We already see women as well as lay-men distributing Holy Communion at Mass.  If one allows that, it is hard to see on what grounds women and lay-man could be prevented from reading the gospels sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, for example if the priest is elderly and finds it hard to stand, or his voice is weak, or if the gospel passage seems particularly relevant to women, or if it is the local custom, or if it is a Tuesday etc.  And if they were going to do that, it would seem fitting for them to wear some garb that would mark them out from the rest of the faithful, perhaps a white full-length garment with a silken sash worn diagonally from shoulder to waist.  And they could be permitted after the gospel not to preach a sermon of course, since canon law very strictly reserves that to priests and ordained male deacons, but to offer some personal reflections about how the gospel speaks to their own lives or the lives of those whom they know.  Given the importance of all these roles, it would only be fitting if a bishop were brought in to pray over them before they assumed them, and if he felt moved to lay his hands on their heads as he did so, well, there is no law against that, is there?

I expect it could all be made to sound very edifying in the final document: “Long history of women’s involvement in the life of the people of God … Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron …. Deborah the prophetess… Many holy women ministered to Christ and the apostles (διηκόνουν αὐτοῖς, Lk. 8:3) … Mary Magdalen, first ‘preacher’ of the Resurrection… Despite regrettable prejudices in the past, witness of religious women… Healthy Christian feminism … Movement of the Spirit … Backbone of so many parishes … Consecrated women carrying the word of God to the most marginalized…”  I declare that I am almost minded to draft the final document myself, except that it is probably already written and translated into everything from Latin to Tagalog.

So, good readers of this blog, clerks and lay-folk, if a sort of not-really-but-also-certainly-looks-like-it female diaconate is introduced, what will you do? Swallow it, or spit it out?  What would the holy fathers have done?