Two events out of the Spring meeting of the German Bishops Conference in the western town of Trier are worth noting today. A diaconate for women was proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper during a study day on Feb. 21 discussing how to involve more women in church life today.
Kasper spoke of a “deaconess” role that would be different from the classic deacon that could include pastoral, charitable and catechetical functions, as well as participate in special liturgical services. The deaconess would not be nominated through the sacrament of orders, but through a blessing. Many women already perform the functions of a deacon, he argued, so in principle the matter could not be ignored. In this way you will return to an old tradition, Cardinal Kasper said, noting that the female diaconate was foreseen in the church in the third and fourth centuries.
The bishops also agreed yesterday to permit certain types of "morning-after” pills for women who have been raped, after two Catholic hospitals provoked an outcry in January for refusing to offer emergency contraception to a rape victim. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch said a four-day meeting of German bishops had "confirmed that women who have been victims of rape will get the proper human, medical, psychological and pastoral care" at church run hospitals.
"That can include medication with a 'morning-after pill' as long as this has a prophylactic and not an abortive effect," he said in a statement. "Medical and pharmaceutical methods that induce the death of an embryo may still not be used." That means there is no change to the church's ban on the so-called abortion pill based on the drug mifepristone or RU-486. Cologne's Cardinal Joachim Meisner, an ally of the outgoing German-born Pope Benedict, has already apologized for the church hospitals' treatment of the woman. He said it "shames us deeply because it contradicts our Christian mission and our purpose." The 25-year-old woman was referred to the hospitals in Cologne by her doctor after she was drugged at a party and woke up on a park bench fearing she had been raped. Cardinal Meisner’s apology had led to expectations that the German church was preparing to change its policy on the morning-after pill. While the church remains opposed to abortion and artificial birth control, but in Germany at least it will now differentiate between pills that prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg in the womb and pills that induce an abortion, in cases of rape.
The German bishop’s policy change received the endorsement today of a Vatican official who said the church has accepted the possibility of preventing ovulation in a woman who has been raped via medication as an “unassailable rule” for 50 years. But, said Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the president of Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life, the church withdraws that option if there is a possibility that ovulation may have already occurred.
"To consider the possibility of using a drug whose active ingredient is a contraceptive in the case of a woman who has been raped seems acceptable to me," Bishop Carrasco de Paula told "Vatican Insider," the online news supplement to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.The church, however, refuses the administration of an abortive drug in all cases, he said on the sidelines of a workshop, Faith and Human Life, sponsored by the academy on Feb. 22."In the case of rape, one can do what is necessary to avoid a pregnancy, but you cannot terminate it," the bishop said.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities and a member of the pontifical academy, agreed that "you are not violating the teaching on contraception by seeking to stop ovulation or fertilization."
Rape "is not an act of unitive love, it is an act of violence (and) the woman has a right to defend herself against this attack," he said. However, "once a new life has been conceived, now you have a second innocent victim, and you don't attack that victim" by administering drugs with abortive effects like preventing implantation, he said.