VATICAN CITY (RNS) In an authoritative joint statement made by threeVatican departments and approved by Pope John Paul II, the Vatican onMonday strongly reaffirmed its refusal to permit the ordination of women as deacons.

Three Vatican departments acted in response to plans in the UnitedStates and elsewhere to "directly or indirectly" prepare women for thedeaconate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a"notification" on behalf of all three departments.

The Roman Catholic Church considers ordination as a deacon to beprimarily a step on the way to priesthood, although following theSecond Vatican Council, the church approved the office of permanentdeacon.

The statement said such initiatives showed a "lack of solid doctrinalfoundation" and warned that they could "generate pastoraldisorientation."

The congregations said women must not be ordained as deacons becausethey cannot go on to priestly ordination. John Paul has repeatedly ruledout any weakening of the ban on women priests.

"Because ecclesial ordination does not foresee the possibility ofsuch ordination, it is not permitted to begin initiatives that, in someway, aim at preparing candidates for diaconal ordination," the statementsaid.

"The authentic promotion of women in the church, in conformity withthe enduring ecclesiastical Magisterum (church teaching and authority),with special reference to that of His Holiness John Paul II, opens otherwide perspectives of service and collaboration," it said.

Deacons can be authorized to baptize, dispense the Eucharist, assistat and bless marriages, offer last rites to the dying and officiate atfunerals and burials.

Pope Paul VI made it possible for men to become permanent deaconswithout going on to the priesthood in 1967 in accordance with therecommendation of Vatican II that the order, which existed in the earlychurch, be re-established to aid in the work of the church and completeits hierarchical structure.

Deacons must either be unmarried or agree not to remarry after awife's death.

The notification was approved by the pope on Sept. 14 and signed byCardinals Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrineof the Faith, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregationfor the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and DarioCastrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.