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

Three Vatican departments acted in response to plans in the United States and elsewhere to "directly or indirectly" prepare women for the deaconate. 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 be primarily a step on the way to priesthood, although following the Second Vatican Council, the church approved the office of permanent deacon.

The statement said such initiatives showed a "lack of solid doctrinal foundation" and warned that they could "generate pastoral disorientation."

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

"Because ecclesial ordination does not foresee the possibility of such ordination, it is not permitted to begin initiatives that, in some way, aim at preparing candidates for diaconal ordination," the statement said.

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

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

Pope Paul VI made it possible for men to become permanent deacons without going on to the priesthood in 1967 in accordance with the recommendation of Vatican II that the order, which existed in the early church, be re-established to aid in the work of the church and complete its hierarchical structure.

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

The notification was approved by the pope on Sept. 14 and signed by Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

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