Pope Francis has announced during a meeting at the Vatican on Thursday that he is set to establish a commission that will study the likelihood of authorizing women to perform as deacons in the Catholic Church.
The pontiff met with some 900 leaders of the congregations of Catholic women religious around the globe and these women asked him during a question-and-answer portion why the church omits women from performing as deacons, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
The women, who were meeting with Francis as part of the triennial assembly of the international Union of Superiors General (UISG), asked him: “Why not construct an official commission that might study the question?”
The women also told him that women had indeed served as deacons in the early church. In response, the pontiff said that he had spoken about the issue with a “good, wise professor” once some years ago.
Francis said the professor studied the use of female deacons during the church’s early centuries but it is still unclear as to what roles the deacons actually had.
The order of deacons was reinstituted in the church after modifications had been made back in the 1960s. A deacon can preach at mass, officiate weddings and funerals and perform baptisms but they cannot celebrate the Eucharist like a priest, according to USA Today.
Only “matured married men” over 35 can be ordained to become a deacon, a restriction that was protested by many. Some argued that the earliest Christian texts also highlighted “deaconesses” and argued that the modern church should permit women to be deacons.
Francis opening the doors to the debate and the likelihood of women becoming deacons in today’s times is something that is seen as groundbreaking.
“This is not only an idea whose time has come, but a reality recovered from history,” the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author at America magazine, wrote on Facebook.
“Their preaching at Mass would mean that the church would finally be able to hear, from the pulpit, the experience of over half its members.”