Pope Francis: Let’s study idea of ordaining women as deacons

Pope Francis arrives at the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican

Pope Francis arrives at the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on April 27, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-SKULLCAP-AUCTION, originally transmitted on April 27, 2016.

Source: RNS

VATICAN CITY (RNS) In an opening with historic import, Pope Francis has said he wants to study the possibility of ordaining women as deacons, a step that could for the first time open the ranks of the Catholic Church’s all-male clergy to women.

The order of deacons was reinstituted in the Catholic Church after the reforms of the 1960s, and while deacons cannot celebrate the Eucharist like a priest, a deacon can preach at Mass, preside at weddings and funerals, and perform baptisms.

But in restoring the diaconate, the church also restricted ordination as a deacon to “mature married men” over 35.

Many protested that limitation, saying the earliest Christian texts also speak of “deaconesses” and arguing that the modern church should also allow women deacons.

St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were both theologically conservative pontiffs who said that such a move was unjustified and could undermine the concept of the all-male priesthood.

But Francis said Thursday (May 12) he agreed the matter should be given more careful consideration, telling hundreds of nuns from around the world that he himself always wondered about the role of deaconesses in the early church.

“I would like to constitute an official commission to study the question: I think it will be good for the Church to clarify this point, I agree, and I will speak so as to do something of this type,” Francis said, according to the Vatican transcript of the encounter.

“So, with regard to the diaconate,” he added a bit later, “yes, I agree and it seems to me it would be useful to have a commission to clarify this well, especially with regard to the early times of the church.”

The devil will be in the details, of course.

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