Pope expresses openness to letting women becoming deacons 

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Carmen Sammut hugs Pope Francis Pope Francis hugs Sister Carmen Sammut, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa at the end of a special audience with members of the International Union of Superiors General in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Pope Francis said Thursday he is willing to create a commission to study whether women can be deacons in the Catholic Church. (L’Osservatore Romano/Pool photo via AP)

Pope Francis said Thursday he is willing to create a commission to study id women can be deacons in the Catholic Church, signaling an openness to letting women serve in ordained ministry currently reserved for men.

Francis agreed to the proposal during a closed-door meeting with some 900 superiors of women’s religious orders.

Deacons are ordained ministers but are not priests, though they can perform many of the same functions as priests: preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and preach. They cannot, however, celebrate Mass.

Currently, married men — who are also mostly excluded from the Roman Catholic priesthood — can serve as deacons. Women cannot, however, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Church.

During a 75-minute conversation with the sisters, the pope did not indicate that the church’s longstanding prohibition on ordaining women priests will change. But asked during a question and answer session if he would be willing to create a commission to study whether women could serve as deacons, Francis said he was open to the idea, according to the National Catholic Reporter and Catholic News Service, which were in the audience hall.

The publications quoted Francis as saying: “I accept. It would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree.”

Francis also said he would ask another Vatican office that is in charge of the liturgy to report back on why women aren’t allowed to give a homily at Mass.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit author, said the pope’s willingness to create a study commission on the women’s diaconate is significant.

“The female diaconate is not only an idea whose time has come, but a reality recovered from history,” Martin said. “The Church would be immeasurably enriched. This is news of immense joy for the Church.”

Story by the Associated Press