A survey of both male and female religious superiors in the U.S. found that most believe that the Church can and should ordain women as deacons.

Almost three-quarters of responding superiors said they think it is possible to sacramentally ordain women deacons, and that the Church should do so. Only 45 percent, however, believe the Church will do so.

The survey, released this week by The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University (CARA), reached out to all 777 U.S. religious institutes and societies of apostolic life. These included members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM), the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR), and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), as well as 137 contemplative women’s groups.

Only men may be ordained priests under Catholic teaching. Pope Francis has reiterated on numerous occasions that this doctrine is definitive and cannot be changed. However, non-ordained female deacons were part of the early Church, although it is not entirely clear what their role was.

The question of female deacons has recently resurfaced amid Pope Francis appointing a commission to look into the historical role of female deacons in the ancient Church.

Of religious superiors surveyed, 76 percent had known about the commission. Most – 84 percent – believed that ordaining women as deacons would create at least some greater call for women priests.

Pope Francis has acknowledged that the subject of women deacons has already been studied by the Church, including a 2002 document from the International Theological Commission, and advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The document, which gave a thorough historical context of the role of the deaconess in the ancient Church, overwhelmingly concluded that female deacons in the early Church had not been equivalent to male deacons, and had neither a liturgical nor a sacramental function.

Heading Francis’ commission on the study of women deacons is Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria.

In June 2018, Ladaria clarified that “the Holy Father did not ask us to study whether or not women can be deaconesses…but rather, [he asked us] to try to say in a clear way what the problems are and what the situation was in the ancient Church on this point of the women’s diaconate.”

Full story at Catholic News Agency.