The following comes from a May 12 Religion News Service article by Rosie Scammell and David Gibson:
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. [Editor’s note: 900 women religious representing nearly 500,000 sisters were in Rome for the International Union of Superiors General meeting].
“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” the pontiff asked aloud in response to questions from some of the sisters.
“I accept,” the pope said later. “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”
That could mean that the papal commission could re-establish an order of female deacons that falls short of actual ordination. Or the commission could say there is no justification for establishing the office of deaconess.
But whatever happens, the fact that Francis has opened the door to the debate and the possibility of ordaining women is groundbreaking.