Pope Francis is doing a lot of good things for the Catholic Church. Now, a message from the Vatican suggests that the church may begin to consider allowing women to be ordained as deacons, a first-ever in the thousands of years in the church’s history. Francis said this week that he intends to set up a commission to study whether or not women can indeed become deacons. If the church decides to allow it, it would be the end of the church’s centuries-long insistence on a male-only clergy.
Currently, women are allowed to give “reflections” at Catholic Masses, but only priests (men) are allowed to preach actual homilies. Questions regarding this were put to Francis from the heads of women’s religious orders, who asked why they could not do some things or play a larger role in the church. His response that the church should consider allowing them to do more was a welcome surprise.
“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” Francis asked, according a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”
Deacons, specifically, are ordained ministers in the Roman Catholic Church. In many areas, their responsibilities are the same as priests, performing Masses, baptisms, marriages, and funerals.
What remains unclear is that the Pope meant that the Vatican would look into the role of women as deacons historically, or if it means there are likely to be female deacons in the future. Deacons must be men over the age of 35, and the rules currently say.
Of Francis’ remarks, Reverend James Bretzke, a theology professor at Boston College, said, “I can’t underscore enough how groundbreaking this is for the church. If women can be ordained as deacons, then this is going to weaken—not destroy, but weaken significantly—the argument that women absolutely are incapable of being ordained as priests. So this is opening more than a crack in the door.”
The Women’s Ordination Conference agrees. “Opening a commission to study the diaconate for women would be a great step for the Vatican in recognizing its own history,” they said in a statement. Simultaneously, the group acknowledges that “while WOC celebrates this step from the Vatican, until women are included in all decision-making structures and as priests and Bishops of the Church, equality remains painfully denied.”